Trust me, downhill isn’t dead | British Downhill Series Rd5 Llangollen

There’s a lot of bullshit at the moment about downhill racing being dead.

Trust me, downhill isn’t dead. It’s just gnarly.  It’s the sharp end of mountain biking. It’s for the best on two wheels.

I’ve got 232 reasons why it’s alive and more full of skill, talent and passion than ever before.

Photos by Ian Lean / words by Jamie Edwards

The British Downhill Series is all but done. With Llangollen dusted there’s just one race left for the series under Si Paton’s stewardship and then, it’s goodnight British Downhill Series. After nine years and over 50 races it’s bowing out.

There was a risk that the series would go out without a fight. That it would fade away and leave a worrying silence behind. But Llangollen, round 5 of the British Downhill Series, proved that wasn’t going to happen. The race sold out with 232 riders. The race went down on a brand new and freshly built track. There were 23 elites, 34 juniors, 17 female riders.

People say downhill racing is dead … I don’t agree. Downhill racing has just reached a point where your average rider can’t participate, not at the top level anyway. You can’t race a National level downhill if your usual riding is a lap of Cwm Carn or the red trail at the Forest of Dean. Those are great spots to ride … but to race a BDS you need to be in the thick of it.

You need to be hitting big jumps week in and week out. You need to be riding the steepest, loosest, nastiest trails and you need to be feet up and off the brakes. You need to be doing all of that with enough speed and confidence to ride on the same track at the same time as Danny Hart.

Downhill isn’t dead, Llangollen proved it, it has just zeroed in on the sharp end of the sport. The guys and girls that have the talent, balls, skill, passion and love in enough quantity to race it.

Here’s our story from the second to last ever British Downhill Series.

Llangollen, tucked away in rural North Wales, has always been a tough venue to ride. The original Death Woods track was inspired by Champery and taught UK riders how to race on the steepest of hillsides. It’s responsible in part for creating a generation of fast, talented British young guns that have gone on to win World Cups.

The new track was built by Ride Portugal’s Brian Mundy and again showed riders that Llangollen could step up and create something special. It was as a lesson in what can be done with the right terrain and a bit of bashing through the undergrowth to hunt out those features.

It’s a real mix of terrain. Crazy steep in places. Flat out and bike park in others. Big jumps, steep chutes, shark fins, berms … and a deep, dark gully with steep sides and plenty of wild shapes.

Top to bottom it’s two and a halfish minutes of flat out racing and, according to it’s builder, it’s 2km long … making it one of the longest and steepest tracks on the circuit.

Above is our Llangollen Man of the Match Luke Cockburn. Tracksuit bottoms, teeshirt and going absolutely massive all weekend. Luke is a bloody savage on two wheels and we love it.

In the month leading up to the race, entries were low. The previous event had been cancelled and organiser Si Paton was threatening more of the same if riders didn’t show their support. That, combined with a World Cup the following weekend drawing the big guns away, meant the event was looking ropey.

But … that changed. The race filled up late in the day. The organisers went from near cancellation to turning riders away. What was really reassuring in an odd sort of way was that the elite field was lacking. There was no Athertons, no Danny Hart, no Laurie Greenland, no Steve Peat, no Chain Reaction team. Instead, the privateers and the weekend warriors turned out in force. Fired up by a new track we had a tonne of seniors and masters riders, the guys that don’t need to race and could easily spend their weekends riding their local trails or on uplifts away from the clock.

Gareth Brewin aka Gazzy B (above) is one of our favourite riders to watch. He has a totally unique style that’s somehow both ragged and absolutely smooth at the same time.

GazzyB lit up the track all day Saturday and then jumped in the Trek Leyland Daf XF 510 truck to get it over to Val Di Sole to support the Athertons at their next World Cup. He missed race day which, in his words, “sucked a bit” but that’s all part of being lorry driver to the stars, right?

The female field is so strong at the British Downhill Series. With 17 fast, talented females on the hill it’s evidence of how important a challenging national series is for UK racing. Without proper tracks, challenging features and sharp competition it’ll be nearly impossible for riders of any kind to develop their skills.

Here’s 17 year old Rosy Monaghan, racing in the Rachel Atherton sponsored 13-18 female category. She first raced in 2011 and has been smashing out races throughout the UK ever since.

These guys make the British Downhill Series happen – they are the small army of marshalls, volunteer British Cycling Commissaires, litter pickers, car park attendants, timing guys and all the other people that work to pull a race together.

Each day always starts with a marshall brief – Si Paton and crew get them all together early to make sure that they know exactly what’s needed to keep racers safe and to keep the event moving smoothly. You guys rule.

