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Northern Downhill Series Round 1 @ Kidland, Northumberland. 4 - 5 May 2013

As I got into the second half of April I really started to feel like my winter training had taken me to a whole new level. Stronger, more powerful, more stamina, more aggressive style. The way I handle a mountain bike has changed over the last 6 months and it’s left me really excited to move into the major portion of the season for the National and World Cup events. Therefore I was excited to hear that the 2011 World Champion Danny Hart was going to attend the final pre-season race I was doing at Kidland in Northumberland. How close I could get to him in the race would be the final indicator of where my training has put me before heading to the big races.

We arrived on Saturday morning and just in time for a track walk before practise started. The track was quite short, really steep and with some very tight sections. I was aware that I’d have my work cut out being one of the bigger riders and riding an XL bike, but I was ready for the challenge. I spent the day riding with my racing buddy Pete Williams who after an injury full 2012 is finally getting back to fitness and is riding well.

On my first run I felt very awkward on the track because of how tight it was. My bike felt like a double decker bus! However, and thanks to my training, it felt much better second run when I knew where I was going, as I muscled the bike through the trees and started to find a flow and a rhythm. It’s always nice to practice with Pete on tracks that are steep and tight because that’s what he’s best at in my opinion – the lad can corner on a 50 pence piece!

Carl Davidson of Northern DH had a very good uplift system running, and even when one of his mini buses broke down for the afternoon the uplift was still  great and we got 8 practise runs done. Big thanks to him and his drivers for keeping going tirelessly all day. By the end of the day I had all my lines dialed and was feeling good on the track and ready for Sunday.

Carl’s team had worked to fix the broken mini bus so when Sunday started we had a full fleet of uplift vehicles at our disposal so there was no waiting at the bottom at all. I did 4 runs and Pete managed to get 5 practise runs that morning! I’d had a good morning session, firming up a few lines and getting everything right, ready for the afternoon and racing.

My first race run was pretty good. I made two costly mistakes but only lost a couple of seconds and was relatively happy when I crossed the line with a time of 1.27 and a 3 second lead. Then it was nervously waiting for Danny to come down and see how much damage he would do to my time. To my amazement I had the lead from Danny by 0.6 seconds after first runs! I knew he’d had a least one small issue as well, so we both had time in the bank for the next run.

I didn’t really care what happened the rest of that day because I was so happy with the result of the first run. I’d got the final confirmation that my training has worked and I’m on pace for the season. My plan for the second run was to go up and do exactly the same, but try to avoid those small errors and take a second or two off my time. I was still expecting Danny to beat me but I was just focusing on my performance.

My second run was almost perfect. I had everything smooth, fast and controlled until the first of three loose turns near the bottom where I lost the front wheel and slid out. Incidentally it was where my Dad and our friends were standing so I got to watch it on video afterwards and it cost me about 3 seconds. I pushed hard to the bottom with no more mistakes and crossed the line with a time that was only half a second slower than my first time. When I learnt that I’d only gone this much slower I was pretty frustrated as without the crash I would have been around a 1.25 and this would have really put the pressure on. I waited at the bottom not thinking for a minute that Danny wasn’t going to beat my times. However he didn’t. He went third fastest on those second runs (second place overall) with my buddy Pete Williams in second and taking third overall– so good to see Pete back in the mix!

So an awesome weekend for me. I’m feeling strong, powerful, smooth and fast on the bike and have taken my first big win of the season. Obviously the race was only a regional, but beating Danny Hart, a rider who is a proven world beater and one that I have a lot of respect for, and have always enjoyed watching, is a massive step for me.

My confidence is high and I’m ready to hunt some big results this season! Most importantly keep having fun and leave every race feeling like I’ve raced well.

Big thanks to Ian MacLennan for the first 2 photos

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