The South West Champs at Gawton

The South West Champs – words by Chaz Curry, photos by Felix Smith

At first light on Saturday the 20th of August, Gawton looked more like the set of the next (and inevitable) installment of the never ending Harry Potter saga than a mountain bike race venue. Mist swirled through the fir trees like smoke from a slumbering Dragon and I had so involved myself with this little fantasy that it was a genuine surprise when a Mountain Biker and not a pubescent wizard emerged from the twisting murk.

The track was wet and as slippery as Mr Slippy the slipperiest Eel of all after enjoying a baby oil shower. Marshalls loomed like sodden sentinels on the impossibly steep sides of the Super Tavi track standing guard as rider after rider was unseated. Some complained that the track was damn near impossible towards the end of the bottom section. Commissaries’ and race organizers huddled and in hushed tones murmured of shortening the track, but this was Gawton, this was Super Tavi the Dirt 1:04 and it was never meant to be easy. The decision was made (the right one), man up or go home.

The afternoon of practice day and the rain had stopped falling and the lightening sky’s promised much but delivered little comfort to the racers. The nature of the soil in the Tamar Valley makes it great for track building, hard wearing and easy to work with but it also means it holds on to moisture and becomes impossibly soapy when drying. Riders gathered in philosophical pockets all down the track assessing the best path through one tough section after another. As the rented bus departed the last few uplifts were performed by shuttle runs in an Izuzu flatbed and a trailer pulling Land Rover but by that time the flow of riders had almost dropped off to the point where even they were not needed. This track is a monster, a mythical creature snaking its way up the treacherously steep banks of the Tamar and by the end of Saturday it had proved the master of almost all who had come to take it on. When the track was closed at 5pm on Saturday evening only four riders had started off down the hill in the past hour. The smoking dragon was winning…

Sundays morning sunshine and warmth brought a renewed sense of hope and as the car parks swelled, burst and spilled over riders queued up with renewed vigor, hoping that this morning their skill would match their ambition, eager to take on the beast once more. Banter and cheerful insults floated through the forest but they were soon tempered by the reminder that this was a world class track that they were taking on and sunshine changes precious little.

Before anyone new it and way before even the local’s were ready, race runs were upon them. To start with the mood was light and full faced challengers were eager to get to work. But it wasn’t long before racers ears strained to hear the crackled news from the marshal points strewn over the hillside. The news that set the tone for the afternoon came from Zoe at Marshall point 3, Jay Williamson, the local hot favorite for the junior title had punctured, the atmosphere on the start ramp changed and suddenly everyone was aware that this was a race, it mattered and everyone was there to try and win it. Tensions now ran high but this wasn’t a national and the format meant no seeding but two race runs, Jay and all the other fallers had a second chance.

Downhill is a fickle mistress and the second race run can be as much of a curse as a blessing for those who can’t temper their fire. Now the scrum around the timing desk was getting fraught, as riders and supporters played the ‘how many people can you get under an Easy up’ game. Risking the wrath of the race organizer to chance a glimpse at their time and those of their fellow competitors. The first big News was that Charlie Ross, the local lad who has consistently done well at national level had been beaten in to second place by a Welsh rider Thomas Owens, who was proving he could cut it away from the valleys. Then came the news that this time Jay had stayed on and his steed hadn’t faltered either. Not only that but he had posted an impossibly quick time 6 seconds clear of his nearest rival and a time that was to be the second fastest overall granting him this reporters ‘ride of the day’ prize. Jim Davage had also proved his reputation is not bluff or bluster and underneath his smiles and good nature there lies a savage and fearless competitor.

The numbers at the start gate dwindled and soon we were down to the two last serious competitors and serious they were indeed. As Ben Deakin puffed his cheeks and exhaled as if trying to extinguish the biggest of all birthday cake candles Ash Mullane wished him a good run and that good will was returned, reminding us all that DH is a brotherhood. Even in the depths of battle each mans fight is with himself and the hill not his fellow competitor. But this was Ash’s manor and no amount of good luck was going to help even a soldier as brave as Ben.

And so it came to an end champions were crowned and dragons tamed it had truly been an epic weekend of racing at a venue that is surely worthy of a National race. It only remains to thanks those who so generously supported Down Hill Mountain Bike Racing by providing Trophies and prizes. TQ Riders, Drift,MTB Wideopen magazine, Santa Cruz, Juice Lubes and Tamar Valley AONB.

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See you all next year for more of the same!

Chaz Curry

1st: Ashley Mullane (1:54.394) SW Champion
2nd: Ben Deakin (1:59.601)
3rd: Jason Morgan (2:00.325)

1st: Thomas Owens (2:01.996)
2nd: Charlie Ross (2:04.589) SW Champion
3rd: Sam Marzetti (2:08.885)

1st: Jay Williamson (1:55.175) SW Champion
2nd: Moss Macriner (2:01.749)
3rd: Grant Boyce (2:02.622)

1st: Matthew Noble (2:02.113) SW Champion
2nd: Ian Stark (2:04.853)
3rd: James Weames (2:06.713)

1st: Jim Davage (2:03.351)
2nd: Jody Bent (2:04.852) SW Champion
3rd: Seb Frost (2:06.043)

1st: Tony Hicks (2:19.623) SW Champion
2nd: Chris Cooke (2:26.546)
3rd: Keith Saunders (2:27.074)

1st: Robert Davrill (2:50.985)
2nd: Iain Woodley (2:51.738) SW Champion
3rd: Alex Newman (3:15.188)

Juvanile Men
1st Matthew Bryant (2:48:16) SW Champion
2nd Jack Jenkins (2:57:42)
3rd Sam Troake (3:43:97)