Round 1 of the HSBC UK National Downhill Series presented by GT Bicycles brings us to Nant Gwrtheyrn, in North Wales. Taking place this weekend the 1st and 2nd of April. The secluded Victorian village has a heritage of quarrying and sits nestled beneath steep cliffs dropping to the coast of the iconic Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales.
The series is the heart of UK downhill racing and many of the countries best riders will descend into ‘the Nant’ as the venue is often called. The event is one of six rounds co-ordinated by British Cycling in partnership with the experienced BDS team.
Today's practice kicked off the series with some stereotypical Welsh weather; riders awoke to find a saturated track with thick fog for the majority of the descent. The thick fog only let up around the finish arena, where the view out to sea was visible. The forecast for the day was to improve - however the weather only really cleared towards the tail end of the day.
The stunning views out over the sea from the finish at Nant Gwrtheyrn.
Mist in the trees, a classic Welsh scene.
The morning pre-practice track walk gave rise to moderate layer of mud over the rocky base. Most riders were planning to opt for a cut spike such as a Maxxis Shorty or Schwalbe Magic Mary. The general consensus also included a slight increase in tyre pressure, to minimise risk of pinch flatting in the many rock gardens. The track was well taped, with equal measure of wide sections allowing multiple lines to form throughout the day, versus plenty of tight sections between the trees - putting the riders accuracy to the test.
Making some final adjustments to the bikes before practice in the Intense pits.
Si Paton, the man responsible for the smooth running of the UK National Downhill series making sure everything is in order before practice begins.
This morning's rather damp pre-practice track walk.
Josh Mead adding some style to the weather en route to the start line for the first practice run.
Dowie Evans of Hot Pursuit Cycles on his maiden practice run.
Lewis Weighton of the RAF DH run still clean near the top of his first practice run.
Kade Edwards adding style to a small pop in the trees.
Pete Little tackles the tight outside line into an almost flat left hand corner. The quickest route by far, however it has caught out plenty of riders in today's practice.
A rider taking a slam off the technical outside line on a left hand corner near the top of the track.
Rider number 73 tests the highest line available, a line that requires a lot of confidence and commitment but that seemed to be paying off.
Danny Hart, reigning World Champion was no doubt feeling right at home in the steep, tight UK mud bath!
Tahnee Seagrave pulls up trackside to adjust her goggles and discuss line choices early on in the day.
Matthew Walker of the Madison Saracen team sends it large with style off a gap just past the river crossing during practice.
Jack Mills riding for Revolution Bike Park gets stuck into one of the muddier sections of track near the bottom of the hill. The track flattens off, the accumulating mud is really testing the riders fitness.
Gee Atherton looked to be riding strong following a winter of no doubt intensive training. Here he is fully committed and rode away with pace!
Davey Brookes shortly followed showing a slightly different approach. Somehow he saved this and lived to tell the tale!
Danny Hart was looking quick today, He got caught out by this right hander, washing out resulting in a minor crash.
Henry Kerr taking full advantage of this wide taped rock garden. A few riders were starting to cut their own lines in an attempt to avoid the deep rut that was forming.
This time however the radical line didn't pay off. A crash shortly followed resulting somewhat strangely in his losing his shoe!
Matt Simmonds, the 2016 series winner making light work of the ruts.
As practice drew to a close the sun finally made an appearance presenting some mystical light for the riders post-practice track walk.
Rider 140 catches her final practice run of the day in the sunshine.
Reigning world champion Danny Hart makes light work of the highest cut-in.
The weather conditions around 5 pm on the Saturday. Fingers crossed for more blue skies for Sunday's racing!
All in all a touch days practice for a lot of the riders, the track was constantly changing and with it set to dry out tomorrow will that provide another major change in conditions!?