National Champs is a big one for UK racing. Some riders see it as a bit of non-event. They’d rather give it a miss and take a weekend off or race on warmer shores. For others though, it’s the big one. The event to aim for. The number one race to win. The title to take. There’s no “keep plugging away and wracking up series points” like at the British Downhill Series – it’s a one-off chance to go fastest on the day and devastate the field.
Steve Peat and Tracey Moseley have both won National Champs 7 times each since ’99. Rachel Atherton 6 times. Gee has 4 titles to his name. Rob Warner even bagged a title at Bringewood in 2001! This weekend the battle between Peaty and Gee wasn’t firing – Gee was taking a weekend off and Peaty was in the pits, but not on track still recovering from his ACL troubles.
There’s a temptation to compare the National Champs to the British Downhill Series. To give Mike his credit the event, the track and the rider list lived up to the title of National Champs. It was a great weekend with a great atmosphere. There’s always room for improvement (some of the tunes were a bit ropey!!) but it wasn’t half bad in our book.
The track had never been raced before. And didn’t let us down.
Sure there were pits, a hog roast, beer and a DJ – but it was the track that made the event. Every rider I spoke to dropped into the pits buzzing with excitement at Martin the Farmer’s latest creation. It was big, fast, steep, loose and dry. It made for wild riding and wild racing. Give the riders a decent, fresh track and you’re 90% of the way to winning.
And the uplifts were a pleasant surprise.
Of course, you can’t really nail a downhill race until you’ve nailed the uplifts … and Llangollen is notoriously a pain in the arse. As always the lifts were a bit slow but, shit happens. We got loads of runs in on Saturday and Sunday morning in the sunshine. No complaints here.
Brendan Fairclough was loving the track and shredding the hell out of the steep corners up top. He was 12th in seeding and 15th on Sunday afternoon. Bren is one of those special riders whose riding stands out way beyond his results.
Gnarly enough …
The track wasn’t as gnarly as the one raced a few weeks earlier for the BDS … but there were still plenty of wild, out of control crashes! This particular corner/drop/corner combo sent plenty of riders over the bars. Thankfully there were no major incidents and the Air Ambulance stayed on the landing strip for the weekend.
This corner was so good! Phil Atwill blows it up on the 324. 17th for Phil, just 5 seconds off the lead. Phil is having the season of his life – we’re looking forward to seeing him just keep getting faster.
Josh Bryceland had (he told me) “such a good weekend”. He was loving the track, he’s had a clean bill of health and it was great to see the Rat just hanging out, having fun, shredding runs and looking fast. Josh won the 2014 National Champs but couldn’t make it two on the bounce. 64th place for Josh which you can imagine wasn’t what he was hoping for.
Harry Heath isn’t a rider we’ve seen all that much of in the UK in 2015. He raced the Fort Bill BDS otherwise has stuck to World Cups. It’s paying off for him with some really solid results. Baz was 5th fastest in seeding and 11th in finals. There was just 2.5 seconds between him and first place.
Rider 706. Stu Hughes. A blast from the past. Stu has been racing and winning since way, way back but had a big break between 2008 and 2013. You’d think that the Veteran category would be full of tired old dogs … but you’d be wrong. It’s chockablock with not-so-retired World Cup racers and life-long downhill lunatics that are still pinning well into their late 40’s! 7th place for Stu behind vets winner Will Longden. There’s plenty life in those old dogs yet!
Matt Walker has been the man to beat in the Youth field all year. He crossed the line and turfed Team Wideopenmag’s Joe Parfitt out of the hot seat, taking the win. We were gutted that Parff was bumped- but Matt was so stoked you couldn’t help but be happy for him. He was beaming. Look out for these guys, they’re tomorrow’s World Cup talent!
Of course, we’re allowed a bit of blowing our own trumpet right? Kye Forte has ridden DH off and on for most of his career on two wheels but only really started racing downhill in 2013 on a bike he’d borrowed from Dan Atherton. In 2014 he joined our team, got faster and now he’s sealed the deal with a Masters title. Get on boy!
From the old dogs to the young pups … it’s Laurie Greenland. Fresh from his first World Cup win Loz took a calculated approach to the weekend and won himself a National Champs title for the 3rd time in a row.
“I went pretty hard off the start, I pushed hard through the first few turns and found out it was pretty blown out. I got a bit loose over the front a couple of times which made me pedal a bit harder. I think that’s what made me win – I gave it some on the pedals because I’d blown out a couple of turns!” Laurie Greenland
Manon might be a World Champ … but she’s never won a National Champs title. This weekend was no different. The elite female race was a fierce one for 2nd and 3rd. Tahnee went 2nd fastest in seeding putting Manon into 3rd. Manon stepped up her game for finals and pushed into second place, pushing Tahnee down into 4th with Katy Curd taking the 3rd place spot. Some days Manon can smoke Rachel Atherton … National Champs day wasn’t one of them.
Your 2015 senior Women’s Downhill National Champion – Rachel Atherton. Second to Manon Carpenter, third to Katy Curd. Rachel was a full 5 seconds ahead of second place. In the men’s elite field that time gap meant 15 places.
Sam Dale – here’s the big man exploding that turn high up on the track. A lot of people had their money on Sambo for the win and at just 0.6 behind 1st place he was a good bet! Sam went fastest in seeding but didn’t have a great top section in his race run. He pulled it back in the bottom section of the track … but it was quite enough. Very close, but not quite.
And your 2015 British Cycling downhill National Champion. Danny Hart. That’s his first National Champs win and wasn’t an easy battle. Sam Dale put up a hell of a fight and with 5 seconds separating 15 seconds it was a close, fast race.
“Everyone was going so hard and the track was so washed out, you had to be as loose and as controlled as you could because the track was so wasted. I knew I just had to hold it balls to the wall – I’m happy!” Danny Hart.
Thanks to Mike Marsden, Steve Hardcastle, Martin Sands and everyone that made the National Champs possible. From where we were standing … downhill was booming at Llangollen.