Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Epic Week: Afan NPS, Afan Euro, Glentress and Fort Bill World Cup

Afan NPS4X:

To kick the week off we had an NPS 4X round and a European 4X round on at Afan. The guys at Bryn Bettws Lodges had done a huge amount of maintenance to the track prior to the race weekend. The track was looking really good and was absolutely flying on the Friday night. There were a good number of riders hitting the pro line and the track was running fast and dry. This all changed come race day. A massive load of rain fell over night and the start of racing was delayed as we all hid waiting for the rain to stop falling and the wind to die down. The track was running much slower but was fast enough to make for some good racing and by the end of the day a formula one style dry line was forming making passing one for the brave taking on the greasy alternative lines. Saying that this was one of the best 4X races I have ever been to for overtaking. There were moves being made the full length of the track and a hell of lot being made and stuck on the last corner. It goes to show wide corners work and produce fantastic racing! I had my best result yet at the NPS taking 2nd step on the podium alongside Gareth on 3rd who was giving me a lift to Scotland, a great start to the week for both of us.

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The Euro went less well for me. They do a worldcup style system with timed qualifying runs leading to straight knockouts. I qualified in 35th place after loosing my clips out of the rockgarden and got knocked out first round of the knockouts.


From here me and Gareth loaded up and headed to Glentress with Mop Head, Keeny, Jess Greaves and Chris Ratford. We spent a lot of time in the skills section messing about on the jumps and having a lot of fun. It was great to have a chilled out session throwing the bike around in the air, I have still barely jumped the MTB since the leg got broke so it was nice to start feeling confident again with the wheels off the ground. Chris Ratford was on camera duties and got some brilliant shots on the jumps and through the trees. They had just finished a new section of the blue run. It was the most amazing section of trail featuring probably of the order of 50 berms, all perfectly smooth and shaped so that it was flatout off the brakes the whole way. A huge amount of fun I definitely recommend visiting that place. After a bit of ghetto camping we did the red run the next morning then back into the cars up to the Fort. We had heard on the way up that the Glen Coe race got called off due to 70MPH winds and snow and so we were a little apprehensive about what the weather might be like up at the Fort.

The World Cup, Fort William:

This was both mine Mop Heads and Keenys first world cup. Gareth was the seasoned vet of the group having entered Fort Bill last year. The nerves and excitement really started kicking in once we had gone up and taken a look at the track. The whole scale of the track is way beyond anything seen at nationals. The jumps are big and intimidating and the style of the track meant there were some very awkward looking features. The worst bit was the amount of time we had to sit around and think about it before we were allowed to actually get the bikes out and give it a go. This came in the way of two 90minute practice sessions. One on the thursday and one on the friday right before our timed qualifying runs. This gave a really pressurised atmosphere where there was no time to mess about. We had to step it up right from the start and get the track nailed. It was really interesting, the big jumps that typically on a national level track would be massively intimidating and scary were not too bad. The gradient meant there was tonnes of speed to be found without even trying. This made sending the big jumps easy as there was no need to worry about making the distance on the larger gaps. With the big jumps done and that mental game out of the way my focus was on the first straight which was somewhat awkward and required good rhythm and committed pumping to get down fast and smoothly.

