Innerleithen, Scotland on Saturday and Sunday the 13th and 14th of October 2007.
Innerleithen, normally a quiet Scottish Borders town, is often rudely awakened each year by the downhill circus making a visit. This year, due to the slightly damp weather that we got around the time there should have been some sunbathing being done, Rugog was unfortunately postponed. If Wales is wet at the best of times, then in October you would need a snorkel to find the track. With that in mind, using Innerleithen as a replacement was definitely a sensible choice. We may have already dropped in for Round 1 but with so many tracks on offer, creating something with a different feel wasn’t going to be a problem. If you’re reading this from a computer screen several thousand kilometers away then detailed track descriptions aren’t really going to mean anything but suffice to say, it was a mixture of old technical classics and wide open, flat out new era, all with a few little twists to keep the locals on their toes.
Late in the year it may be but the weather proved to be superb all weekend. A little mid week rain left the top section of trees nice and greasy to keep your skills in check and helped the newly cut middle section hold together as it was ridden in on Saturday. A few light showers on Saturday didn’t affect things much and the track went from looking a little thrown together when walked on Friday night to a track which rode with a really good flow. Innerleithen in the UK is, to many people, the holy grail of British downhill. Tracks have been evolving here for over 15 years and top riders from all over the world have made a visit at some point in their careers. The latest chapter in its history is that a chairlift is being considered to boost it's facilities and increase the potential for more tracks and more riders and remove the one and a half mile ride along the road to the awaiting trucks and coaches for uplift. Now note: Will this be the only chairlift in the World where mountain bikers can ride all year round without snow on the hill? Maybe..
After a leisurely ride to the top in a coach and a slightly less leisurely push through the forest to the start of the track, you are met with the clearing from which virtually all the tracks start. This one started off fast, down through a break in the trees before firing you into the tight, greasy and rooty woods to the side. This was sideways fun although many overcooked the first left hander in their races and ended up pointing the wrong way. Survive that, you dive through a gap between two trees, get on the gas and launch into oblivion down the quarry wall before launching into darkness from the road jump. This is now into traditional Innerleithen territory with the
39 steps. Damp, dark, rooty and tight to the trees with your shoulders grazing them on more than one occasion each run. This then cuts into a new link section, full of tight yet carveable turns on the loose gravely surface that makes this hill so special. Drop across the bridleway after turning across the camber on the roots and you get the smallest of rest bites before plunging back into the trees and into more flat out, tight lines cutting through the trees and across the furrows. Don't crash here for you will hit more than one tree before your body falls to the ground, the bike invariably on top. From the mini-whoops that the furrows provide you are then into one of the newer Innerleithen tracks and with it, a different character. This is wide and man made. Straight into a double, a step down and then a 100m long chute into a fly off that most went around, most that is except for Youth rider, Danny Hart who was just about making terra firma before the next take off. Landing a little on the short side then. Hit two doubles short and steep enough to be dirt jumps and back into the trees but mercifully not as tight as those further up. The speed is increasing now and your heart rate with it as you now begin to regret having that last pint the night before. Full of small drops, flowing single-track with multiple lines and bus stops galore, you are constantly diving from the wide trail back into the trees at the side for some more technical fun. Keep the three jumps low to the ground as again, the landings are a little short when you're hitting them at flat out race pace and then launch into the tight finish arena. This screamed at you to overcook things. Coming in from an 8ft wide smooth trail to a rough, rutted and rooty straight 30ft long with a loose but bermed ninety degree corner at the end you approach with your wheels seriously unweighted.
Sketchy? Yup. Fun? A whole load. The rest of the arena broke from the norm and instead took the less used natural line which cut it's way across all the roots it could find to get down to the road and then the finish. Time wise, the very top guys were putting in low 2.50's. The average was somewhere from 3.25-3.40. Virtually double the length of the round 5 at Caersws!
