Friday, 20 May 2011

Northern Downhill Series, Kielder Forest Mass Start, March 6th 2011

Nick Turner: ….This race was gonna be something else having not done a mass start before. The format was practice with qualification on the Saturday followed by racing on the Sunday. The track descends over 450 metres with a (knackering) 60 metre climb in the middle. I thought I would take it like a man rocking the Spooky ‘Bandwagon’ and be the ‘Hardtail Hero’ for the day!!

Walked up the track with my bike along with a few others on Saturday morning where we were all under the impression that it would be a typical trail centre type course. This was soon proved to be not the case, it was quite technical and looked like it was going to be really hard to pedal in places. The top looked amazing; the start begins quite wide and then narrows right down over a jump, opening wide again onto quite a loose 4x4 track followed by singletrack and then into the uphill section.

My first practice run on the Spooky was completely wild, it was so rough, I can’t emphasise that enough! Needed to check that I still had my teeth in place when I got to the bottom! I had (the expected) struggle in the uphill section due to the rocks, which saw my bike skipping all over the place. It was a relief being back onto the downhill sections and finally over the fun table-tops at the bottom. Squeezed in another run and left it at that, if I did any more I would be too cream-crackered the following day.

The seeding runs were in four groups of 20 riders, I was on the second back row and tactically lined myself up with a good gap to get through ahead. Unfortunately my gap was slammed shut and I knew my strength would be on the top downhill section. Jumped straight into the flow of things and started to pass people, having to take the looser and rougher lines as people were sticking to the smoother sections. Disappointedly I got stuck behind three riders at the singletrack section and couldn’t pass, then, when it came to the uphill section, I then started to get passed, argh!! Although the Spooky hardtail was great on the downhill bits, with the short geometry it isn’t the best for XC type riding however I gave it everything. Kept pushing when I got to the downhill sections again. However this part of the course was much flatter and quite bumpy so pedaling was tough as the bike was skipping again.

I have never, ever, been so relieved to finish a run, I can tell you! I have never felt so exhausted, thankfully though I qualified 12th for the final.

On the Sunday I took it easy in the morning making sure not to burn myself out for my race. The race category was much bigger with nearly 40 riders. I was however on the 3rd row to start which helped a lot. Had a really good start and passed 2 riders and as people were slowing down for the jump I continued pushing and went two-abreast with another rider, hardcore. Soon overtaking a few more people put me into about 4th place. Admittedly I was feeling smug at this point as most of these riders were on full suspension bikes where I was passing them on a little hardtail! Smugness now put aside…. When we hit the singletrack I was being held up by a rider in front, once at the uphill section he let me through, however I was now being caught up and being overtaken by other riders which was frustrating. I just kept pushing and pushing, it was so hard to control my breathing and was a relief when I got back on the lower downhill section! Got straight back into the flow and made up time. Just before the jumps near the end one rider was catching me up and I was determined not to let him pass. He got close at the top of the bottom section but then I floored it as I knew it was nearly over.

I could never have been happier to cross that finish line, my whole body had been abused and I couldn’t breathe! Having now lost my mass-start virginity and learned so much about how the format ‘works’ in regards to the types of bikes needed for these courses, I am looking into getting a small full suspension rig kitted out with view to doing some of the Megavalanche races.

Watch this space...

(photos and video to follow)

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