12th August 2007
After the rescheduling of Round 3 due to flooding of biblical proportions it was nice to see a dry track, the sun high overhead and the temperatures well into the twenties for Moelfre this weekend. This place is always a great venue for both spectators and riders alike with high speed combining with an openness seldom seen on UK tracks that gives spectators some great vantage points and creates a track like no other for the riders.
With the potential of another Foot and Mouth outbreak looming over Britain in the lead up to the event, along with heavy storms over most of the country, many wondered if this event would go ahead or whether instead, it would go the way of round 3 at Rugog.
When riders take a look at the track for the first time there are always comments as to how basic it is, how boring it looks and bemoan the lack of any real technicality. But that is missing the point, for very quickly you realise that the challenge this track offers isn't about just getting down the hill as it is with some others but getting down without any mistakes and just going flat out. A unique challenge really in a calender full of tracks which run their course through woodland, and one which is eagerly awaited each year by many riders. Although not technical, getting to grips with the track is always a challenge as your reference points change for braking and turning, whilst the slight changes up top over previous years led to many riders being surprised first run as they found the rut they were in was taking them straight through the tapes. After the weekend that I had you are perhaps best not looking to me for guidance on how to ride this track but here goes for a description of a flat out track. Once dropped off at the top you are treated to some fantastic views from the summit of one of the biggest hills in the area. Straight off the bat you are on the gas and rounding the crest of the hill in the rut created over the last few year's races before hopping up to the right and jumping across the rut to take the new line to the left. How many people went through the tapes on the original line here during their first run on Saturday? Grip on fresh grass is never tip top so there was plenty of on edge riding here as you carve to the right through the tussocks of grass and drop into the small quarry like hollow. If you stayed as far right into that as the tape allowed then you left yourself a nice open line into the next jump across a hollow. Tamed perhaps from previous years due to a different line in the lead up to it but if you were pushing hard then it could still be a little edgy in the strong winds which came up on the sunday. Whilst the course had the same characteristic feel, the lines were subtly changed. More flow over last year? I would say so. The course tightened slightly as you entered the sweepers now. Left leads into a right which in turn pops you over a hollow, followed by a hard left so you run the rim of another hollow and then back out into the more open tapes again. Cut the left hander on the inside and avoid the marbles in the rut which only got worse as the weekend wore on. And this is where things really changed from the last races. Gone was 'Big Bertha', the infamous huck, and in comes a tricky and very loose off camber right left bank and then into the first step down, cross the road and hit the second. Back to familiar territory and into the gorse switchbacks. Bermed up a little now after uplift days and races they are different but no less likely to tip you over into the prickly predators standing guard at the sides. Josh Bryceland had a huge crash here on the Sunday morning, flipping himself clean over the gorse and landing a switchback down. Already suffering a virus, he chose to sit the race run out. Steep straights leading into deceptively tight corners, rapidly becoming covered with thick dust took caught many out, and to add insult to injury, there was usually an uplift full of riders on hand, ready to revel in your demise.
Out of the switchbacks and into the new hip-cum-gap-cum-step-down before firing across the stream and then the road. There seemed like there was distinctly less grip here than in previous seasons. Hop the step up and you're onto the body of the track; the off camber stretching all the way around the hill until dropping you into the finish arena. It may look simple, boring even, when you walk the track on a Friday evening and set your eyes on it for the first time but it is a place where plenty of time can be won or lost as it seems to take a certain riding style to extract the most speed from it. Starting off on the wide hillside with plenty of opportunity to get some strokes of the crank in, you are soon on the first fade and from there straight into the narrow, almost sheep track looking part between a rocky outcrop and some more Gorse bushes for good measure. It took a long time before most riders consider no braking this bit, especially as the exit became very broken and dusty by Sunday. Pop to the left and onto the bus stop, drop out, avoid the hole on exit, and then get back on the gas. Crest to the left and you are now in sight of the finish. Still off camber and still dusty, drop into the bracken, through the wall and onto the harder ground which takes you through some more sweepers to the hard right that signals the start of the arena. Hop the gap and onto the rock slab if you were feeling brave, compress hard onto the road and then launch the Loctite step down which sets you up with some serious speed into the stream crossing, freshly filled in to help reduce the number of bike breaking moments encountered and then across the finish line. 2:50 seemed an average time across most categories although there are of course many who smashed that time to pieces.
Cracking weather was complemented by uplift that left most riders gob smacked. No queues aside from a very brief bottleneck on Saturday morning ensured that everybody had plenty of practice. Most stopped after six or seven runs but some crazed individuals managed ten on the Saturday followed by a further five on the Sunday. Ten runs in a day at a national? I think that's a first! And the reason for such superb transport? 14 tractors and a very direct uplift road. At virtually every point of the weekend there was at least one tractor awaiting bodies to take to the top. I don't think anybody could ask for more than that.
So the track was good, the transport superb and weather to match you have sorted most of the things which can cause problems in a weekend and you are virtually guaranteed that riders will have a smile on their faces.
And the racing.
Juveniles may be a category depleted in numbers this year but the standard of riders is still second to none. Newly crowned national champion Mark Scott took a well deserved win for Ecosse DH Racing, just pipping fellow Scots Sam Flockhart of Astrix/Descent-Gear and Lewis Buchanan of Last Bikes in second and third respectively.
Youth saw the greatest winning margin of the day and the day and the £200 cheque that accompanies it taken by none other than Danny Hart of Balfa UK. Tim Flooks may have regretted tuning Dan’s suspension that well as he handed over that particular cheque! Descent-Gear’s Gareth Brewin pulled out the stops to grab second and, despite it being the biggest winning margin of the day, there were still less the 5 seconds separating the two of them. In third was Ryan Martin of Mountain High Cycles who scraped the last podium step by two tenths of a second.
