The British Downhill Series team were up at the top of the mountain at 5.30am on race day to try to get the track ready for racing should the Nevis Range operators deem it safe to run the gondolas for a full race track. By 8am, with continued high winds sweeping across the mountainside and with it predicted to continue throughout the rest of the day, it meant there was no access for riders in the gondola, the UCI officials made the decision to start the race from the short-course start hut. Try as they might, the BDS crew had made all the efforts to bring the full track to racers, but Mother Nature had prevailed but like all the riders said, everyone is racing the same track and in the same conditions; 'It is what it is' became the motto for the day.
The official track preview - presented by Drift Innovation - with Team Wideopenmag riders Kye Forte and Charlie Hatton shows the tricky conditions faced by riders even on the short course.
Now at this point, given the distance travelled by the majority of riders, they could have all cut their loses and packed their bikes on hearing this news, but in true British fashion, the show kept rolling on and nearly everyone was heading up the hill - a mere half hour push-up - for a bit of practice in the morning before the race runs started at 1pm. With the rain falling intermittently, riding conditions were far from perfect, especially in the technical section at the start gate where the track dropped suddenly down a series of steep root-infested steps and into a few sweeping turns. Riders who were too cautious were being caught out, and there were several over-the-bars and a few slams into nearby trees. With marshals and medics close-by the riders were soon up on their feet and heading down the slippery track.
The wallride was the first breather after the technical start.
The wall ride was a no-no for all riders. Being far too slippery, so it was a quick jump alongside it and down into the wooded section. With a tight squeeze of the brakes, riders were in the woods and pedalling for a while, weaving in between the trees and down the gully towards the river-gap jump.
Into the deep, dark technical woods.
Weather conditions were far from ideal, but riders made the most of what was there.
Out into the open, riders were over the bridge and down into the long sweeping turn where the Works Components speed trap was placed. Riders of all abilities were going top notch without a care in the world it seemed but a few were caught out after the immediate hip jump into the main motorway section. Even with speed, it wasn't enough thanks to the condition of the track and the high winds - although sometimes riders were protected by the line of trees either side of the track - and for some, like Myriam Nicole, getting some of the jumps a bit wrong meant there was a limited amount of wriggle room. Myriam went over-the-bars on one of the big jumps here and landed straight on her shoulder during practice. She's out now with a suspected broken collarbone, although from what we have seen subsequently, it could have been a lot worse. We wish you a swift recovery Myriam!
At least the fast sections were still fast for riders.
Brendan was jumping in between his enduro and his downhill bike all weekend.
For the non-Elite women, it was a chance to put their lessons learned from their track walk with Rachel Atherton to the test.
It was really nice for Rachel to take time off and have a track walk with all the women. Although the weather was really miserable and rainy, she cheered everything up. The track walk was helpful because she pointed out lines I didn't look at before or probably wouldn't have noticed, and those lines made everything a lot faster and easier for me. Although the track got shorted, at the end of the day there were a few lines that Rachel had pointed out in the track walk that I found very useful for the race. - Sumayyah Green, Junior Women Category racer.
The newly buffed take-offs and landings were beginning to suffer greatly from the heavy rain, with much of the top of the landings being washed away, leaving things tricky for all riders. Into the finish area, riders were quick to make a get-away back to their pits and away from the rain.
- Finals -
After a successful first round a few weekends back, Masters rider Kye Forte from Team Wideopenmag took the win, beating Adam Smith by 3.306 seconds. Other category wins included those from Kenta Gallagher from 777 Racing in Expert Men, Jamie Edmondson from Sick Skills Development Team in Juvenile Boys, Matthew Walker from the Madison Saracen Development Team in Youth Boys, Matt Cooper from Spokes of Bagshot in Senior Men, Mark Weightman from Leisure Lakes in Veteran Men, Alastair MacLennan from MTB Ride Guide/Nukeproof in Grand Vets, Sacha Bickerstaff from Vitus Factory Racing in Junior Women, and Hazel Wakefield from TRG Racing in Women.
Lucy Drees didn't have the same luck as in Ae Forest, with the big jump sections being her nemesis.
In Junior Men, with Neil Stewart out of action for this round due to illness, and his friend Laurie Greenland deciding to hold back from racing despite making the trip up, it was left to the likes of Charlie Hatton, Jacob Dickson, Elliot Heap, and Bradley Swinbank to fight for the podium spots. With international riders like Douglas Viera from Brazil and Alex Marin Trillo also competing, it going to be close to the wire in terms of finish line times. With only 0.250s between him and second place, Bradley Swinbank from Steve Peat Syndicate took the win over Orange Dirt World Team's Jacob Dickson. Charlie Hatton from Team Wideopenmag was only one second off first place but ended up third, followed by Frazer McCubbing and Elliott Heap in fourth and fifth.
In Elite Women, Pivot Factory rider Emilie Siegenthaler and Solid Bikes's Morgane Charre attending from continental Europe, the British contingent had their work cut out, especially with thoughts of Myriam in their minds after her huge crash. With the track more 4X than downhill in the last section of the short course, many spectators had their money on Rose Bike's Katy Curd doing well, and she did sit in the hot-seat for a while until FMD Racing's Tahnee Seagrave dropped into the finish line with a strong race time of 1:32.610. Rachel Atherton took to the track and was soon powering down to the finish line straight, she crossed the line with a tiny margin of 0.078s between her and Tahnee. We all knew things were going to be close, but not that close! Last on track was Manon, and perhaps holding back until the World Cup in a few weekends like the other riders, she crossed the line in third place, eight-tenths of a second off the winning time. There's no doubt, despite riders holding back for the international race, Tahnee would have left with a spring in her step knowing that she was that close to Rachel's winning time.
With only fractions of seconds between riders, it was tricky to make up time in the wet conditions.
Turning to the Elite Men, again many riders were saving themselves for their return for Fort William in a few weeks time for the World Cup, but with a stacked international field with the likes of Giant Factory Team's Marcelo Guitierrez Villegas, Commencal's Remi Thirion, Gstaad-Scott's Neko Mulally, Lapierre Gravity Republic's Loic Bruni, Bergamont's Eddie Masters, and Specialized's Troy Brosnan to name but a few, it was a chance, even on the short course to see who could win the sprint race from the fire road.
The rain began pouring down for the Elite Men.
The weather had been torrid all day and the even the sky above was building up to big finale at the end of the day. Times were incredibly close, and Harry Heath set the marker with a great time of 1:21.093, with the contingent from France - Remi Thirion and Loic Bruni - placed after him. Sam Dale was in hot pursuit, and managed to shave a tenth of a second off Harry's time. When Gee Atherton came down towards the finish line, the heavens began to really open up, with the rain pelting down with even greater intensity but he managed to get a time of 1:20.780. With Troy Brosnan and Josh Bryceland left on track, conditions were their worst they had been all weekend. Troy made it down the hill fourteen places behind Gee, the meat in a Eddie Masters and Bernard Kerr sandwich. Josh was the last man down but the conditions were against him and he was only able to manage forth spot, behind Gee, Sam Dale and Harry Heath. Sheltering from the rain, riders were clearly pleased to have made it down without injury, and their focus was now fully on returning to Fort William in three weeks time where hopefully the weather will be fairer and the track running from the top of the mountain.
Gee Atherton dominated the final race, making it two in a row for the 2015 British Downhill Series.