NJW at Round 2 of the British Cycling National Downhill Series

Published / 22/05/2017

Full race report:

Luck did not seem to be on my side during the run up to Fort William. Get the new frame built up with a few weeks to spare – and the fork tops out. Send it for an emergency damper service. Get the van serviced so we can make it to Fort William without issue and the brake calliper seizes… Managed to get it sorted with about an hour to spare. Go to load the van and the garage door won’t open above waist height…

Fortunately, we departed for Fort William on Tuesday evening with plenty of days before the race. Despite a seemingly working fork on the only day I had to test it since the damper service, 1/2 a run into the brutal Fort William world cup track undid that. It turns out, that while the damper was well overdue a service, the spring side was the one causing all the trouble. Cue a few phone calls to Team Manager and head mechanic Dave who quickly gets on the phone for some advice from Sprung Suspension. A few phone calls and car park adjustments later and we establish it’s definitely the air spring causing the problems. Fortunately Dave managed to scavenge (with permission) 1/2 of fellow TMC Rider Sarah Crellin’s fork, complete with working air spring. While Sarah is out with injury at the moment she kindly agreed that at least part of her fork could compete in this round, even if it would set a considerably slower time than she could deliver! Looking forward to racing with her again and recreating the success of Llangollen during the next few BDS rounds.

Fortunately, Sprung, Dave and Sarah had saved the day and put the issues to bed. After only 4 practice runs during my first two days riding, I got down to business on Saturday and got in as many runs as possible including a full run. Unfortunately, thanks to Dave, a fully functional bike meant I was out of excuses. The track was tough, really tough. I was riding the struggle bus like it was a ride at Disney Land. By the middle of the track, I could barely feel anything in my hands… or forearms, but I was hanging on and making it down. By the time I was down to the MASSIVE jumps on the motorway section of the track, the confidence had been beaten out of me and I was questioning my ability to ride a bike all together.

Come Sunday morning, I got one practice run in, the rain overnight had helped a bit up top, but made the woods incredibly slippery. I missed judged the exit of the woods and had a bit of a dirt nap. After sorting that issue out, I made it down and pulled to a stop two corners from the motorway section and took a good time to recover and regroup. With no practice runs remaining, I wobbled down the first few motorway jumps, sprinted at the step up staring down at the infamous Welcome to Scotland/Tissot jump that boosts you into the finish area. I had already decided I wouldn’t be messing around rolling it in seeding or racing, this would be my only chance to ‘give it a try’… I pushed the urge to brake to the back of my mind, got on the pedals gave my self a few motivational shouts, went maximum YOLO and pulled up. It wasn’t the smoothest landing, but any landing you ride out is a good landing. Cheeky adrenaline rush and felt amazing in the finish arena.

James Gould – right James Windley – left

After looking at the start list, we found that despite being significantly quicker, TMC Rider James Windley would be starting his qualifying run only 1 minute behind me. On a track of this length, it would be touch and go whether he caught me or not. Down to the woods qualifying was uneventful. The front-end washed in the woods again, but this time I avoided nap time – I ended up stopped, but still on the bike with a foot down. A second or two to recompose, and to check for Windley over my shoulder, and I was back on it. Coming down the motorway jumps, I could hear the whistle from the Marshals as Windley was closing the gap. On one of the middle jumps the best Marshal of the weekend shouted ‘rider, 30m’… With Windley closing down on me I sprinted into the step up with the gap closing, step up done sprinting into the Tissot jump giving Windley the tow in. Not that I looked back to check, but Windley assures me, we were both in the air at the same time of that one. There was a spicy moment “landing” the jump over the back of the 4X, but in true team mate style, we crossed the line, stoked, together.

Once again, qualifying was my fastest run of the weekend – I knew I could find more for my race run, and I did. Uneventfully, I finished my race run 16 seconds faster than qualifying. While I’m stilling fighting it out at the slow end of the times, it was a good result for me and a personal victory. About 5-10 mins after my run had finished and I could feel my hands again, I was pleased with it.

Shout out to all the TMC sponsors; Mitchell Cycles, Schwalbe Tyres, Smith Optics, Torq Energy and Reborn Clothing – with thanks to Sarah Crellin, Jake @ Sprung Suspension, TMC Manager Dave & Martin helping out with the bikes all weekend. A special mention to Team Stephens for providing the Steak Bridies (ask them to bring you one next year!). Final and biggest thanks to my parents providing awesome accommodation and nutrition all week.

After some bad luck preparing, struggling with a track that genuinely scares me and only really feeling comfortable for about 5 or 6 corners and 3 jumps (out of 1.7 miles of track)… Sorry for the cliché, but it’s true. Life begins outside your comfort zone.

James Gould