Race report from Val Di Sole. It's a bit of an epic, you'll probably need a brew & a couple of Hob Nobs...
They say "if you want to get faster, ride with people who are faster than you", so yeah that's what I did; I went out & raced the Masters World Championships with some of the best non elite / junior riders Britain has to offer. I say non elite, not currently elite might be a better description for some of them. That or "playing the same game as me but on a different level".
So, what is the Masters Worlds? Well, each year the UCI organise a World Championships for each cycling discipline from road through to track to BMX to trials & of course DH & they have a male & female World Champion in every 5 year age bracket 30-35 etc. Next weekend will see the elites & juniors race, but with 300+ of them & 300+ of the other categories they can't do it all on one weekend so the weekend before they hold the Masters Worlds on the same track. Anyone can enter so long as you have a race license, so I guess the only thing stopping everyone having a go is mainly the fear of embarrassing/hurting yourself.
So back to my original point, if you want to get faster... We're now in our 3rd season of racing & we're improving month by month. Last year I was a bit out of my depth in the BDS & although I'm not pulling up any trees this season I'm currently sitting 7th in the Vets with one round to go. Richard Binns raced Worlds in Andorra last year & it's back there next year & the Andorra track looks amazing so I thought I'd go to Val Di Sole in Italy this year to try & get a bit of experience.
We arrived late Wednesday & the other guys had already been up & done a track walk so first run Thursday we're hitting it blind. There are some tough tracks in the UK & we've raced most of them over the last 3 years but nothing like Val Di Sole. Out of the start gate, round a berm & over a 20ft road gap that's far bigger than it looks on the telly, a couple of small drops & big blind one & that's the easiest bit of the track done. Then it's into the woods & 4 or so minutes later you emerge out into the open at the bottom. There's nothing in the woods that's too difficult to ride, it's super steep in places but you could get down it all on a trail bike with a bit of skill; racing it though is a different matter.
By Sunday it hasn't rained (thank god) but the whole track is filled with wheel size holes that are covered in dust so you can't see them & if it's not got dust on it it's a root or a rock. What you can see is why it's the pros favourite track. It's all natural & there are so many possible lines everywhere. And herein lies one of my problems. By Sunday, Mark Weightman knows every single line on every corner & he keeps talking about them & I just nod & agree with him. I go into the woods, I remember bits where I've messed up on previous runs & then I come out of the woods & by the time I get to the bottom I can't remember any of it in sequence. Binnsy is also struggling with memorising the top section but everyone else seems to have their lines dialled. The problem we all share though is how rough & long it is. By the time we get to seeding on Saturday neither Binnsy nor I have done a full run yet. In fact I don't think we've done one with less than 2 stops. Arm pump like never before & for the first time in 4 years of marriage I've had to take my wedding ring off because it's digging into my finger & hindering holding on. Everyone's feeling it. Fast forward to Monday & I'm driving home having only done 14 runs in 4 days. We do 14 runs in a day sometimes in the UK.
Seeding goes OK. At the start of the week Christopher Karl Whitfield tells me he'll be around 4:30. If I can bring it in under 6:00 I'll be happy with that. I seed with a 6:02. Aside from a couple of small mistakes it was a good run. Binnsy does a 5:30.
Adam Smith tells me I've got to go 10 seconds faster in my race run, which I should be happy about as he's got to find 20 seconds. And that's what I love about DH. It doesn't matter what level you're at, everyone's fighting their own little personal battles. From the 69 year old Canadian doctor who asked Neil Wilson to tow him in on the road gap (he's only 3 years younger than my dad!) to David Wardell psyching himself up to launch the step down that Troy Brosnon probably does on every run. It's a psychological battle as well as a physical one.
With Alastair Maclennan's words ringing in my ears "REMEMBER IT'S THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!" I found those 10 seconds & another 3 in my race run with a 5:49, finishing 35th/54. I did it in the main by not touching the brakes on the straights & pedalling wherever I could. I learned so much in those 5+ minutes that it was worth the 1,000 mile drive each way just for that. But add to that the craic, which was on from day one & the encouragement, tips & help with everyone sharing everything they knew & it was definitely the best experience I've had on a bike.
Thanks to all those not mentioned above who were part of it... Dave Ingleby, Jethro Whitfield, Peter Walton, Lee Cowen, Graeme Cocky Cochrane & anyone else I've missed; & to all the guys & girls at Revolution Bike Park Racing for the support this season, Richard Lockett at The Fitbox for getting me fit, Jack Reading for the coaching, Alex Bennett at Ticky Bikes for sorting my bike out & of course to Rachel for keeping everything together at home & continually telling me how lucky I am.
There's a bit of chest cam footage of me following Binnsy on the team page https://www.facebook.com/revolutionbikeparkracing
Training starts tomorrow for next year*
*Next year has not yet been authorised by my leader & is dependent on hundreds of factors, starting today with the installation of 2 bathroom cabinets :)