mtb downhill national champions-featured
mtb downhill national champions-featured

The Downhill National Championships is all or nothing, do or die, one winner...

From Dirt Issue 134 - April 2013

Words by Mike Rose. Photos by Andy Lloyd.

It is not the week in, week out, chip, chip chipping of a race series…everything boils down to who is the fastest on this one run on the day. The category winners then get the honour of wearing the highly coveted British National Champion’s red, white and blue race jersey, a gold medal (in colour anyway) and the title for life. It is a time when the fresh faced Youth and Junior riders can rub shoulders with their heroes in the Elite classes as they pose for photos. This can also be a time when wildcard riders can appear – riders are prepared to lay it on the line, balls to the wall, take risks. Sometimes older and wiser experienced riders come ‘out of retirement’ for a ‘one day only’ blast at the Master’s, Vet’s or even Grand Vet’s titles (usually when the venue is local and well known to them). And it takes all sorts. Not quite ‘the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker’, but there is a good cross section of society here: the schoolboy, the plumbing and heating engineer, etc.

Now that the problem of pro riders and the national jersey has been sorted out (a long story), it is once again a very credible title for an Elite rider to win, so the standard is high. There was still some controversy surrounding titles though. Both John Cobb (Vet Men 45–49) and Richard Cunynghame (Master Men 30–34) won their respective categories, but apparently there is no jersey available in those two age groups, only in the Master overall (30–39) and Vet overall (40–49). Annoying. But why say that they are National Champs but not give them a jersey? One for the officials to sort out.

So Moelfre (on the Welsh border) on a hot, sunny and windy day in back in July 2012, it was a perfect day for racing, with a great turn–out from the British downhill world. As we gear up for the 2013 race season these are your 2012 Downhill National Champions.>>

[part title="Nigel Page..."]

Dirt Magazine National Champions Nigel Page PIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Nigel Page PIC © Andy Lloyd

VETERAN MEN (40-44)

CHAIN REACTION CYCLES/NUKEPROOF TEAM MANAGER, MERSEYSIDE

I love riding and racing bikes, that’s why I do it. I have raced since I was 10 years old and I have never lost the buzz. If I don't ride my bike for a few days I get really pissed off and grumpy. I guess it’s my kind of addiction and my passion.

When it comes to racing I still always get that nervousness on race day…even now racing in the Vet class. Feeling sick, weak, doubting myself, even on the days when I know I should win or at least have a chance of getting on the podium. But once the beeps go (or the gate drops), all that goes out the window and I give it my all.

Being a bit older now it is sometimes hard for me in a DH race, especially now where I am not fit enough to go flat–out for a whole run and I’m not willing to put it all on the line as I would have done as an elite racer. You are racing yourself and have no one to chase or battle with, but it’s a great feeling when you do a section well and you get a cheer from the crowd…and when you are nearing the end of your run you can always find a bit more in the tank to push towards the finish line.

Becoming National Champion wasn't something I thought that much about to be honest until I got to the race. My goal last year with my racing was to race at the BMX World Champs in Birmingham. I had no idea how I would do there, but I really wanted to make the final (which I did, and managed a third place). At the DH nationals obviously I wanted to do well, but I wanted my team riders to win as much as I wanted to win my class, so I guess I didn't get too into it as much as I used to.

When it came down to race day I did start to think it would be really cool to win the title. I’d never won the DH National Champs title as an elite, I think my best was fourth in 2000 at Innerleithen, but I did win the Duel National Champs in 1999 against Peaty in the final. I did try and put my all into it. As I was a first year Vet I still tried to see how my time would do against the Masters, my old race category, but it’s sometimes hard to push yourself when you know that a steady fast run will be good enough to win.

As it turned out I went 'very steady' but luckily it was fast enough to take the win. I was really pleased with the title and I am proud of my red, white and blue jersey, I will treasure it forever. It’s not changed my life or earned me any extra money…I think that is for the younger guys!

[part title="James Purvis..."]