With Josh Bryceland down and out with a virus, it was going to be between Joe Smith and Ruaridh Cunningham as to who would take the win. Joe got it for Ancilotti but by not much more than a second. Marcus Williams pulled into third and Ruaridh Cunningham rocked his Iron Horse to second for Bike Love. He has been stacking the World Cup results up nicely this season and with any luck he should be in with a chance for some action in Fort William come September.
Senior showed just how good the standard of riding is with a winning time not a million miles from that of Expert. Daniel Yeomans put that time in for Curtis/Howies whilst Peter Williams took second for Alpine Bikes and blast from the past Nick Platt in third.
Biking Heaven’s David Tallontire is on a roll this season. With wins in virtually every race entered, this weekend produced no surprises and another top step result and first placed trophy to match was his. This is also the man to thank for bringing uplift back to Innerleithen. Take a look on www.upliftscotland.co.uk for the latest info. In second was Aiden Bishop followed in third by Julian Poffey of Wheelies/Treadz.
Veterans’ Keith Wilson pulled out the stops for a win over Martin Crocket and Seb Ramsay in third. Many of the Veterans and Masters were leaving on Monday to race the Masters World Championship in Pra Loup. How much dishwashing and ironing did it to take to clear that with the wives? Not enough I think as some were already in the doghouse before they’d even left! Good luck to all who are racing out there.
The sole entrant in the Junior womens category was recently signed Giant rider Katie Curd who put in a time that would be second fastest of the day to Rachel Atherton. Not a bad result I think most would agree!
In the rest of the Non-Elite women it was Aimee Dix who took the win in senior with a 3.02 followed closely by Haby-Blu Cann in second with a 3.03. Next up was Lynda Davies of the Vets category with a 3.11, with Wendy Chambers on a 3.32 and Nicky Belton on a 3.33, first and second in Master.
And now for the Elite women. Rachel Atherton is only just back on the bike after breaking her wrist badly in Vigo but a win here, and with a solid time, should give her the boost to finish preparations for the World Champs in 3 weeks. In second was Anja Rees-Jones for Stendec and third, Calamity Jayne Cann for CF3 Kona Sombrio, both on the same second.
Just 1.1 seconds separated out the Expert Podium. Ben Baker was top of the trio on the steps for Balfa UK. Stuart Jenkinson was second, less than two tenths down, with Billy Cheetham getting the final spot for Syncros Electric.
Elite. With Steve Peat still out recuperating from his dislocated ankle at Rheola, and neither of the Honda’s here, the podium was going to be down to the usual suspects. Julien Camellini ripped into the finish with a 2.26 for third on his Prototype Orange which looked as though it was designed to fit around a gearbox in the future with it’s further forward pivot over the 224. Dan Atherton beat his younger brother in fourth to take second with a 2.25. Everyone expected them to keep it low over the Loctite jump as it was the finals. I don’t think they were on that wavelength as both went huge. Marc Beaumant, winner here last year, in a time of 2.24 took both the Elite win and fastest time of the day for MBUK/Santa Cruz. With all the usual arguments firing up over the selection in the lead up to the Worlds, it was good to see the cheer that erupted when Matt Simmonds rolled into the arena to take fifth, beating two of those riders chosen over him for the team. Taking nothing away from those who are on the team as we have so many talented riders there will always be those who miss out but many do feel that Matt was the no brainer choice. The other controversy this weekend was of course the finish tapes. More accurately, riders going through them. First off was Ben Cathro who took out a fair stretch and, being fair here, definitely crossed them in the process. Si Paton announced straight away that it was a DQ which was then appealed by several people. Dan Atherton was then the next, crossing over several of the marker poles. And finally was Marc, no stranger to the odd bit of controversy here, who it was claimed, went over one of the marker poles. Now this was on the outside of a sketchy corner, the cutting was not obviously deliberate but the rules state that if you cross the tapes then you must re-enter them where you crossed. If not, then one of several things can happen at a BC registered race. If it had been a UCI race then things would have been very different. There, Disqualification is the only answer. In the end, after appeal, Ben’s time was reinstated and all three riders received a warning. What should have been done here? A time penalty? Full disqualification? Everyone has a different point of view but many are of the view that Ben should not have been let off with just a warning as he took out so much tape. It’s a tough call. However, as one rider put it, it’s only pushbike racing…So the season rolls on ever forward, the summer nearly at an end (in Scotland at least) and only a handful of races left. The fifth round of the NPS at Caersws is on the first weekend of September, the week before the World Championship and the same weekend as the World Singlespeed Champs in Aviemore. Caersws will now NOT be Friday/Saturday but instead the normal Saturday/Sunday. Innerleithen replaces the cancelled Rugog round and that will be held on the 14th October. Hopefully both of these rounds will continue with the same success that has marked out the first three rounds this year. Hopefully we’ll they’ll be dry races although, with Innerleithen in October, I think we’ll be needing a miracle! The Fenwicks bike wash may not have been quite as busy here as it was at Rheola but thanks to the guys for turning the pressure washers down slightly to help save the bearings on our bikes. Another presence welcomed was that of Loctite. Series sponsor, they turned up here with their race rig and their single seater Formula cars which they fired up for the spectators. Thanks to Si, Parr and all the sponsors and helpers who have continued to make this one of the most memorable seasons for NPS racing for all the right reasons. Without their help, this series couldn’t be as good as it is.