Two races at Rheola back to back and both sunny, what’s been happening in South Wales recently to cause such an outrage? With a change in the management, plenty of hype and a lot of top riders on the cards there was speculation and expectation aplenty. Read on to find out what happened at the first round of the 2010 British Downhill Series
...Pics by Eggraphy
Rachel Atherton in warm up mode
Rheola has long held a place in the hearts of downhill racers in the Uk, with one Rob Warner even going so far as to describe it as Fort William with trees. Sitting between three and four minutes for the average rider it is long, fast and takes no prisoners with both start and finish in full view of each other from their respective places top and bottom of the hill. Starting on the flat out open bridleway like track from the start hut riders are treated to speed, rocks, kickers and jumps which just beg to be hit. Loose and lairy this quickly leads into the woods which never seem to dry out, no matter how hot it is. Still fast but with rocks and roots sticking out to rip your wheels out from under you, hit the new step down to the road and into the off-camber section first used in last year’s NPS Final.
The run down, yes down, from the uplift to the start
Whilst not quite as off camber as it was last year thanks to some work to shore up the ground, ruts made it easier to carry speed and this noticeably helped flow if not necessarily the challenge – certainly the case as the track began to dry over the course of Saturday. Hold your line and speed through this (many didn’t and spent plenty of time dabbing along with their feet), drop onto the road and you’re back into more roots, ruts and rocks. These soon lead you into infamous Star Wars (the scene of Steve Peat’s broken ankle in 2007) where you’re soon met with more roots coming in from all angles, forcing everyone to keep on their toes if they have any wish to exit the other side still on the bike! From there it was a few jumps, a bit of bog and a steep chute to the finish down the back of the industrial buildings left over from the Resolven mining works which seemed very appropriate given the areas mining history. Despite appearing to lack flow early on Saturday things improved noticeably as it bedded down and the work that the WDMBA boys had put in was soon appreciated by many.
Ben Reid onboard Dirt/Norco for 2010
There was no escaping the buzz which surrounded the run up to this event although it did leave many wondering if it would be able to live up to the hype. As always, weather was definitely on side with a dry fire road, gorgeous blue skies over the valleys and later a starlit night. Always better than mist, rain and misery! So with riders moods buoyed by good weather, a noticeably increased Elite field and pit area full to the brim with trade stands things were looking good. Even a last minute cancellation by the coach company on Tuesday failed to put a damper on things as a replacement was very quickly found. Unfortunately various things over the course of Saturday did conspire against riders maximising practice, the worst of which was a rider being taken to hospital by air ambulance with suspected neck and spinal injuries. Get well soon buddy! And it would have been fine if problems had stopped there but things got worse as first one, two and then three coaches (of four) broke down, were fixed and then broke down again meaning that by the time four o’clock came round one coach was running and both Si & Dave were seriously contemplating which way would be easiest to push... However, some diplomacy skills, the lure of a chequebook and the promise of a maintenance team on hand all day Sunday to keep the coaches running smoothly things seemed to be under control. Until they called up at half seven to say they weren’t coming back. I don’t think anyone would have envied Si at that point. But come to the rescue he did and somehow four coaches turned up on Sunday morning. But more of that later...
Unknown rider hitting the hip drop up top
With five plus runs easily had on Saturday, with tales of eight or nine plus, there was plenty of practice on offer for those who wanted it. Matched with a few runs on Sunday morning and there was no excuse not to know the track by the time racing came round on Sunday afternoon. Who maximised their winter training and who watched too much tv? The times don’t lie and this is what happened:
In Juveniles there was a ten second spread across the podium with Luke Cornforth taking third place with a 3:48. In second was Cwmdown/PS Cycles sponsored Callum Havard who’s time of 3:40 pushed Perth City Cycles’ Sam Herd hard but not hard enough as Sam took the win with a 3:37.
Youth next and as the riders get older so the times decrease. Dan Sheridan took third here with a 3:21 for Chromag/OCTuning/Tomac with Peaty Syndicate rider Billy Matthews in second on a time of 3:16. But with an impressive winning margin and a time that placed him very high in the overall results was All Terrain Cycles rider Fraser McGlone having blasted down the hill in 3:07. Impressive and no doubt a hot tip for some more great results this year.
