I only raced my first national downhill event a couple of months ago, so my second stab at the British Downhill Scene was going to be the 2018 British Champs, held this year at Glencoe. An incredible track known for being half the length of the Fort William World Cup track, but twice as gnarly.
The forescast for the weekend looked like it was going to be extreamly changable, which promised to keep all the riders on their toes. Practice day was running pretty well, rain the night before made the first couple of runs a bit sketchy and slippy, as everyones’ wheels draged peat and mud on the exposed rock slabs. After a few runs it did start to dry up and get a bit grippier, which made it more predicatble and fun to ride. I raced here about a year ago for one of the Scottish Downhill Series rounds and realy love this track, but it’s intense, and the few features I couldn’t manage last year I was determined to nail this time. So I spent the first run stoping and sessioning each section I needed to, and after a couple more runs I was feeling pretty comfortable. Even when all the elite riders were allowed on the track I wasn’t feeling intimidated.
There was a new top section to the track, which had the riders starting a little further up on an access track. A few wide flat corners (which caught out a lot of riders and sent them sliding off the track when they were taking it at race speed), this then had a steep chute or step down depending on how far you hucked it, but it definatley needed a bit of a bunny hop in to it to avoide catching a chain ring. The track was then back on the familier black downhill track. A couple of drops, and a decent sized jump before poping back on to the flat access road for a short sprint (which in the rain was pretty much the last time you could get a hand off the bars to clear your goggles of water). Then back on to the track. a couple of optional drops of berms to relax you in to it, over a short bit of bord walk, and that’s where any slight bit of flow or speed ends. The first drop sends you straight in to rock garden, where you have a split second to gain composure before the second drop.
A rough corner and riders are met with the first major feature. A lengthy steep rock slab with a couple of sharp compressions on it, whether riders took the main line or cut inside, if the rock was anything other than clean and dry it tried to spin the bike around like an ice rink. In one practice run in the rain both wheels were traveling in opposit directions and neither of them were down the hill. The worst part was there was no run off, at the bottom of the slab there was just a big wooden catch berm you had to immediatly turn in to before facing another few rock gardens and more slabs to traverse. If you haven’t noticed by now, this track is basically one big rock garden. After a few more turns riders eventually come to the corkscrew. This is the only part of the track which has an optional B line, but to be honest trying to go around the B line is even more awkward than just facing the fear of this awkward rocky, twisted, odd cambered chute, with steps on (I don’t think I can actually explain how awkward this bit is). The pro line on the far left hucks of a small rock, and has to clear some muddy ruts and heather before the catch berm/wall at the bottom. The other option is rolling through the rocky drops and hope that your far enough left to avoid going over the bars on the final drop and still get round the corner. The corkscrew has caught me out so many times before on this track. The chute itself isn’t even the biggest issue, it’s just making it round the next corner. After surviving up to this point everything else just seems to be a case of keep pounding away and hoping you survive until the end.
More rock gardens and slabs. Plenty of drops which have to be timed just right to miss the sharp rocks right under it, but not send you too far in to the next pile of sharp rocks. The last straight of triple drops just makes sure your really feeling the strain in your arms and legs, before the track finally opens up in to a river gap jump, a double, a spectacular step down and two more table tops, just for crowd pleasing, before crossing the finish line.
I don’t have a track preview from this year, but here is Ben Cathro’s preview before last years Scottish Downhill Event which gives you a good idea of the track.
Both the seeding and race run was held on the Sunday, and the weather was changing again back to a heavy mist which was making everything damp and slippy, but wasn’t heavy enough to wash any of the rocks clean. An accident with the timing system (involving a very hungry rouge stag chewing through the cables) meant that seeding was held back about an hour, which was annoying but actually timed perfectly with a break in the weather, so the track was running beautifully to ride. I managed a clean run and stayed on my bike, and hit all the lines I was wanting. Although with such a demanding track I was struggling to hold on by the bottom I was pretty happy with a 3:46 seeding time only 1 second behind 1st place in the Masters catagory. However this was not the case when it came to race run. The weather had closed in and the mist and rain had gotten so much worse. I’m never the biggest fan of racing in the wet, so wasn’t feeling so confident now. The top section was fine, I even managed to get down the infamous rock slab which is normally a nightmare in the wet. But a slight miscalculation in the corkscrew had me over the bars and rolling down the hill on my head. Once off it’s difficult to gether yourself back together on that track, and getting stuck in a rut towards the bottom of the track, resulted in another lay down in the mud. So race run didn’t go to plan at all, but nevermind, it still resulted in a 2nd place and silver medal in the Women’s Masters Catagory, so can’t really complain about that.
Admitadly this is one of the few tracks I was really missing being on a full downhill bike, but to be fair my enduro bike was still holding up better than some of the other riders on the track. Despite being a bit slower on track than I was last year, I was feeling a lot happier now I’ve ticked a few more big features off my bucket list. This track is relentless, there is no where to catch your breath and you never really know if you’re going to make it down in one piece. Despite this it is still one of my favourite tracks.