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UCI World Cup Round 3 @ Valnord, Andorra - 25/28 July 2013

Vallnord Bike park in Andorra was the venue for round 3 of the world cup series. I really needed to get a result on the board here after failing to do so at the first two rounds. After racing well at the national champs the weekend before I was feeling confident and looking forward to it.

The track was new for this year and we were all excited for it as we’d heard it was steep, fast and technical – 3 words a DH racer likes to hear! After the long drive out me and Dad arrived on Wednesday morning ready for the track walk and sign on. The weather was beautiful although they’d had rain all week so the track was very greasy.

Walking the track made us realise how long it was going to be. It took a solid two hours for us to walk down, and all of the steepest stuff was at the bottom which was going to make racing interesting! We headed off to our accommodation for the evening, which was just outside of town. We were staying with friends Will and Annie, as Will was here to race his 3rd ever world cup. The accommodation was awesome! We had an outdoor swimming pool, tennis court, table tennis tables and volley ball area! So if the riding didn’t work out for any us at least we could enjoy the holiday aspect of the trip!!

The UCI have altered the way world cups run this year, and without boring you with the details I’ll summarise by saying it’s ridiculous. We only had 3 hours to learn the track on the first day of practise – 10.30 until 1.30. It’s annoying because you can get enough runs done, I did 6, but you have absolutely no time to rest between them, so you end up riding with tired arms which can be dangerous. I felt good on the track by the end of practise and things got faster and faster as it dried out. The first run was very slippy and sliddy before the grease was washed off the track!

Qualifying day is always a difficult one for everyone, except the top 20 protected riders who are guaranteed to be racing on Sunday. I know I’m way fast enough to qualify, even with some mistakes, but I still get nervous because I could have a mechanical like I did in Fort William, or have a big crash and be separated from the bike for too long. After three runs in the morning I was feeling good and ready to racing. I was having a smooth, fast qualifying run until about half way down, when I didn’t commit enough to a turn, smashed my shoulder on the tree on the outside of the bend which stopped my momentum and flipped me over the handlebars. Luckily it was in a slow speed section, so I screamed at myself to get up as quickly as possible and back on the bike. When I got back on I almost did what I did at Val Di sole and panicked, but I quite literally had a word with myself in my helmet and calmed down and got back to the job at hand. I rode smooth to the bottom and qualified comfortably inside the top 80 in 30th place. Job done… just.

The middle practice day is always a strange one. I planned not to ride so I could give my arms a rest ready for race day.  The track was savage on the forearms because of all the brake hovering in the steep stuff. However I went to see the dudes at Fox in the morning and had a chat about my suspension settings. We changed a few things and I decided to do a single practice run to test them out. However after setting out on this practice run I got a puncture a ¼ of the way down. I decided to push back to the top instead of riding down and ruining the rim. So after the 20 minute sweaty walk I was back at the top and fixing the puncture. I then set out on my run. This was good and the settings felt good. I was ready for race day. We did a track walk and got some lunch before heading back to the accommodation where we enjoyed an afternoon of fooling around and gaming. My buddy Will hadn’t qualified because of a crash and I wanted to forget about the stresses of racing for an afternoon, so it worked out all round spending the afternoon larking about!

Race day, and time to ride well and get some points. I did two practice runs in the morning and felt strong. It had rained first thing in the morning which made the track interesting in places, but that soon stopped and the track dried out again. My race run went well. I found myself riding smoother than I normally do but I think I was subconsciously getting myself to the bottom without incident to guarantee some points. I also didn’t want to do a Val Di Sole and crash out again. I crossed the line in 12th place and had gone 8 seconds faster than my qualifying time with a 4.27. I ended up in 38th place and was 14 seconds off the win. That’s a result I’m very happy with and brings some much needed points.

To finish top half at a world cup with a steady smooth run is pretty awesome and fills me with confidence. I’m ready to get back to my normal style and start pushing hard to crack that top 20 for the last three rounds of the series, starting next weekend at Mont Saint Anne!

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