It's been a quiet time in the UK race calendar over the festive season, but as far as the Northern Downhill was concerned, this was the quiet before the storm. As they returned to one of their most popular race venues, so did a respectable number of riders and a certain 2 time World Downhill Champion.
Hamsterley was the venue for the first enduro in the Northern Downhill calendar. Hamsterley is a very popular forest very well located and central in the area, hence its popularity as a race venue. It forms part of the super 6 mountain bike trail centres, Northern England's answer to the 7 Stanes in Scotland. The others being Kielder, Chopwell, Whinlatter, Grizedale and Gisburn. One of the best features Hamsterley has to offer over the others is the purpose built Downhill Trail centre run by the Hart family and the very popular uplift service.
This was a sell out race very soon after the Christmas break, but this did not deter the riders signing up for an early year race. Time to burn off the Christmas Turkeys and puddings. Talking to several riders on the day, their excitement was always apparent as the wait to race had seemed endless.
This time of year always seems like a high risk time of year to organise a race in Northern England, but the weather this year could not have been more prime, except for some hefty winds on the tops of the hills. With uncharacteristically mild and dry spells for weeks leading up to the race, most trails were bone dry and even dusty.
This enduro consisted of 4 stages on either side of the valley. Stages 1 (old NPS) and 2 (the Edge) in Danny Hart's Descend Bike Park provided steep and technical riding more closely suited to the downhill riders. Stages 3 and 4 were part of the red cycle trails, but with a twist. The trail commonly known as Root 666 was used in its normal guise, but also the climb part of 666 was used in reverse. Something that hasn't been done for some time in a race at Hamsterley, so this could potentially have levelled the playing field, as well as Carl (Northern Downhill's organiser) putting in some crafty lines in stages 1 and 2.
Normally during an enduro race the format is to follow the stages from 1-4 in order, however, due to the shorter winter days, riders could choose which ever stage they wanted to ride and in any order. This provided the perfect opportunity to practice in the morning and then have ample time and light to race through the afternoon light.
The overall fastest time of the day is probably no surprise and went to Danny Hart in 6:11.64 across the 4 stages. Looking through the stats, Danny seemed well ahead on the technical and steep trails, however, he was beaten on stage 4 by Christopher Philogene. Chris came in second place behind Danny in the 19-29 category. The second fastest time of the day went to Brad Illingworth (30-39) in 6:29.78 and third fastest went to Josh Noble (14-18 ) in an incredible 6:34.26
The women's race was won by Melody Fife, her time 8:25.60 followed closely by Phoebe Gale in 8:40.66 and third place to Elsbeth Greenshields in 8:43.91. The women's race provided much tighter and closer racing with less than 20 seconds separating the top 3.
For a full and complete rundown of the results head over to Roots and Rain
This was a superbly run first race of the season for Carl and the Northern Downhill crew. The next race in the calendar is at Ae forest on 10th February 2019 and promises to be an absolute belter of a race. A Time Trial (TT) race from the very top to the bottom of the hill. This is honestly one not to miss. More details can be found on their official website here
you can also follow more information on their FaceBook pages.
So that's a wrap, it was great to see the legend that is Danny return to the Northern Downhill race scene, not seen here since 2015. I'll leave you with some more images from the weekends race. See you at Ae next month.
This race report brought to you by @JWDTphotography
Photography by @DialledinUK
A massive shout out to the main man himself and a warrior behind the camera Andy Cole. Check him out here