The new Ride Portugal track wasn’t just steep, nadgery tech – there were some big, tough and windy jumps too. Here’s one of the Madison team (anyone recognise that arse?) sending the new bridge jump that caused most of the field a few head aches.

For many of us here at Wideopen, Llangollen is the best venue on the British circuit. It’s easy to get to, it’s pretty central to most of the UK and it’s absolutely beautiful. Oh … and there’s a great town with a tonne of pubs for the apres-bike entertainment. All the important stuff, right?

Pop it on your list of places to visit before the summer runs out. There’s One Giant Lleap Llangollen, Coed Llandegla, the Marin Trail, Foel Gasnach, Coed-y-Brenin, Revolution Bike Park, Antur Stiniog and more within an hour’s drive.

It’s fair to say that James Purvis hasn’t had the best of luck this year. He’s stepped back from World Cup racing and has only managed to cross the line with a result at one BDS so far this year.

It looks like his luck changed this weekend though. James came away from the weekend with an excellent 5th place in elite and a super respectable time, just 7 seconds behind the winner. We’re looking forward to seeing more from him with what’s left of the year.

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Kade Edwards is guaranteed to put on a great show for anyone watching the BDS. Park yourself next to a big, boosty jump and he’ll show you why he regularly gets our Man of the Match award from the BDS.

Kade managed 3rd in Junior this weekend – crossing the line on the same second as the winner.

Second place in junior went to Joe Breeden – the same place he scored at National Champs and the same place he scored at Lenzerheide World Cup.

… But your junior top spot went, again, to National Champion and Fort William World Cup winner Matt Walker.

Race day took a pause mid-way through for the now legendary Strider race.

The finish straight was turned into a mini race track and the young guns got a chance to win some glory of their own. Prizes – complete with a podium – were awarded by Tahnee Seagrave. Those kids are pinned!

We’d all come into the weekend expecting a wash out but … Saturday came and went without a drop of water from the skies.

We nervously watched the weather app on Sunday and almost got away with a rain-free weekend. Sure enough though, mid-way through elite finals the rain started falling hard and the track suddenly got way looser and wilder for the last few riders.

Last to bed, first up in the morning? Becci Skelton had a flat out day of practice on Saturday, put in a late night in The Bull on Saturday night and still scored third place on race day. Good work!

Vero Sandler might prefer to spend her time sending the Moto line at Black Mountain … but she’s still got what it takes between the tape. Fresh back from a trip to Morzine and warming up for a filming adventure to Norway, she sent it into second place.

Your female elite winner and overall series leader, Tahnee Seagrave.

Tahnee smoked the field. She went 25 seconds faster than second place and was 24th overall out of everyone that raced. Next stop Val Di Sole and – fingers crossed – a top result.

Charlie Hatton didn’t quite continue his good form from the last couple of events. He placed 2nd in seeding and then dropped in for his race run as the rain kicked off to a 3rd place. Luckily for him, that wasn’t enough to upset his hold on the overall series title. Barring something pretty spectacular, the series is his for 2017.

Al Bond is an enigma. He’s one of the few riders on circuit that has won the overall series title. He’s one of the most stylish and ballsy riders you’ll ever meet – proven when he dominated Hardline on a borrowed bike. Yet, he doesn’t race World Cups. He isn’t on a factory team and he has only done a small hand full of races this year. Despite the quiet year of racing, Al placed 2nd overall and beat some riders that are putting every weekend of their lives into going fast.

And your men’s elite winner and fastest time of the day, old Gas-to-Flat Adam Brayton.

Brayton jetted back from Whistler having scored a 6th place at the Garbanzo downhill. He placed 11th at the World Cup in Mont St Anne earlier in the month and 13th at the Lenzerheide World Cup. It’s safe to say he’s on fire this year. Surprisingly though, this was his first BDS win since 2013.

And that’s it. There’s just one race to go for the UK’s National race series under the stewardship of Si Paton.

Si has built a race series that’s the envy of the world and has created generations of World Champions. It’s not for everyone but – by his own admission – it isn’t meant to be. It’s the Formula 1 of mountain biking. It’s the sharp end. It’s the best of the best.

No British Downhill Series doesn’t mean no British national downhill race series. The ‘BDS’ is a brand, run by a specific organiser.

What comes next is up to us as riders, up to British Cycling and up to the other race organisers to decide.

Are we going to let everything that we’ve built up to now die?

Or … are we going to look at races like this and show that it’s more full of skill, talent and passion than ever before?