Wow what a way to start the season. Despite a few early races being postponed across the country due to the weather the mountain bike season finally got under way at the Nevis range, with an epic mash up of skiers, snowboarders and bikers.
This event has been on my radar since it was first announced by No Fuss last year. It sounded like it would be such carnage that I just had to be involved. The format seemed simple enough,
- Practice bike stage
- Race bike stage for seeding
- Practice snow stage
- Race snow stage for seeding
- Mass start on the snow from the top of the hill down to half way snow goose restaurant, a quick timed transition to jump on the bike and then race the full length of the world cup downhill track to the finish.
Everyone follow that?
It was an early start for everyone with registration at 7:30 (which considering the clocks had gone forward felt like 6:30), and we started riding our bikes up to the silverline wall ride for practice. The seeding runs were going to start from here and the track crossed through the river made use of most of the red run, fast and flowy, with lots of little jumps to keep it interesting, and it randomly went down the walkers path at times, with all it’s steps made for a very bumpy ride. The seeding run opened at 10 and all went very smoothly, hit all the lines with no real issues.
After everyone had finished seeding we had a quick outfit change and went up to practice the snow stage. A wide marked slalom course was marked out following the Quad chair lift from top to bottom. On my first run the visibility was low which made spotting the gates very difficult, but the snow was beautifully powdery and fun to slide in. The conditions had changed quite a bit after lunch, so when it came to my seeding run the visibility was fantastic, but with so many people on the same lines it had compacted it making it quite icy. Still I managed to hit all the gates and cleared the rough grassy patch in the middle (because it’s not real Scottish snowboarding if you’re not heather hopping) and land a clean seeding run. Now I accept I’m not the best snowboarder in the world, but I am not bad but this event seems to have bought out a real mixed bag of abilities both on snow and bike.
We had a bit of time to kill between seeding and the final race, so everyone had time to make sure their bikes and kit was in place for the transition. There was a lot of talk about transition tactics over afternoon coffees. Some people opting for helmet or clothing changes, some people riding bikes in snowboarding boots. For me I decided to go for as little change as possible, so I piled up the base layers under my bike kit, and decided to board in my full face bike helmet, but I refuse to bike without my normal points of contact on pedals and bars being what I am used to. So when it came to the transition all I would have to do is change my shoes and my gloves.
At 3:30 we all met outside the restaurant to start moving up the hill. Despite having nearly 150 people entered for the original event, after the rescheduling, the weather and riding, there were 50 that made it to the start line at the very top of the summit button lift. It was pretty exposed up the top waiting for everyone to make their way up, especially as I wasn’t wearing full snowboarding clothes (but that was my decision) but luckily everyone made their way up quickly and as we started lining up on to the starting grid the sun started to come out.
So we were all lined up skiers and boarders together listening to the count down. And we were off down the 2.1km long slope course. We were channelled through a number of gates with skiers and boarders taking each other out all over the place but the pack very quickly separated out. I was quite happy that I had kept my closest competition in my sights for a long time until the slope opened up and the transition stage was in sight. At this point I realised I was never going to be a pro snowboarder as a lot of people were much faster than me here. Still I made it to the transition stage with only one real crash. My transition went smoothly, after fighting to get my boots off I just went calmly and steadily and managed it in 2min. This was where I started to claw back my times. Despite the snow on the track I hit that pinball section at pace, and even though I hadn’t ridden this track in months (and years since I did it on the trail bike) I felt at home and quickly closed the gap on a lot of riders. Working on my skills at slow speed over winter was a huge help where people were piling up at tricky features I was able to sail through over taking a lot of riders here. By the time we reached the woods section I was battling it out neck and neck with one other rider. We hit the fire road sprint and my legs went in to over drive pulling away, unfortunately we reached the river crossing and a spectacular wipe out by me resulted in me upside down under my bike in the river. Still I jumped up as quickly as possible and carried on pedalling (with squint bars, and half a mud guard flapping around), managing to beat al my personal records on the last section in to the car park.
I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this race half as much as I did. It was March and I was wet and cold and yet when I crossed that finish line the buzz and achievement was incredible, and at least I started the season with a podium, fingers crossed that’s a sign of more to come.
All photos by Evka Kupska https://www.flickr.com/photos/evakupska/sets/72157694947875115/