Downhill isn’t all that popular in the East Midlands. Between Leicester, Nottingham and Derby there’s something of a mountain biking black hole. If you can find a hill with more than 20m of vertical you’re doing well, you’re doing even better if you’re allowed to ride on it. Growing up there none of my mates bought suspension bikes or full face helmets. Trials, skateboards and cheap cider claimed all of them. When we got a little older it was Vauxhall Novas, cheap cider and cheaper girls.
I always felt I was missing out. Thumbing through the glossy pages of MBUK (or Dirt when the newsagent could get it) on the school bus I saw these amazing photos. A world of complicated bikes, big hills and high speeds. A world I couldn’t be part of, I was stuck in nowhere without a driving license or money in my pocket. Two images stuck with me: Peaty on his Lobo and Rob Warner, a huge, wild man, flatout on a red and yellow Giant. Those two images for me were everything downhill should be, in fact, what seems like a lifetime later, they still are.
Things seemed more straightforward for Peaty: he won things. Everything, in fact. But Warner never quite made it at that highest level. Sure he won Kaprun, and I wouldn’t for a second doubt his talent, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be (I don’t actually want to know the details, in case you’re wondering).
Even after he’d vanished from the World Cup scene, I remember my first downhill race, a Dragon round back in maybe 2007. It had taken me a decade to switch from the school bus to the uplift bus. Sitting there I overheard some spastic rumour that Warner was going to race on the Sunday, I remember an excitement that he’d be there. He didn’t show up on Sunday, but that’s not the point – for British riders of a certain age, he’s always going to be a bit of a legend.
So when he showed up on Freecaster I was glad to see it. Nobody wants to see their teenage icons serving behind a checkout in Lidl. His commentary has been cracking too, you probably wouldn’t play it to your mum, but you’re guaranteed to hear something outrageous or hilarious at every race.
Last week I heard something special up at the San Romolo downhill track. I was guiding a bunch of random Italians. Proper Euros with lycra, clips and interesting facial hair. They came bouncing down the track and I could hear them yelling as they hit the fast stuff “LOOK AT THE TIME!” When we stopped they were banging fists and shouting it at each other again “LOOK AT THE TIME!”
Since then I’ve heard Swiss riders yelling it too. Warner’s famous quote from the Val Di Sole World Champs has joined “no problem,” “cool” and “motherfucker” in the list of words you can use anywhere in Europe and still be understood. It’s good to know that it’s no longer just us Brits who know that Warner is a little bit of a leg-end.
I’m living, working and riding out on the Italian Riviera for now, so I’ll be doing a few more of these for the site. You should check out the company I’m working for www.rivierabike.co.uk as they’re ace and the riding is incredible out here. And thanks to Simon at Saracen (www.saracen.co.uk) for helping me out with a few bits and bobs.
Check out the Accidental Racing race jerseys, rather smart eh?