Blink and you'd miss it. Yes, this weekend saw a short and fast track in use for round 4 of the Descent-Gear/MSC NPS series near the Welsh village of Caersws. With just one round to go, the total series points are increasing and we're getting closer to seeing who's in best contention for taking home the series titles. Read on for what happened over the course of the weekend
: Alasdair MacLennan Pics
Having been a stalwart of the NPS series for many years, Caersws is a well liked track among the riders for, despite it being on the short side, it's fun to ride and the uplift is rarely anything other than quick and efficient even if, like others that use tractors, it has a habit of eating bikes as they bounce up the hill on the back of the trailer. It may have been very similar to the track raced when the NPS last visited in 2007 but, with the recent tree felling which has taken place, the track had a very different feel with more space to move around and higher speeds to be reached.
Starting on the familiar ramp facing in the direction of the steep side of the hill, you are now buffeted by strong winds rather than be protected by the trees we have been used to for so long. The start jump/double drop, with it's off-putting log and drop you need to clear to get a nice landing is now hit by a strong cross wind and which put many off hitting it big over the weekend. Hit the brakes, flick left-right-left and ride the traverse. The two middle lines seemed order of the day as you cut across the recently truncated stumps. Now the trees are gone the entrance to the next section is much faster and closer to the wire as you skim trees with both shoulders. Drop across the bridleway, preferably landing back on the track rather than in the undergrowth, and pick down the tight, twisty and fast singletrack which gets drier and looser the further down you get towards the hairpin on the uplift road. The kicker really seeks to send you far and many dabbed their brakes to stay low. Youth rider Jordan Doig did no such thing in his run and only just held it with one foot after going big.
The next loose turns were an impressive show of who was comfortable with their drifts. Fraser McGlone got low, so low that his bars were just about scraping the dirt yet somehow kept it all upright. Onto the fire road, hit the jumps and then drop into another newly cleared section which feels a damn site lairier now you can lay it down without worrying about trees. And then you're almost there. Less than a minute and a half to this point for many, you felt like you'd missed half the course out as you launched the stepdown into the field followed by the subsequent wooden kickers which were an acquired taste at best. The first wasn't too bad as it was into the wind but, with the second being hit by a strong cross wind, many opted to pedal round the chicane to its right. A quick sprint to the line and it was all over. Sub 1:40 in most categories was needed to get onto the podium whilst a good solid time was under 1:50. So it may have been short, the racing was as close as it comes and, as pointed out by several, it's still going to be the fastest to the bottom. Just don't make a mistake!
It all started off so well with the weather. Warm, dry and dusty, showers soon began to fall and kept the field nice 'n slick which, combined with the wind, made things decidedly interesting on those last few turns and jumps. The rain continued onto Sunday morning but soon abated and the track never looked like it would need spikes. Timing. Now Mikrotime have been doing timing for years but it still goes wrong for them. This time it was a radio link which was proving problematic and led to some of the categories not knowing their seeding times before their final run and then a large gap between seeding and racing whilst further problems were sorted. At least the rain had stopped by this point and many used the opportunity to spend some more time walking the track before their run.
Once it all kicked off again, the Juveniles were first to hit the track and set the benchmark times and it was the Scots who did it. Sam Herd of Perth City Cycles was third with a 1:55 whilst iCyces riders took the top two spots; Stuart Wilcox took second with a 1:51, and George Gannicott the win with a margin of just two tenths.
Youths were pushing hard. Lewis Buchanan was third for Empire Cycles on a 1:42 with MSC's Sam Flockhart back from injury and just edging ahead on the same second for the next podium spot. Fraser McGlone looked quick on the hill and this proved to be so when he took the win by a margin of over three seconds for All Terrain Cycles with a 1:38.
Three riders separated by not much more than a second in Juniors and it was a familiar theme running through the results, irrespective of category. Harry Molloy took third spot for DMR/Resurgence/Last with a 1:38 whilst Harry Heath took second with a 1:37 onboard one of the Athertons spare bikes. However, man of the day was Gareth Brewin, just nine hundredths up, enough to secure the win.
In the Vet's, Jerry Twigg pulled into third spot for Cycleworld with a 2:02, with Gary Burns and Rich Simpson fighting it out for the top two slots. 1:55 saw Gary in second for Team Spode and Rich on the top step for BikeActive.com.
Masters is seemingly a field comprised of many ex-elites and has been that way for the past few years. Chris Whitfield took third for All Terrain Cycles with a 1:45 from his Trek with Andy Titley in second for Kona/Sombrio with a 1:43. 1:40 was therefore enough to secure the win for Joe Bishop and ZeroG.
Non-Elite Women isn't a huge category but there is still plenty of competition. Charlotte Hughes took third with a 2:33 and Uplift Scotland's Bex Reilly second with a 2:28. Taking the win was Reanne Atherton (no relation!) for Dave Mellor Cycles on a 2:24.
With Tracy Moseley electing not to race, there wasn't a huge abundance of Elite women racing but that didn't stop Leisure Lakes' Emma Wareham keeping it rubber side down for third with a 2:02. That mean Fort William winner Aimee Dix was second for Mojo Orange with a 2:01 and Helen Gaskell was in the top spot with a time of 1:57 for Intense.
Moving onto Senior Men and the times continued to fall, Dale Russell starting it off by taking third with a 1:43. Second was Tom Attlee on a 1:42. In top spot, and the only rider in the category to break the 1:40 barrier was Oliver Burton on a 1:39.
In Experts, the top ten were separated by just 2.3 seconds and the top three just over a single tenth. All on '39's, Ashley Maller was third with a '.964 with Chris Sinden of Phil Corley Cycles in second with a '.911 leaving Kyle Farrow to take the top step with a '.848 for Derry Air/MSC. With at least three riders on each second, this was a category where more than most there was absolutely no margin for error.
In the Elite category, as with Experts, it was all to play for. Dave Smith was in third for 3Smith/Leisure Lakes with a 1:35 with second place also on a 1:35, just half a second up. That second placed rider was James Hughes for MTBDirect/Intense/Shift, who after staying on for once and putting together a solid run to his first Elite NPS podium looked pretty pleased. In the top spot, and by a margin of two seconds was CRC Intense rider Matt Simmonds, sitting on a time of 1:33.
So that's four down and one to go. This certainly wasn't the best attended NPS in history with just 225 riders having entered but the track was good and plenty of practice was easy to get which meant that it was a pretty relaxed event. Without even trying, many riders were close to double figures in practice on the Saturday and some as many as fifteen so there weren’t many grumbles over lack of value for money. Even so it would have been nice to see more riders turn up to what is Britain's premiere series. As it was, the atmosphere was unfortunately pretty flat for most of the weekend thanks to the spread out venue although it did pick up once racing proper kicked off (and the timing had been sorted). Caersws sees the Caersws Cup back at the same hill in a week with the Welsh Champs following one week on from that. The next (and final) round of the 2009 NPS is back in Wales for Rheola, a favorite among many, on the 26th/27th September, one week after the Schladming World Cup. See you all there.Cheers to Stu@MtbCut.tv for the following vid: