GNAR! 2015 British Downhill Series Llangollen Photo Story

Steep, loose and gnarly is BACK!

The 2015 British Downhill Series at Llangollen

Photos by Ian Lean // Words by Jamie Edwards

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Llangollen is a big deal for British downhill racing.

The steep, scary and technical North Wales hillside was first raced in 2009 and completely redefined what British racers had to do to win races.  Brendan Fairclough (above) was crowned the King of Llangollen back in ’09 (and twice more in 2010) and year on year racers have used Llan as the benchmark for gnarly riding. It’s a hill that has change our perceptions of downhill racing and it’s a hill that has made British mountain bike racers better on their bikes.

This weekend, Llangollen was back in the steep, gnarly woods and once again asking racers to step up or go home!

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“What does it take to go fast at Llangollen? Danny Hart’s balls and Josh Bender’s brains!” 

You know the score with Llangollen. It’s STEEP. The top woods provide a deceptively short and loamy straight that fools you for about 2 seconds that you’re about to ride fun, flowy single track … before diving sharp and steep down the fall line. It’s a piece of trail like nothing else in the UK and this weekend, Llangollen didn’t disappoint.

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The BDS always attracts an international field … Above is Canadian shredder Casey Brown smiling her way through a track that had many other ladies bowing out before finals. Casey rode great and stomped her way into 3rd place.

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“When you think about it, what we’re trying to do is essentially crazy. We’re trying to get hundreds (330) people up a steep hill as quick as we can, miles from anywhere so they can come back down again as quickly as they can. It’s a logistical nightmare!”
A BDS team member.

Uplifts are a hot topic at the BDS race in, race out.  There doesn’t seem to be a magic-bullet solution for running fast, efficient uplifts at 7 races throughout the UK – but Llangollen has definitely got better. It’s not perfect, but it’s improving. Martin the farmer has spent a “small fortune” (his words) on building an extra road and has employed a sharp team of local tractor drivers who know the roads and the laybys like the back of their hands.

Si and the BDS crew know it’s not perfect and have got a few ideas up there sleeve to try and keep the uplifts rolling and the trails running clear. We’ll keep you in the loop… Answers on a postcard if you’ve got the answer!

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Another international female, it’s Veronique Sandler from New Zealand. 4th place for Veronique. We love Veronique’s kit, her style and the way she’s clearly hauling ass in the turn … how could we not run this photo?!

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We’ve seen every National race here at Wideopenmag at Llangollen and every year the UK riders looking faster and more confident on the gnarly trail. The talent of UK riders – and not just elites – really is super impressive. It’s pretty normal at Llan for plenty of riders to practice, decide the track is too wild and head home. This year it looks like only 10 riders finished with DNS against their name … and contrary to what you might think, very few of them were from the junior or senior female pack. Not only that, more riders than ever before were hitting the steep, gnarly, technical chute up top.

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One of the more popular stories on Wideopenmag in 2014 was the announcement that these little red devils would be appearing at the BDS… alongside a blaze of other health and safety measures. After all the online noise, they’re here and were only needed for one small incident with a BBQ in a hedge. The British Downhill Series in 2015 hasn’t transformed into a health and safety nightmare as far as we can see. It’s just safe, well run and keeping an eye out for risks that will make racing less fun.

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Mike Jones – the Welsh Sam Hill – always does well at Llangollen with plenty of wins and near-wins under his belt. 5th for Mike this weekend.

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Josh Bryceland was a flippin delight to watch all weekend. Fast and stylish as always and shredding the trail to bits. 3rd place for Josh and 2.1 seconds off 1st place.

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Danny Hart has never won at Llangollen – and this weekend was close, 1.427seconds close, but no win. 2nd place for Mr Hart.

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The marshals. These guys were looking tired and wet at the end of Sunday … but ultimately pretty happy! The marshals get to watch the UK’s fastest racers up close, they get paid, they get fed and the races can’t happen without them. There’s 24 marshals over 20 marshal points over the length of the hill all blowing whistles and waving flags to keep the race moving along and the riders safe. Cheers guys!

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“screw that, I’ve got work on Monday!”

With a World Cup just round the corner, the consequences of failure for the top-dogs are high. Rachel Atherton had a hard crash in practice on Saturday and tweaked her wrist. She decided to play it safe and give Sunday’s race run a miss. No disrespect from us though, all day Saturday Rachel looked awesome on track. Steep, loose, muddy Welsh hillsides are in Rach’s blood!

Don’t forget Rachel is now backing the junior women’s category big time and helping bring up some new talent. She’s running a track walk for the girls on Friday and sponsoring the category with prizes.

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Manon Carpenter – your ladies’ Elite winner and on top of the box by 9.5 seconds! That puts Manon clean into the lead with the overall series points. Rachel is Manon’s biggest rival but with no points from Ae or Llangollen isn’t putting up much of a fight for the series.

Manon is leading the series with 640 points, Katy Curd is in second with 515 points and Jess Greaves is in third with 332 points.

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“If you’re going fast through one section … you’re going too fast for the next!”
Gee Atherton

Can you imagine trying to tame Llangollen when even Gee Atherton is going over the bars?! Gee proved that even he can take a dive like the best of us … but despite the occasional crash was riding the gnarliest, steepest sections on a different level. Fast, confident and with flow through the steep turns. It wasn’t enough for Gee to take the win though come Sunday. 4th place for Gee.

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… And Joe Smith. Before this weekend Joe had only won a single British Downhill Series race, which was back at Bike Park Wales in 2014. Joe smashed the field at Llan this weekend seeding 2nd fastest and then going 1.4seconds faster than the nearest rider in his race run. Awesome work Joe!

After 3 races Gee Atherton is leading the elite men’s field with 580 points. Joe Smith is second with 450 and Josh Bryceland is third with 441.

Next stop (after a couple of World Cups) is Rhyd-Y-Felin for Round 4!

Watch our Trackside videos from Llan here and here

Ride the track on-board with Rich Thomas here.

Click here for complete coverage of the 2015 Rose Bikes British Downhill Series.

Thanks to Ian Lean for his massive hard work again to get these images – here he is editing away his Monday after the race at Jim’s house on our road-trip north for the World Cup!

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