Dirt MagazineNational ChampionsJames PurvisPIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions James Purvis PIC © Andy Lloyd

JUVENILE

SCHOOLBOY, COUNTY DURHAM

Being a National Champion means a lot to me. It shows me that all the effort I put into training actually helps a lot when it comes to racing. It made me feel proud to have the title and gave me a sense of achievement. I wouldn’t necessarily say it has changed my life in any way because I still put as much effort in to what I do now as I did before I was a champ. It’s definitely made me able to do a lot more things and has put my name out there for people to get to know who I am.

Is it not something I aimed for, not at all. 2011 was my first year that I was able to race and I just slowly made my way into local competitions. I was nowhere near the top of my category, as I could not put a full run together without coming off my bike! In the winter I started to ride loads more than I had and started training a lot in the gym and on different kinds of bikes. Coming into the 2012 season I was feeling really fast and unexpectedly won the first national. After this my confidence was high and I continued to do well at races. Coming into the second round of the BDS I felt faster than ever, however I had a pretty bad crash and managed to break my hand. Then about a month after I started to get back into downhill again I stupidly rode into a tree and broke my hand again.

It had been very difficult to get to the top of my category, but once I was there and I had confidence it was quite easy to do well at races, but once I stopped riding my confidence was knocked and I thought there was no way I could win. But I was determined to win and tried as hard as I could to do so. I started to worry a bit and I started to do worse and worse at races. So I think confidence has a lot to do with doing well at races.

I was very worried I was going to miss the National Champs because of my injury but I did not want to miss any more races, so we ended up heading down anyway. I took practice very easy because my hand was still very weak and I did not want to damage it anymore. On Sunday I took a few painkillers and went for it. My run was fairly decent compared to how I had been riding, but I thought there would be no chance I could take the win. When the results were announced I was very surprised to be first.

After the champs riding with the jersey at races made me stand out a lot more and put pressure on me to do well. I found I started trying too hard and pedalling in unnecessary places and making a lot more mistakes. It has made me work a lot harder towards races because I know I want to become national champ again in the future.

[part title="GEE ATHERTON"]

Dirt Magazine National Champions Gee Atherton PIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Gee Atherton PIC © Andy Lloyd

SENIOR MEN

PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST, POWYS

The National Champ title is a big one for me, it always has been. It’s quite a prestigious title to have under your belt and to be British Champion in 2012, especially when there is such a strong field in the UK, really means a lot to me. Winning up at Moelfre at Farmer Jac’s place, where we’ve ridden so much over the years and which is only about eight minutes from my home, feels extra special.

I’ve always had a special pull towards the title since I first won it in the youth category many years ago. It was 2001 when I first won and I can still remember the thrill of it. I’m lucky enough to have won it in a couple of categories and the thrill doesn’t diminish – if anything it’s something that you appreciate even more as you get older and more experienced. To carry that jersey and the title all year long is an amazing feeling and it’s something people can relate to. If you can say to someone that you are British Champion, well suddenly your gran knows you’re not just dicking around in the woods on your bike, she knows you mean business. I think anyone from the UK who feels that strong patriotism is going to be drawn towards the title, especially when you are racing abroad a lot like we do. It’s special.

I feel so privileged to have won that title as a youth, then as a junior ten or eleven years ago and now again in 2012. For me to be British Champion and to be able to wear the ‘Jack’ on my arm in front of an international crowd makes me feel proud – proud to race mountain bikes and proud to be British.

[part title="JOE CONNELL"]

Dirt Magazine National Champions Joseph Connell PIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Joseph Connell PIC © Andy Lloyd

JUNIOR MEN

PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST, FIFE

Ever since I started racing in 2007 the National Champs was always a race that I thought would be an amazing achievement to win. Having just started riding I never really seriously thought it would be possible to win it one day. The riders who did were way up there, thirty seconds to a minute faster than me on the same tracks! Each year I got faster and faster and my goals started getting higher and higher too. In 2009 I raced my first full national points series in the youth category, at that point I was trying to get podiums at every race but I still wasn't fast enough to go for the win at the champs. Over the next couple of years I worked my way up through the ranks and went from being a top 5 rider to winning nationals by the end of 2010. The possibility of wearing that champs jersey was getting closer as the gap in race times got smaller.

2011 was my first year in Juniors and the first year that winning the National Champs was a main goal of mine. I missed out on winning in my first year at Llangollen after crashing within yards of the finish line! So after that disappointment I came into the 2012 at Moelfre hungrier than ever to get the job done.

Moelfre had always been kind to me and I had enjoyed real success there, though the race wasn't easy by any means. After seeding I was lying in third, two seconds back, after making a big mistake on one of the top turns. Maybe sitting in third took a bit of pressure off, as in my race run I stayed cool, hit all of my lines and gave it everything on the pedalling section. I crossed the line and went into first position with two riders left to come down.

It was a strange time waiting for the next two riders to come, when the last rider finally crossed the line with a slower time than me I was so happy. It was a great feeling to have pulled off something that I had been working so hard for over the years.

Having the red, white and blue jersey forever is a cool feeling, it's something I feel proud to be able to show people when they're at my house. At the British Cycling Awards in Birmingham I was presented with the National Champs trophy and it was pretty amazing to look and see some top names like Gee Atherton, Josh Bryceland and Brendan Fairclough who have all won it in the past and gone onto achieve great things in the sport. I think it would pretty awesome to follow in their footsteps as I move into the Elite category in 2013. Each year as I get faster and race times get closer, my aims and goals keep on getting higher. It’s the only way to race.

[part title="TAYLOR VERNON"]

Dirt MagazineNational ChampionsTaylor VernonPIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Taylor Vernon PIC © Andy Lloyd

YOUTH MEN

PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST, BRIDGEND

To be National Champ is amazing for me, all year I was looking forward to that race, I knew that it could be possible for me, but to get it done is a different thing. Lots of hard work went on, not just by me, but my parents and everyone else who helped me.

Becoming National Champ means that you are the fastest…it may not mean you’re the most consistent, but you’re the fastest on that day, which is a huge confidence boost. To know that you’ve got the Nat Champs jersey on just brings you to a new level. To me it also means that if you have won the champs then you should be winning everything else because you have just won the biggest race there is. I think looking at it like that helped me hugely for the rest of the season going in to the races with a more focused attitude knowing that I should be winning.

It was not easy, but nothing is easy. If you don't work for it then you’re not going to get it…it took a lot of hard work. I got myself a trainer and everything last year. It was my first year of really focusing on DH and doing it properly. I think a lot of it was in my head too. At the start of the year I wasn't doing the best, only getting third place in the first round of BDS and sixth with some crashes at Fort William in round 2, but we then did an iXS race where I managed to take the win, which was awesome, and from there I think it took off. Having the right attitude and being headstrong is a massive part of bike racing and luckily I had the right attitude that helped me take that title.

Becoming Nat Champ has changed my life massively, like knowing you’re representing that jersey is just a different thing and it’s a proud moment when you put it on. Not only that but I think it helped me get to where I am now. It definitely ‘backed me up’ and helped me to get a factory ride with GT/Atherton Racing this year. Hopefully I will be able to get a few more titles in the future.

[part title="RACHEL ATHERTON"]

Dirt MagazineNational ChampionsRachel AthertonPIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Rachel Atherton PIC © Andy Lloyd

ELITE WOMEN

PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST, POWYS

Being National Champion has become something ever more special to me over the years. As a youngster it meant a lot, then as I got older and racing became my job as well as my hobby, the beauty of being National Champion unfortunately got mixed up into the battle of sponsors’ race jerseys over the Champ’s race jersey at World Cups. Ever complicated scheduling meant that for a couple years I didn't race it, which I was thoroughly disgruntled about, as I consider myself to be quite patriotic.

Winning meant a great deal to me. It was the first Champs I'd raced for a while and I was determined that I wanted the title. I wanted a good time overall on the day and I wanted what it brought: namely a feeling at the UK races that I am the same as everyone else…you know? It makes me feel a sort of camaraderie with other riders, it gives me a way into their categories. I met Master’s winner Chris Whitfield when he won and now I know him and some of the other guys. It's nice to just have something in common I guess. Also, in our country we are lucky to have such a strong scene, National Champs is never plain sailing, it really does make you race hard and fast, harder and faster than a national perhaps. Most of all I like being British when I’m racing in other countries and National Champion, the Union Jack on my sleeve at World Cups felt amazing, it calmed me. It made me remember Moelfre in the summer, the race vibe and the sunshine. I thought about the friends who came to watch, my mum and dad were there, friends I ride with, friends with little kids. We took a barbecue up for after the race, the whole weekend was rad and it makes me feel like I am saying to the rest of the world "our country rules, it has the best race scene ever and the races are tough, like us!"