Dan Ingram in the middle woods
Junior saw closer times but the winning time still wasn’t enough to win Youth, Arran Gannicott was one of the Scots who made the long trip south and third was his reward for MDE Bikes and a time of 3:12. In second was Empire Cycles rider Brad Mather with a 3:10 whilst taking the win was another All Terrain Rider, Mark Scott, with a 3:08.
In Seniors there was less than two seconds separating the podium, starting with Stan Jones Cycles rider Jonathan Owen taking third with a 3:15. In second was All Terrain’s Joe Flanagan with a 3:14 whilst a very surprised but very happy Ryan West took the win for Tree Magnet Racing in a time of 3:13 that would have placed him highly in Expert.
In Masters third placed Antony Gaskin pulled a time out of 3:18 whist Andy Titley took second for Kona/Paligap in a time of 3:16. That left Stourport Specialist Cycles rider Dave List and the tallest man in downhill to take the win with 1/5th of a second lead over Andy. Close racing indeed.
Jack Reading getting loose up top
Pete Roberts was the man on the third step in Veterans whilst Bikeactive.com’s Rich Simpson took second with a 3:28. This meant that Jason Carpenter (ex Dragon organiser and father to very quick and newly promoted to Elite, Manon) was left to take the spoils of victory having posted a time of 3:22 and proving that he is still a more than capable rider even after years of the abuse of running races.
Non-elite girls now and Rosie Smith pulled out third place in her first ever National event, having only started racing at the tail end of last year. Borderline Events rider Lianne Bartleman was in second spot whilst Juice Lubes team rider Angela Proctor took the win with a time not a million miles from those of the Elites.
Jake Hancock styling it up on the bottom jumps
Experts was tighter than tight in the mid pack but the podium had bigger gaps than the rest. Mark Milward took third for Swinnerton Cycles with a time of 3:09 whilst Lee Huskinson was second with a 3:08 for Middleburn/Royal. But in the lead and doing his first National event in Expert was Tom Attlee for Pearce Cycles with a time of 3:05.
In the Elite women’s category Manon Carpenter took third for Lapierre/Royal with a 3:46 having had a crash en route to the finish. In second was Mojo’s local rider Aimee Dix onboard her new Trek with a time of 3:43 whilst Rachel Atherton took the win with a quick 3:24, professing that it was her only run of the weekend to have not involved a crash!
And then, finally, we have the Elite men. The big guns, the big names and the riders who are expected to put out the fastest times of the day. With only eight riders having broken the three minute run barrier Chain Reaction’s Matt Simmonds took third here with a 2:52, less than half a second back from the 2:51 of Dan Atherton onboard Commencal. But taking the lead, if not by quite the same margin as he did with his seeding run was Gee Atherton with a time of 2:49 and who apparently sounded like he was just out having some fun all weekend. Well, a win has to add to the enjoyment factor, especially for the newly rebranded Commencal team.
So all round how was the weekend viewed? With a few exceptions the general mood was very positive. There were the obvious issues with coaches breaking down but the effort which the dynamic duo of Si Paton & Dave Franciosy went to to ensure that transport ran as smoothly as possible was much appreciated by all concerned. That didn’t stop the new company drafted in for Sunday barricading the gate at the end of racing and demanding £5k cash from Si before they’d let anyone leave. The police were soon called and the coach driver given the option of either getting out of the way or getting arrested. Unsurprisingly he chose the former. Who’d be a race organiser?
With a killer track, enough practice to get to grips with it, great weather and the best atmosphere at a national event for a fair while it was very much a weekend to be proud of. With Fort William on the calendar next it promises to be an even bigger event, with chairlifts and both trade teams and big name riders aplenty keeping the British Downhill Series moving in the right direction. Based on what we’ve seen so far 2010 looks to be a vintage year for the British Downhill Series.
Thanks to everyone who made this event what it was and also Scott Cartright
for providing us with pics. For full results check out www.rootsandrain.co.uk/race106. See you in Fort William on the 8th & 9th May!