Round 5 Fort William & Scottish Champs 02.09.18
So, as I missed out round 3 at Innerleithen due to race clashes, and round 4 at Dunkeld being cancelled, we were back at Fort William for the final round of the Scottish Downhill Series, and Scottish Championship (it’s a good thing I like this track). The first weekend of September is always a bit of a risk with the weather, but despite an onslaught of midgies, the weather held out for most of the weekend, with rain being timed perfectly to hold off until the final race runs.
Despite this track being raced many times before the SDA team still managed to find a twist this weekend. A brand new, never ridden section of track on the top section. This never happens. Although the track had been altered various times in the middle, there is rarely and change to the tried and tested rock gardens above the deer gate. This race saw riders leave from the start hut as normal, and after the numerous berms of pinball alley, the short board walk and the first couple of super steep, gnarly rock gardens, we were surprised by a complete diversion. Up and over the edge of the berm the taped track took us on to the moorland. This rough and unmanaged new section certainly worked the suspension, bouncing over all the lumps and bumps of the grass and hidden rocks, combined with the drizzle in the air made this section a muddy and slippery barrel of laughs. By the end of the weekend, this section had gotten so chewed up it became as rough as any of the rock gardens. Getting back on to the old track was just as challenging, a large rock roller (or drop if you’re going fast enough), took riders back on track across one of the never ending rock slabs, which was getting sketchy with all the peat being dragged off the moorland.
Back on familiar territory down the series of rock steps and slabs, through the deer gate and on towards to woods. This had changed a bit since the beginning of the year, as we could now access the first part of the roman road the trail builders built for the World Cup in June. This was great fun, a drop in to it and then full commitment as you rattled over the mass of rocks whilst trying to avoid clipping the trees. Here was the second surprise of the track, instead of continuing down the roman road we crossed over the old road and cut through the woods for a change of scenery. This bypassed one of the original berms and put riders back on track just before the final fire road crossing. The track was predictable from here, the gap jump, Silverline wall ride, hazard hoofer, and on towards the epic motorway jumps towards the finish line.
There was a lot to play for this weekend. This race was not only round 5 of the series, which then determined the overall series winner, but it was also the Scottish Champs, so if you won today, you were crowned Scottish Champ. Despite this it was one of the most relaxed races I have done in a long time. Because there are not many women who race downhill in Scotland I had a fair idea of how the results would go before we were even on track. We get two race runs, and your best time counts as your final result. I had already figured out I probably wasn’t going to podium, so I was just in it for fun, and against myself. Run 1 went really well, the weather was dry and clear, although I had no mistakes I had felt like I was on my brakes a lot. So, although my time of 7:48 was alright I was determined to improve on it by the second run. However, by this point the clouds had come in and the rain had begun. If this was a year ago I would have been freaked out by the rain making everything slippy, but a year of ridding in some insane levels of mud and rain meant for once I was feeling pretty happy about things. Ploughing on with the race run, and a lot of arguing with myself in my head to stay off the brakes saw a 17second improvement to 7:31. I’m pretty happy with that.
Although my time was only good enough to get me 5th in this round, it was enough to pull enough points together to get me in to 2nd place for the series overall. Considering I came 6th overall last year, I’m even happier about that.
Round 2 Fort William 13.05.18
A very familiar track with a few slight changes. This year the Scottish Downhill Association (SDA) was playing host to round two of the HSBC British Downhill Series (BDS), with points being up for grabs in both series, meant a stacked field of riders. A lot of people travelled up to Fort William from England resulting in a lot of new faces and a lot of nerves to go around. However, Fort William did not disappoint, with the weather on point and the track running sweet, even opening up a new section of fresh rock garden to challenge racers, it made for an awesome weekend.