Saturday, without it's seeding run due to the poor light conditions October brings, was a lot more relaxed and laid back than has been normal this year. 10 runs were had by some with most getting 6-7 runs which has never been heard of before at an NPS. Saturday night caravans, motor homes and the Corner House Pub was rammed full of English riders watching England pull the pants down of French in the Rugby. You see every proper mountain biker here in the U.K hates footballers. All over paid and a proper bunch of nancy boys who receive a small tap and go down like a ton of bricks. Rugby’s different, a real mans game, we can associate with that, there might be some proper big scraps going off yet at the end of the game it’s handshakes and not handbags like the tossers we read about everyday in our press! Many thanks to Dave English who explained articulately the rules as to be honest, most of us didn’t have a clue..
This time last year we were saying goodbye to Dave Morgan who, being diplomatic, got some mixed reactions from riders for his running of the series over previous seasons. At that time we already knew that this year and next was to be run under the partnership of Steve Parr and Si Paton aka SPS Events, both seasoned racers and riders who were well known for their connections to Ancilotti and Descent-World/Gear.com respectively. The question on everybody's minds at the time was whether or not they had bitten off more than they could chew. For years, the NPS has always had a reputation for never giving all it could, for having shoddy organization plagued with problems, awful transport and just a plain poor value for money series, “Flogging a dead horse” as we say here in Great Britain.
It's always easier to follow in the footsteps of someone who has done a bad job but was Mr. Morgan really that bad or the victim of circumstance? Well this year, SPS put on a fantastic show from the off. Granted, there have been problems and things which could have been done differently. The important difference over previous years? That they listened intently to riders. If someone had a suggestion to improve things then it was actually taken on board and considered. Problems like the transport at the first round were quickly pinpointed and rectified at the event. The atmosphere has returned to the NPS and for that we must give our heartfelt thanks to these guys for taking on the unenviable task and creating something to be so proud of. Well done guys, it’s not often that riders are already looking forward to the following season before the last one is even over.
Racing in the UK is as good as it has ever been, and the top times of each category are getting much closer to each other. I mean, just look at Danny Hart in Youth who managed a time only 8s shy of Gee Atherton and less than 2s shy of the current Junior World Champion two years his senior. Take note, Danny has both the skill and determination to go a long way in this sport. Despite only moving up to Junior next year, he has already been racing downhill for 5 years and regularly embarrasses riders many years his senior who are at the thick end of their own categories. Gee Atherton’s performance itself was another to behold. He looked like a man in control as he rolled through the arena. Never ragged, nor on edge and just oozing skill, he made it through much cleaner than Marc and as the clock stopped with a 2.7s lead, that was just confirmation of what the spectators already knew.
1 Mark Scott Ecosse DH Racing
2 Lewis Buchanan Dust-till-dawn/Last Bikes
3 Fraser McGlone
1 Danny Hart Balfa UK
2 Alastair Wilson Ancillotti UK
3 Bernard Kerr Extreme Medical
1 Ruaridh Cunningham Bike Love Glasgow
2 Chris Hutchens
3 Ben Ineson
1 Timothy Williams Alpine Bikes
2 Jack Reading
3 Tom Rodgers All Terrain Cycles
1 David Tallontire Biking Heaven/Uplift Scotland
2 Chris Whitfield Leisure Lakes
3 Sion Jones Electric/Santa Cruz
1 Paul French Ancillotti UK
2 Martin Crocket
3 Alastair MacLennan Off Beat Bikes
1 Katy Curd Giant
2 Aimee Dix Team Skene
3 Monet Adams Descent-Gear.com
1 Billy Cheetham Syncros Electric
2 Nikki Whiles Team Skene
3 Rich Thomas Ancillotti UK
1 Tracy Moseley Kona Les Gets
2 Rachel Atherton Animal/Commencal
3 Helen Gaskell Halfords Bike Hut
1 Gee Atherton Animal/Commencal
2 Marc Beaumont MBUK/Santa Cruz
3 Ben Reid Iron Horse
With this now being October and most riders now wanting to partake in their other hobby of winter drinking and partying we reluctantly close this chapter on the Brand New Chain Reaction Cycles NPS. Next year is promised to be bigger and better so keep your mince pies looking here and on NPSDH.com
All photos by Ian Linton, check out his site at www.ianlinton.com