[part title="Chris Whitfield"]

Dirt Magazine National Champions Christopher Whitfield  PIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Christopher Whitfield PIC © Andy Lloyd

MASTER MEN

PLUMBING AND HEATING ENGINEER, LANCASHIRE

What it means to me to be a National Champion? I asked my five year old daughter the same question last year after winning the jersey. My response was “don't mess with me, I'm the National Champion". Obviously I was joking, but to my embarrassment she told the same tale to the parents of a fellow racer when I went to put my jersey on before the start of a race, “don't mess with my daddy, he's a National Champion", which they delighted in ribbing me about later!

It's taken me a long while to get to this point. I've been racing since the early 90's and started off initially doing cross country, but after suffering from Post Viral Syndrome I turned my attentions to downhill. I had some good results racing Elite. I won the Northern Area Mountainbike series three times, won the NEMBA series, came second in the National series and rode for Great Britain in the Worlds and European Champs, which was a great personal achievement, as I still struggled from time to time with fatigue. Unfortunately I never managed to win the National Championship as an Elite.

I took a break from downhill, but couldn't resist the lure of racing two wheels again and as a kid I had always dreamt of racing motorcross. I was now able to afford a bike and ended up racing in a variety of enduros and motorcross events. I also won a few races at Clubman level. My brother Jed and some friends started racing downhill again and suggested I got back into, so I ended up back doing downhill in the Masters category, which is the last thing I dreamt I would end up doing in my naive younger years, but I guess I am just addicted to downhill!

I never thought I would do so well and still be winning. I won my first National Championship in 2009, but to win it a second time in 2012 is awesome, especially as I am nearing the end of my time as a Master – the big 40 looms next year! I have full respect for everybody who races in Masters and the older categories, as like me most people have family and work commitments, so there's more at risk if you hurt yourself. I feel very proud achieving these results for my sponsor and of course my family. The support from these guys is brilliant, although my daughter is my worse critic if I don't perform well.

[part title="HOWARD STUTTARD"]

Dirt Magazine National Champions Howard Stuttard PIC © Andy Lloyd
Dirt Magazine National Champions Howard Stuttard PIC © Andy Lloyd

GRAND VET MEN

ENGINEER/SMALL DELIVERY BUSINESS, LANCASHIRE

I have been around the downhill scene for four years. The first year I raced with my sons Simon and Mathew and I won a few races and loved every minute of it. In the second year I had a massive ‘off’ and displaced my shoulder at an uplift day at Moelfre, this put me out for the season, as at my age you don't heal so well! This left me concentrating on Si and Matt. As the lads got better and better I took a back foot on the riding and focused on mechanicing and keeping things running smoothly for the Ride On team. We have grown from the small races to competing on the World Cup circuit, which I'm very proud.

In 2012 both Matt and Si got an entry into the Val Di Sole World Cup in Italy, where Si broke his wrist. This left his bike free for the season. I knew the National Champs was at Moelfre, a track I like, so I spent the £60 and got a race license, then got myself an entry into the Grand Vets.

Saturday practice Matt towed me along, showed me his lines and got me up to speed. Qualifying came around and I was three seconds off first position. At the top waiting for my race run I didn't seem to have a care in the world until my name was called. I had a great run until I reached the 4X section where I made a balls–up and then just pedalled like hell to the finish. I ended up winning by 0.7 seconds over Stevie Felstead. I couldn't believe it, my first race in two years and I was National Champ!

The best bit about it all was the reaction I got from everyone, all Si and Matt's friends, fellow riders and people we know came over with enthusiastic congratulations. It was brilliant.

Then came the podium, National Champs jersey, gold medal, Champagne and photos with likes of Gee, Rachel and Farmer Jac topped off an amazing day.

I have done a few races since the National Champs, and wearing the jersey really does make you feel proud. Especially when you see people having a cheeky look when you've got it on. Winning the Champs hasn't really changed me, I just seem more confident in myself and when you go blasting past someone with your mates in tow, it's quite funny but also cool to hear them say "don’t worry, he's a National Champ".