The British National Downhill Series swung into action this weekend gone, finally kicking off top tier downhill in the UK.
With the moving goal posts provided by COVID, Gravity Events UK took the National series to Hamsterley after Llangollen succumbed to more restrictions.
Hamsterley last hosted a National downhill round in 2001, where Gee Atherton and Fionn Griffiths would take the Elite wins that day.
Words by Dave Konstanz | Photos by Ian Lean.
56,851,200 seconds or 658 days. That is that time that there has been between British National Downhill rounds, with the last one being at Ae Forest and the most recent one at Danny Hart’s Bike Park, Hamsterley Forest.
With the small matter of a global pandemic in the middle which put a firm hold on any racing in 2020, it was great to be back at the Nationals in 2021. It seemed that there was a relief that we were able to get back to national level racing after what felt like an eternal wait.
After a called off event and then a regional test event at the race venue, Gravity Events UK took the plunge and stepped up to host the first National of 2021. With there still being an air of uncertainty over various race venues, the race was moved from the original venue of Llangollen to Danny’s Bike Park. Whilst this meant that the track wasn’t necessarily the ideal one, it did mean that the race was able to be run, which at this stage, we all must be hugely grateful for.
The track itself was a punchy number combining parts of a number of different tracks with a real mix of pedalling sections, relatively unridden parts, jumps, drops and then the what was to become infamous rooty area. Speaking to Malcolm from Gravity Events, the idea behind the track was to do it so that there was no ‘home advantage’. Due to it being the bike park, there were locals that ride there regularly who would have had definite advantage, so good shout on the track mix.
Some riders had walked the track on Friday night and there was a mix of views on it. One thing was certain was that everyone was in the same boat and so had to get on and ride it. There certainly was some puzzling over lines first thing on Saturday with the track perhaps not being as straightforward as it had first seemed. This caused there being a staggered start of 30 seconds between riders at the start of practice due to pile ups on track, which in turn led to the return of the infamous British queueing series.
While it is understandable the reasoning behind the spacing, it did mean that the number of practice runs were pretty limited which was disappointing. The infamous root section kept claiming casualties which meant that there were near constant red flags and another bottle neck on track. But a bit of necessary track maintenance made the flow a lot better come race day.
The first opportunity in 658 days for riders to put themselves against the national clock and see where they were against the rest of the their category. The overall field was healthy with 239 riders racing with a massive 50 riders in the youth men class. This means that COVID hasn’t put a damper on the number of people that want to get into racing which is extremely healthy. What wasn’t so healthy was the elite field. With only one consistent world cup elite in the field, Wideopenmag put the question out there on Instagram asking why there weren’t more in attendance.
A range of answers came back such as ‘the track isn’t challenging enough‘, ‘no UCI points on offer means that there isn’t much of an incentive’, ‘stress of world cup racing means that you are better off getting up speed on tracks in Europe in order to be competitive’. Nonetheless, there was a decent field that were racing. Rain came down halfway through qualifying which meant that a lot of people were wondering how the track would have faired after an all dry weekend, would the off camber roots be super slippery, would the transitions have slowed up and would racers have to adjust their lines to cope with the wet track. The certainly added some spice to the finals.
Roger Viera took the top step in Elite men with KJ Sharp pushing the elite women to the top step of the podium, bagging the win by a massive 6 seconds! Jordan Williams, fresh off the back of a podium at the Les Gets world cup was pushed all weekend by Preston Williams in the ever competitive Junior Mens category, taking the win by the finest of margins and also taking fastest time of the day. However, Wideopenmag’s man of the match goes to Dom Platt aboard his Atherton race bike, taking the win in youth men and also laying down a time that landed him 6th overall which is hugely impressive for the young lad, well done.
Huge shoutout to Gravity Events for putting on the event. Whilst it wasn’t perfect, they never are and it was great to get racers back between the tape. Thank you for putting yourself and your team out there and delivering an event. National series 2021 is a go.