The seasons racing kicked off with dust, sunshine, a flying frenchman and a steep hill in Wales. What a combination, check out Southerndownhills first race report of the season.
Could it be that we all rolled up to the first race of the season in glorious sunshine? Is it to much to hope that this is going to be the year of sunny race weekends? Indeed we have had it before, if you are old enough to remember, a racing calender blessed with sunshine, dust, ninety nines, Maxxis Minions and super fast racing conditions. Some of us who have hit the beer a little too hard in the winter may have some excess to lose, so when you get to clean your bike with a hair dryer rather than cleaning sloppy gloop without your parents/housemates/wives/wags/girlfriends/greek lovers shouting at you for making the house a mess, it makes the season starter that little bit easier. You have to love the dry and dusty factor. Yep its times like this that a fuzzy haze comes over the part of your brain that dreams to dream, but this isn't a dream, its Easter weekend, its dry, its sunny and this is Draogn Downhill Round 1 at Abercarn. Gotta love global warming.
Its an all new format this year for the Dragon Downhill. Jason Carpenter, the organiser, wanted to try something new, something a little different to the norm and something more like the NPS/World Cup format. So now we have just one round per weekend, with practise all morning and into the afternoon Saturday, with a chainless (yes, sans sprocket and cog connecting thingamy) run at the end of the afternoon. Your time on that run then is used to seed the race order for first runs on Sunday. No, you don't have to do the run (or ride Saturday at all), no you can't just promise not to pedal and no, you most definatly can't just zip-tie a crank to your chainstay (I wish I got the chaps number, but he really did ask!).
The whole chainless thing seemed to cause a bit of upset with a few riders. Apparently its really hard to split a Shimano chain, or the sponsor says you must have a chain, or this, or that. Whatever. Chain off or no timed run. A few slacked it off and didn't seed, but that was more to do with the opportunity to go home early for the Man U game, most just accepted it for what it was, fun, good for learning to keep your speed and on a course like Abercarn you are still going to smoke it down. All told Dan Stanbridge (Mojo Suspension) topped the table with an impressing 1min 45sec run, followed by Tom Deacon (Electric / Santa Cruz) and Rowan Sorral (S Wales Trail centre). Will we see a chainless seeding run at Mountain Ash next round? If its dry, apparently we will. Don't forget that Jason is running a separate chainless series ranking too, just for fun.
Sunday morning dawned bright and practise got under way at 8. The track was getting slippier with the dust each run and several riders seems to be under some illusion that speed was more important than direction. I guess its the first race of the season thing and most soon learnt. Another first race issue was people still asking to get their chips (its all high tech stuff you know!) to be checked half an hour after registration closed. Be smart folks, get them checked when you sign on and don't leave it late.
Racing kicked off bang on time at 11.30 with the hardtail category as usual. Respect to these guys because Abercarn isn't the easiest track with a solid back-end. Juvenile, Youth and Junior ran smoothly but unfortunately a poor chap hit a tree hard up at marshal point 3 and racing stopped for a fair while whilst the guys from Extreme Medical did their thing (and a big thanks to the Veteran category who helped carry the casualty up the hill).
Back on track and running a bit late, Jason set most of the seniors off at 20second intervals to catch up, making for think and fast finishing at the bottom (kept me awake to say the least, thank heavens for chips). Straight through onto 2nd runs and for most the track was now running faster, making for some super times in all categories. Podiums places below, but notable rides from Emily Horridge (Mountain Cycle Chatel) who had to dig deep to stay ahead of the ever quicker Amiee Dix (Team Skene) who was leading the women's field after first runs. Gary Drake (www.awcycles.co.uk) edged into the lead after his 2nd run to win the Sport Make by 0.285 seconds (!) form Dave Valler. Up in Expert Alexander Evans (Ride-On / Fishers UK) held off Adam Brayton (Electric) but just couldn't keep on the wheel of a flying Nikki Whiles (Team Skene). Nice to see the young guys coming up and taking it on.
Onto the fast boys (well, they are supposed to be at least) in Elite. We all wanted to know how a Frenchman would cope in Wales, but with conditions more like the French Riviera no one could touch Julian Camellini (Mojo Suspension), who's first run time of 1:40:341 was the fastest of the weekend. Julian's team-mate and chainless winner Dan Standbridge took third and Tom Deacon (Electric/Santa Cruz) split up the Mojo pairing with a solid ride to grab second place.
And so, just 25 minutes later than scheduled, silly looking people stood on wooden boxes to receive the applause of the crowd, have the new dog-tag style Dragon trophies hung round their necks and to have their photos taken. Top stuff all round. Big shout to Jason for running a cracking event and for trying something different with the chainless seeding. Thanks indeed to all the marshals and to Extreme Medical for scraping up a fair few people over the course of the weekend and of course to the girls (and Col) for their help with running everything!
Full Results up on www.dragondownhill.co.uk.
See you next time, May 5th/6th, at Mountain Ash! – [Al]