Over 300 people entered Llangollen. By Sunday evening over 90 had ‘DNS’ against their race result. It’s a safe bet that the majority of that number walked the track on Friday, said “screw that” and gave the carnage a wide berth. Llangollen was GNARLY.
What’s worse than a brutally steep, root infested and unforgiving track? Yep, a brutally steep, root infested and unforgiving track after two days of hard rain! Saturday morning was wet and after a couple of weeks of dry, sunny weather the heavens opened and turned the sun-baked dirt into an ice rink. A steep, rooty ice rink.
Llangollen was invented way back in 2009, built in part by Matt Simmonds as training for tough tracks like Champery. The race changed everything – no one had ever seen such a nightmare of steep, technical riding in the UK… let alone raced it at a British National. It was a big deal.
The race was won or lost up top in the woods. There was literally 10 metres out of the gate to get your pedals flat and then it was roots, trees, loose dirt, rocks, catch netting, sliding, slipping and skidding. There was no where to get set up, nowhere to catch your breath … just steep, slippery roots covered in wet mud. It was terrifying to watch but also amazingly inspiring to see so many riders take a deep-breath and just drop in, trying time and again to get the line they wanted so they could ride the full section with landing gear up on race day. Danny Hart was heart saying “Yes! I rode through it with my feet up all the way!” as he dropped out of the woods. That should give you an idea of how challenging… and how satisfying and addictive Llangollen was.
Having negotiated the woods riders were treated to a total shift in terrain. Tight trees made way for open hill side and tech turned into high speeds and flowing turns. More than one rider said it was a relief to hit the fire road and get to open it up through the speed trap and down through the ferns.
Was the track too gnarly? I would argue not and a quick chat to Race Director Si Paton showed him agreeing. There were scuffs and scrapes throughout practice but according to him only one ambulance was called in total all weekend and the number of ‘DNF’ riders on the results sheet was low. Steep and tech meant slow speeds and slow crashes, with the wildest crashes happening in the fast, open middle section. Crash of the weekend for me is a fight between Grant Boyce who managed to OTB and take out the speed trap equipment and Josh Bryceland who rode the bars through the ferns like he was riding an out of control bull, only to save it and land his bike in one piece!
Rachel Atherton has had a tough year so far but dominates in steep, gnarly terrain. She was the fastest seeded female by 15 seconds and the fastest female on race day by almost 10 seconds. Manon might have gone fastest through the speed trap … but Rachel proved she’s boss this weekend!
Props also goes out to one of our favourite female racers Jess Greaves who stepped up to Elite at Llan and scored third place. Sure, she’s got a way to go yet before she’s beating Rachel … but she’s trucking on. Good work Jess!
Llan was Peaty’s first race since he turned 40 years old … and one he described as “a tough track to sort out!!”. 17th place for Steve. Llangollen has a habit of throwing the results sheet on its head – the top section is just so wild it only takes one slip and you’re right down the results (and likely right down the hill too!).
If Llangollen town had a bookies the odds on Gee winning would have been high, but they wouldn’t have been a dead cert. The elite field was World Cup standard and with Josh Bryceland, Peaty, Simmonds, Sam Dale, Brayton and more fast, gnarly guys on the hill the win could have gone to anyone. Add in the unpredictability of the loose-as-a-goose top section and there were no safe bets. Joe Smith went fastest in seeding but Gee (infamous for performing under pressure) fired it up for finals and put 2.7 seconds into Joe. First place Gee, second place Joe Smith, third place Danny Hart. Special mention goes to Gazzy B (Gareth Brewin) who pulled out a 9th place and looked RAD all weekend on track – that’s a great result for him.
And we can’t let this one finish without a shout out to Team Wideopenmag’s Joe Parfitt! Parff scored his first National Youth Podium, smashing out a 3rd place and stepping on to the box at last. Awesome work Parff!