Llangollen is a venue which quickly cemented its status as a prime event in 2009 thanks to a near vertical track courtesy of Steve Parr & Si Paton of the then NPS. Tight, technical and in the woods the consequences of getting it wrong weren’t good and riders relished the challenge of this unique course as they stepped their riding up to match it. Roll on nearly twelve months and there have been developments at Llangollen. Politics unfortunately prevent the use of the steep wooded track but instead of throwing in the towel, local landowner Martin Sands has got the spade out along with a number of helpful volunteers and produced another track with an altogether different character. This year the BDS will make a return visit to race the new line down the hill but first it was the turn of the Welsh Champs, brought to you by Borderline events. Read on for more:Pics by Scott Cartwright
A text received late on Wednesday summed it up pretty well when it said it had been awesome in the dry that evening but that it was going to be a nightmare if it was wet. Unfortunately the rain failed to stay away which meant that by the time Saturday morning rolled round things were decidedly waterlogged.
Now regardless of weather, Llangollen really is an excellent venue in many ways. Easy to get to, near to lots of potential external spectators and set in a natural amphitheatre of hills. There is also lots of potential to create some awesome tracks, both in the trees (politics permitting) and in the open. Unfortunately it soon transpired that the current course in the open still needs some work before it comes even close to emerging from the shadow of the original. With a start straight lasting several hundred yards, in the dry it would have been fast and fun but in the wet, well it just wasn’t. With 300 sets of spikes riding over it each run it soon became very churned and was a slog even for the fittest. That said, Brendan still managed to clear all the jumps along there even with flats. From the end of that straight was the course proper. Steep chutes interlinking with cut turns and built corners, the odd drop and some fast miniature bridleway-like straights.
Given how steep the hill was and how straight some of the chutes were which virtually followed the fall line of the hill, these chutes soon became rutted and gave riders a headache as each run the lines changed. It was certainly keeping riders on their toes. And whilst the top turns lacked flow, those on the lower reaches of the hill faired much better and were a joy to ride once a rut was formed – you could really rail them deep. Just don’t overshoot them as it’s a steep hill to fall down. Mark Weightman did just that on Saturday and, proving that he can be rebuilt successfully, managed to ride straight through a tree. Quite literally, he snapped half of it off. No damage to him though luckily – any more metalwork and he’ll be able to join the ranks of the Bionic Men!
From those last corners, cross the fence & run into the last three step downs in quick succession. These were the scene of much misery over the weekend thanks to the greasy turn into the first followed by the off camber turn on landing (not to mention the large tree in your peripheral) and the speed which you soon gained off it. Several riders went down heavily here causing stoppages while the medics made sure they were ok before moving them and this in turn led to many riders electing not to go big in practice, saving that particular challenge for race runs only. There was an alternative route available but this was a serious detour and would certainly hamper any efforts to put in a time worthy of the leaders.
Practice itself was a patchy affair, with long waits for the uplift thanks to an awkward local farmer driving his tractor up and down the uplift road all day in an attempt to cause as many problems for people as possible (congratulations, you did) and a single track uplift road which itself is a bit of a challenge to run quick and efficient transport on. It wasn’t great at the NPS last year and it wasn’t too different this year although despite complaints, the average was 5 or 6 runs which is plenty and not too dissimilar to many other events in the UK. The biggest problem was just the challenging nature of the track which left the issue of waits and red flags as riders entered the steep, slippery & deeply rutted upper chutes. But that is always going to be an inherent problem of racing steep tracks. It was in the woods last year and it always is at the Scottish venue of Glencoe too. The steeper the course (which is what many say they want to ride) the bigger the gaps need to be which, in turn, leads to longer waits and less riding as fewer riders can be on course at any one time.
Walking the course whilst riders were making their way down showed a massive gulf between fastest and slowest, the top Elites riding it as though it was just a bit loose rather than the deep and sloppy quagmire it was. But that was a great thing to see and showed why these riders can be considered to be among the best in the world. It was all rideable and, for the most part, not particularly painful to crash on either. Yes, there were some pretty serious injuries unfortunately but given how many riders were falling and sliding out it wasn’t as horrendous as you might first think.
Which moves onto the complaints which were voiced over the weekend towards the organiser, Mike Marsden. There were noises of boycotts, letters to BC and numerous other threats but whilst many riders obviously felt aggrieved, most were happy to be there and racing their bikes. Racing in the UK has never meant maximum time on the bike and never will be. It’s about learning a course and riding it under the same conditions as the next man and, hopefully, beating them. And the sooner more riders realise that the better. Racing is racing and riding is riding; the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Yes, it’s a shame that you couldn’t get fifteen runs in on the Saturday but that is never going to happen at this venue – the track is too short and the uplift too awkward – which means that top and bottom you are going to have waiting riders. It doesn’t matter who the organiser is, it will always be there to a greater or lesser extent. It’ll be interesting to see how the BDS elect to deal with this potentially thorny issue.