The track kicked off abruptly and continued in that manner most of the way down. The gate dropped with enough room for one pedal before hitting a steep sharp roller and into a double. This lead to a camel triple type thing that most riders were picking on to then dropping down the other side. The quicker line was to jump over the camel hump and push the back wheel into the backside of the transition, this was somewhat risky and with not much room between jumps required good skills to pull off without binning it. There are then two doubles into the first wide loose corner. This lead into a massive roller that could be pedaled over and into a decent sized double. The next roller was big and took some care. Hitting at race pace it was near impossible to keep the bike on the ground over it and it naturally sent you onto your front wheel well past the landing transition. I and a few others had a good stack here in practice trying hopelessly to hold on following a very heavy front wheel impact weight fully over the bars then finally digging in and pitching over on the loose entry to the next corner. This next corner had two main options, a wide entry following the berm or a loose inside line cutting tight to the flag. The corner was up over a hump which unweighted the bike and made it very easy to loose the wheels trying to keep it tight. Loads of moves were being made here, if you were in front it had to be ridden defensively however lots of people were using the extra speed from coming wide to capitalize on other riders mistakes and make a pass stick. The entry to the rock garden was a similar concept with a wide line carrying speed or a tight inside line on the flag. The tight inside line setup to allow the rock garden to be jumped and cleared but the run in was by no means straight forward and jumping the lot required commitment. The rocks themselves were not bad to ride and there were a number of lines through them. After this point most of the racing was done. It was on the pedals and off the drop into the big table which had been reshaped this year making it longer and with a steeper landing. This jump felt beautiful to boost and kept the crowd entertained as the riders flew past. A really loose right hander lead into the steep sharp quad that I think no one jumped in full this year. A sprint to the finish dropped the riders into the large and packed grandstand area with the big screen and loud commentary amping up the atmosphere and making it by far the coolest event I have taken part in.

Friday night saw qualifying, I actually didnt find this part too scary. The top of the track was fairly empty of spectators and it didnt feel any bigger than a normal event. On the gate I got my race head on and was fairly relaxed and focused. I had made the decision to take all the safe longer lines and try and hit them fast and get the cranks in wherever possible. There were 89 people entered and 64 places available so this was the run where it had to count. The qualifying runs are timed with the quickest riders going through. My logic was that the looseness of the track meant that a load of people would wipe out and so staying safe and keeping the tyres underneath me would pay off. I put in a reasonable run with no mistakes and got to the bottom just inside the top 60. There were 10 more riders at this point to come down and so it was by no means guaranteed. Mop Head was in a similar position and we both had to wait for the board to cycle through to see if we had scraped in. I placed 62nd and Mop made it by the skin of his teeth in 64th place. I think it is fair to say we were both ecstatic, we were the only UK Senior riders to make it through qualification and this meant we were in the game to ride in front of the crowds and freecaster the following day.

Another round of practice and things were starting to get really intimidating. I spent most of the session on the top half of the track trying to get relaxed and comfortable on the bike and ignore the large crowds accumulating at the bottom. It is ok come race run as there are so many other things to focus on and race head makes you oblivious to anything going on beyond the extents of the track but in practice I found it hard to ignore all the spectators and I wasnt really enjoying riding in front of all the people. The setup for the race was cool. It was fun being up there with all the big names and lining up on the gate the adrenaline was really kicking in. I was on the gate with Dale Russel, Pat Campbell Jenner and David Graff. Off the start I felt that Dale was edging towards me and veered to the side, this unfortunately messed up my timing on the first straight and left me trailing by the first corner. I did my best to catch up but was never close enough to the action to be threatening any of the higher places. No one made any serious errors and so that was it, I was out of the comp. To be honest I couldnt have cared less. I was so happy to have been part of an event of this scale and getting that far was a massive achievement for me particularly this year having just come off the back of a fairly decent injury and able to get back to form in time for this event. Final position was 60th place which I was super happy with for my first ever World Cup.

Watching the rest of the racing was really cool. The intensity of the top guys is absolutely nuts. Everything from raw power to the lunacy of of the lines they are prepared to hit is so much further beyond anything I have previously experienced in 4X. There really is a big jump up moving to World Cup level 4X and rightly so. As a spectacle it looks absolutely fantastic the coverage and the way the event was setup and run makes it look really impressive and great on TV. This is the sort of action that can spread the sport wider into the public domain and we really are in a position now to push it to a bigger audience. It was amazing to be part of such an event and an incredibly intense experience. Part of me now wants to run away having ticked that box and said I have done it, the other part wants to dive in and have a focused effort to step my game up and take on a few more of these world class events next year. I guess we will have to wait and see on this one!!

Big thanks to Chris Ratford for taking some awesome pics throughout the week and for Cotic and SurfSales whose excellent support and fantastic bike allowed me to get to the World Cup and take part in such a fantastic event. To see the action in full check it out on Freecaster My heat is about 24 minutes in!

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