April 10th and it was finally time for my season to really get going. It was the first round of the newly named British Downhill Series at Rheola in South Wales. This was the venue for the final round of the National Series in 2009 which went really well for me so I was feeling confident for a good result. Going into this event I’ve already had three regional races which have all gone well, but this was going to be a much tougher task. The Elite field was 26 riders strong and packed with talented World Cup regulars such as Gee and Dan Atherton, Joe Smith, Ben Reid and Mark Beaumont just to name a few.
The weather forecast (unbelievably for this time of year in the UK) was awesome, with sun and temperatures in the high teens predicted. However after a long period of wet weather about half of the track was still wet and boggy come Saturday morning. The long top section which is really fast and rocky was dry, but all the bits lower down in the thick trees were not looking good. I started with dry tyres, having the mindset they would be best at the top, and that things would improve in the woods due to the good weather, and therefore would be the tyres of choice come Sunday and racing.
The track did gradually get drier, but it also got really rutted out and became very challenging to ride fast in some places. One of the marshals, who is actually an elite rider herself, will back me up on the fact that through Saturday practice and on each of my 5 runs down the track, I crashed in the same rut every single bloody time! Finally come Sunday morning I started to ride it less like an idiot and didn’t have a problem with it again… it was a very deep narrow deadly rut though… that’s my excuse anyway!
I was feeling very nervous before the seeding run. Standing at the top with all those pros is rather intimidating to say the least when you’re just a student from Huddersfield who’s only been riding downhill for less than 4 years. I had all these thoughts blasting through my head, like if I didn’t do well today, surely going to world cups this year wouldn’t be such a good idea etc etc, but I sorted my head out and got in the start gate with a good aggressive mindset and did an alright seeding run. I say alright, because it was a distinctly average run. Nothing amazingly great happened in it and nothing terrible happened either, it was just OK. So for this reason I was rather surprised when I got to the bottom and went into second place, with roughly half the elite field left to come down. I ended up being seeded 11th, and considering the company I was in, pretty happy with it.
After seeding I was feeling much better. My normal racing mood of being aggressive, wanting it, and believing I could do well had returned. My race run started well. The fast top section is basically balls out, how fast will you dare go. I hit it faster than I had all weekend so I was off to a good start, a great confidence boost. I then almost threw it all away getting super super loose in two consecutive corners, drifting to almost the point of no return, then just holding on, before going off a drop in the wrong direction, somehow managing to hold the awful landing and getting spat back in the right direction to carrying on. And my mates call me sketchy… can’t think why! Anyway, I then proceeded to nail the next crucial wooded section, which was good. I really attacked the ruts and got through them without drama. Then I made a couple of mistakes in the lower woods, getting bad landings in bogs and losing speed on exit, and got a jump section after the fire road wrong losing a bit of speed, but nothing major. I knew I’d had a faster run than seeding.
When I dropped into the finish area and put a couple of pedals in to cross the line everything went a bit blurry. I heard the commentator shouting I’d gone into the lead and the crowd cheering and that was all I needed to hear. Strangely, when that happens I always automatically think I’ve just had a perfect run, and only later remember that I’d actually made quite a few mistakes and almost crashed a number of times. I managed to hold the hot seat for one more rider (Ben Cathro) and enjoy the attention before Chain Reaction Pro Matt Simmonds came down and showed me how it was done. My time of 2.59.1, over 4 seconds quicker than my seeding time held on to take 7th place which I am really happy with. For full results check out http://www.rootsandrain.co.uk/race106/2010-apr-11-bds-1-rheola/. The guys who beat me were Gee Atherton, Dan Atherton, Matt Simmonds, Joe Smith, Mark Beaumont and Sam Dale… respectable I’d say considering they all get paid to race bikes.
So my first real competitive elite race went really well. I didn’t get on with the track that well, and made quite a few costly mistakes in my run and still got a wicked result. I now feel like I’ve earned my elite status and am comfortable with it. I’m far less nervous about going to the World Cups and am really excited for the experience. My next race is in three weeks (2 May), the Welsh Champs at Llangollen, before travelling up to Fort William(9 May) for the next round of the British Downhill Series, then it’s off to Maribor for my first world cup on 16 May.
Editor’s Note: Jack is riding the Ellsworth Dare