Next up was the course itself which will need some serious work before it can be considered ready for the BDS event in June. It will be improved, and Si Paton is confident that it will be sorted – but we’ll all have to take his word for that. It wouldn’t take too much to improve, and dry weather would most certainly help things but as always in Wales that just can’t be guaranteed. And on a related note was the inconsistency of course marking throughout the weekend, with seemingly every run on a different course. One run the corner sequence would be taped open, tight, tight, open and then the next run it would be tight, open, tight, tight…and so on for an eternity. And this is a difficult one to sort. Yes, the tape was a bit on the thin side and double or triple taping would certainly have helped in some places but with the ground being so soft the biggest issue was actually keeping the poles in place to mark the corners which were just tearing out any time a rider clipped the tape. Which meant that the marshals had their work cut out to keep things as they should have been whilst also narrowly avoiding being hit by other riders as they also ran straight through the tapes.
By the time racing came round though it seemed that marshals just weren’t able to cope with the conditions as many corners were so cut that it was like riding a different track, with one set of switchbacks missing in its entirety, a straight line being there in its place. Yes, it was the same for everyone once racing started but it was far from ideal although credit to those who were involved, there was an awful lot of effort going on to ensure that tape was where it should be, and areas re-taped (with the authorisation of the BC commisaire) to help alleviate further problems where it was clear that the existing taping wasn’t sustainable. All in it was certainly a difficult weekend for everyone concerned but there were a lot of issues – and the majority of these would still have been issues regardless of organiser. Wouldn’t it be more constructive for riders to support new organisers which are badly needed in the sport, rather than initiate a witch hunt after a difficult event? Only the riders can decide that one.
And all of that overshadowed some great racing. The riders who won were all more than deserving of their spell on the top step, having negotiated a challenging track and even more challenging conditions to make it to the bottom in one piece.
For the Juveniles, the conditions were hard going but it was Kustom Bikes’ Owen Willicombe who took third on the day with a time of 3:00 whilst ‘Bike It Cycles’ rider Taylor Vernon took second with a 2:50. However, taking a fantastic win with a time of 2:28 was Cwmdown’s Callum Havard.
In Youth there are some very quick riders this year. Dan Sheridan took third for Tomac with a 2:24 having only completed his second run whilst Swiss & Swallow’s Phil Atwill took second with a 2:23. However, breaking the 2:20 barrier and taking the win with a time of 2:19 was the Peaty Syndicate’s Billy Matthews.
North West MTB’s Callum Dew took third in Juniors with a time of 2:15 whilst just three tenths ahead and in second was Joel Moore for Leisure Lakes. With a winning margin of four seconds was Sam Maddison for Team Mountain High who looked flat out all weekend, and kept it between the tapes to post a time of 2:11 in his second run.
Chris Foster was once no stranger to the podium in the dim and distant past so it was great to see him back up there now that he’s made a return to the race scene. A 2:08 for Bollocknack Racing ensured third place was his whilst Ride-On/Slik rider Simon Stuttard took second with a 2:07 just eight tenths ahead. Taking the win however was Joel Chidley for Leisure Lakes with a 2:06, less than two seconds separating the three riders on the podium.
Moving up to Masters and Antony Gaskin was third placed, several of the expected riders having bitten the dust en route to the finish. His 2:14 was pipped by Andrew Titley’s 2:09 which placed him second for Kona/Paligap meaning that the 2:07 from Chris Griffiths was enough to net him the win.
Red Mist Racing’s Niall Ingram took third with his first run time of 2:50, having got lost somewhere on the hill it seems in his second run judging by the time. Second was Dai Jones who looked flat out through the lower turns, posting a 2:44, whilst taking the win with a 2:17 was ex-Dragon Downhill man Jason Carpenter showing the rest of them the way to do it.
With six women in the field, Emily Horridge took third with a 2:33 whilst Manon Carpenter took second for Lapierre with a 2:26. Blatantly enjoying herself all weekend was Commencal’s Rachel Atherton, with the win no doubt helping matters. Her 2:09 was better than the majority of the men.
In Experts third and second places were separated by just half a second, both Alex Stock and Owain James respectively sitting on run times of 2:00. Taking the win however was Adam Morgan on a 1:57 which would have placed him 5th in Elite.
And in Elite it was Alex Bond who took third with a 1:54, only completing his second run. Second place went to Kona’s Joe Smith who pulled a 1:52 out of the bag. But really impressing even if the times didn’t do him full justice was Brendan Fairclough for Monster/Specialized with a 1:51. With a mistake up top in his second run he admitted to having not put much effort in for the rest of the track. Even with flat pedals he was clearing all the jumps on the top straight which many riders were struggling to even make it over the crest of. If only we had been able to see what time he could do at full chat from start to finish.
So an interesting event certainly, with several problems occurring but which were certainly fixed to the best of their ability on the day. Races on untried venues are always an issue if the bad weather comes out to play but riders are always saying they do want to ride new venues so it’s a trade off which people need to balance. Certainly the issues which presented themselves would appear to have been blown out of proportion by post race internet speculation which is unfortunate as Mike and his team really did work very hard against some increasingly challenging conditions to put on the event. Yes, there will always be criticisms regardless of the name behind the race but the trick is to listen to this and learn, which is something Mike is very keen to do.
Thanks to Scott Cartwright of Eggraphy for the permission to use his pictures in this report.www.rootsandrain.co.uk www.borderline-events.co.uk www.eggraphy.co.uk