This was my first ever BDS, and I will admit that nerves were high before I had even got to the event village. I knew that the level of riders would be high this weekend, and I was determined to try and prove myself. Luckily all the nerves started to disappear once I got on track for Saturday’s practice, it’s a track I know extremely well, and the top section is probably one of my favourite tracks in the world. Open mountain side with an endless run of boulder fields is punishing but makes me happy. That was up until we get in to the trees. Despite doing a track walk Friday night to look at lines through this new section (which is like a paved work of art), when I rolled in to it, I didn’t end up on any of the lines I had hoped for, and in all my practice runs I think I managed to get through it cleanly once. The track re-joined the original downhill track at the fire road crossing and continued down towards the motorway jumps and finish line. For a full idea of what the track includes check out Ben Cathro’s course preview here:
I managed four practice runs, and although I was still struggling with the new section, but I was happy that I knew the rest of the track well enough to compensate. Anyway I had to get myself across to the 4X because I had thought it a good idea to race both events this weekend.
Sunday morning, my body was feeling the effects of being battered by the downhill track combined with the bursts of power required for 4X. I dropped in to a practice run Sunday morning just to check out the conditions after some heavy rain fall over night and by the first rock garden my legs were already feeling it, but it felt good to get a bit of a warm up, and it was good to see that the rain had actually resulted in the track being grippier than before. Seeding times were posted and I had a couple of hours to chill out between practice and seeding.
As I stood at the gate ready for my seeding run the nerves were starting to kick in. I rarely have to do seeding runs for races, and I had to keep reminding myself the whole way to chill out a bit and not push too hard. Despite and overtake and falling off in the new rock garden section I had a pretty clean run, qualifying in 5th place which I was extremely happy about. We had another couple of hours whilst other riders seeded before race runs would begin, so I tried my best to relax and refuel (eating is always a difficult part of any race as nerves tend to kill your appetite), however by the time it came around to my race run I was feeling confident and raring to go.
Unfortunately, in the Gondola ride up I could already see a rider and medics at the side of the track, and all other riders halted from racing. This set back lasted an hour, this resulted in all the women sat around chatting in the café, trying not to fall asleep. We got around the drop in energy with an impromptu dance off and karaoke… because we are all mature serious adults. By the time we were lining up at the start line the buzz was back on, the wind had picked up and the track dried a bit which might cause a few problems but nothing major. I set off to a flying start. Clearing the rock gardens like there was nothing there and hitting all my lines I had dialled in during practice. However, this all came undone again in the new section, despite getting down the tricky bits, I missed a turning and ended up front wheel the wrong side of a tree, an awkward one to fix which lost me quite a bit of time. Eventually I jumped back on and had a fast run to the finish line, finishing 8th overall. Not quite as high up as I would have liked but still not bad for my first ever BDS.
Round 1 Ae Forest 15.04.18
Keeping with tradition, round one of the SDA was held on a slippery mud fest of a hill side with a constant threat of rain. So the Forest of Ae was the perfect choice.
The first time I raced here was the first round of the SDA in 2017, and I struggled so much with the muddy, wet, slippery conditions, that I was extremely nervous about returning to race. However it seems a hard year of riding and training has paid off as I was really enjoying the track this year.
As usual the track started from the top of the Trig point on Knockespen Hill. This top section was on the open hillside, with a cluster of different lines, all crossing over each other, ranging from off camber slippy grass, ruts that were filling up with mud and rocks hiding in awkward spots. It seemed to be one of those sections where you didn’t chose your line, the line chooses you. After an extremely tight new switchback through the trees the track joined back on to the main line. You could really picke up speed here before weaving through the woods (being extra careful not to catch your pedals on the many tree stumps) and lining up for the river gap.
Riders could really pick up their speed from here to clear the step up, and then tackling the hip jump in to a g-force inducing left berm, before having to tackle the multiple steps down to the fire road. After crossing the road the track held its speed over the largest of the rock gardens Ae has to offer and took riders down the main line, with a slight bus stop and smaller rock garden before hitting the dreaded coffin gap jump (so named because of the result if you come up short on your landing). This was where the traditional built trail finished and the new course sent the racers in to the last section, which was newly cut, loamy and muddy trails reminiscent of the enduro lines, where you just slide around each corner and hope the mud grips.
Previously I’ve always struggled to pull together a good race run at Ae, when riding it casually I have no problems, but race day always seems to bring issues. However despite catching another rider on my first run, and accidently running my front wheel in to a tree on my second run I managed to hold on to my timings and pull a third place out the bag. Not bad for the first race of the series, and the first race for the new bike.