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Borderline Downhill @ Innerleithen, Scotland - 24 February 2013

After getting the racing started last weekend at Hamsterley for the Enduro event, I was excited to head to Innerleithen this weekend for the first downhill race of the season! Ever since I started racing I’ve loved coming to Innerleithen to race. The tracks are awesome fun and proper world cup standard in terms of length and difficulty. The weather forecast for the weekend had a big question mark over it. The temperatures were due to be below freezing at times and some snow was expected. Good ol’ winter racing in Scotland!

We arrived on Friday afternoon in time to walk the track before dark. It looked awesome! Local elite racer Lewis Buchanan had helped decide where the course should go, as there are lots of different line options from top to bottom. He’d chosen a pretty direct fast line down the hill that I was expecting to be great fun to ride when we got into it. I was excited to get started in the morning!

At sign-on in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised by the elite turn out. There was myself and buddy Pete Williams, local Lewis Buchanan, Adam Brayton - Hope’s new factory team rider, and a number of other very good riders including my O’Neal team mate Al Maclennan. However the organisers hadn’t kept enough elite number boards aside for on the day entries, so a few us ended up with very high numbers – I was 511.

Practice started tentatively for me. The top of the course was pretty frozen due to the cold temperatures. I decided to wait until later in the day, when hopefully it would have thawed out slightly, before getting really aggressive with the top of the course. From the middle fire road crossing and below I absolutely loved the track! It was fast and twisty giving a real buzz as the trees flew past on either side as you belted down! Great fun!

On my third practice run I was parked up somewhere on the top section of the course to see Lewis come flying past like a thunderbolt! The beauty of local knowledge, allowing him to be up to speed on the track straight away while the rest of us have to learn the lines and gradually get up to speed. It was nice to see what we were up against though, and how I needed to be going by Sunday afternoon.

On my next run I led with Pete following and we did more or a less a full run to the bottom and everything started to knit together. I’d engrained my lines and the track really started to flow for me and the aggression started to filter into my riding. It felt awesome! Being back between the tape for the 2013 season and riding well. I was well chuffed and decided to only do one more run that day – no point peaking too early!

After a chilled evening, good meal and early night on Saturday I was ready to go on Sunday morning! My first practice run went well. Again I went steady on the frozen ground at the top, then got into it a little lower down. I had a crash at the bottom getting over excited losing the front wheel on some off-camber that led into a drop onto path crossing. No damage done though, just lesson learnt. My second run was disrupted by yellow and red flags slowing riders down due to an injury, so that was that for practice, but I was feeling good and ready to race.

There was a 15 minute delay before our scheduled race run times so we ended up standing around at the top in the cold. It was snowing as well which didn’t help things. I took it a little steady at the very top for the start of my run, as the snow was making things very slippery! A little lower down I turned up the heat and had a great run. I came through the finish with a 2.57 and about 5 seconds clear of everyone else with only Lewis and Adam left on the hill. Lewis put his local knowledge to good use and went quicker than me with a 2.56, but Adam slotted into 3rd with a 3.01.

I was very happy with how the first runs went. To be that close to Lewis on his home track is awesome, and to put that much time into Adam, who is a super fast rider and had a great season last year on the British circuit, felt awesome. It really made me feel good about all the effort I’ve been putting into training this winter, and that it’s working to get the results I want. Not having to be a student this year, and putting time and effort into riding is going to make a massive difference!

The weather conditions when we got to the top for our second runs were similar. Cold and snowing. This time more than before. I bottled it a little bit at the top this time, fearing that the grip was going to be nonexistent, and consequently didn’t make the first left hand corner, putting my shoulder straight into a tree and came to a stop for a split second. The rest of my run was good though. When I crossed the first fire road and dropped into the thicker trees the snow disappeared and the grip returned. I made one more big mistake before the bottom and as a result of these two incidents went slower with a 3.01, which however was still good enough for 2nd overall. Lewis went a second quicker in his second run to wrap things up with a 2.55. I was very happy with my second place only 2 seconds behind him.

So a great start to 2013 DH racing with a podium and riding well. I feel strong and will continue with all the training to feel stronger! Big thanks to all my sponsors for getting me prepared for the races this year –Mojo, Schwalbe, Shimano, O’Neal, Kore, Mangobikes, DNA sports performance and Adam at Sporting Ambitions. My Dad is still a massive help as well, this weekend for the first time taking over the role as mechanic, to take that pressure off me – cheers big man!

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