Hardline as a title doesn't do the track justice but gnarlyasfuckandflatoutwithamassivegap-line doesn't quite have the same ring!
We weren’t really sure what to expect when simply given a postcode and a day to arrive, this could have been anything from a few vans in a field to a full on race, it ended up between the two. The racing was definitely full on but it felt like a Dragon Downhill back in the day but all the riders that were Juniors back then were now top ten World Cup racers. Danny Hart, Brendan Fairclough, The Brothers Atherton, Joe Smith, Mike Jones, Sam Dale, Gareth Brewin, Loic Bruni and Nico Vink all had their names down and they arrived to tame the dragon.
The vibe around the pits and in the huge teepee was chilled, kind of like a festival. All the racers had done their bit during the season and this was a last horaah before the pushbikes were stuck away for a while as toys with engines replaced the priorities of beating the person they were now chinking beers with.
The pressure was off, or so it seemed, it was off until the riders came down from the course walk. Banter was replaced by foreboding and when practice came round the nerves were showing. It’s not surprising when you consider the task at hand but it was strange to witness World class racers huddled in the back of a 110 Land Rover in near silence as the V8 trailed up a long fire road. As the contours were gained the pressure was tangible, it was expressed in jest but it could be felt. This thing was a monster and each rider needed to crack the whip to keep it in line.
Dan Atherton may not have the full throttle media lifestyle of his siblings but what he does have is a damn good eye when he picks up a shovel, or a pick axe or climbs in a digger for that matter. We caught a few words with Dan and his mechanic come track builder mate Olly Davey to find out exactly how this whole thing happened.
Dirt: Dan, where did this all begin and why?
Dan: I’ve been speaking to Red Bull for ages, years now, about creating an event that was legit but different. We’ve had a lot of meetings and plenty of discussion then once we found the location and the green light we just got on and did it. The idea is to push the limits and show people how gnarly downhill can be.
Dirt: Did you always want to make it a race?
Dan: Yeah definitely, it had to be to bring in a level of competition and timing does that when you get riders like this together.
Dirt: How did you and Olly work out what to build?
Dan: Olly’s background is in snowboarding so he knew how to get the most from the hill and make it all flow. We have actually used an existing track but added to it. Making the features big was always part of it, we didn’t want to get riders tricking jumps so we just said, if it’s comfortable to trick, make it bigger.
If it’s comfortable to trick, make it bigger – Dan Atherton
Dirt: What about that road gap, biggest thing you have built?
Dan: Well Olly built that really, he spent two weeks pretty much putting it in there. It’s big yeah, not as big as the quarry at Revolution (Bike Park) but it’s not far off. (Ed – we reckon it was between 60 and 70ft lip to lip!)
Dirt: How did the riders react when they saw the track for the first time?
Dan: I think they were nervous but they knew it was going to be hard, for a World Cup racer I think it’s mentally a tough thing to race. They were all excited to ride but definitely nervous as well.
Dirt: So what’s the plan for the Hardline in the future, is this a one off?
Dan: Nah the plan is to do it again, we want to make it bigger and polish the format a bit but it’s worked out well first time which is cool.
A RACE IS A RACE
Just weeks out of the World Cup pressure cooker and told to turn up in a field in Mid Wales for a bit of fun on a new track it probably sounded like a cool way to round off the season but hell it wasn’t an easy one.
Even if the riders were nervous they stepped up and went in deep, Danny Hart sent all the jumps first time down. In his words, ‘Just to get them out of the way.’ One by one the riders rolled through the finish line during practice and each time they did, body language defined their emotions. In the morning the guys were relieved to get down but by the end of the afternoon each rider crossed the line with a grin in search of the next uplift. It was a fine needle to thread but get it right and there was a handsome reward.
As practice went on it was clear that the track had been crafted to perfection, Dan had built something that really pushed downhill racing to it’s limit and maybe a bit beyond. As the F15’s engines filled the valley with noise and power everyone was chilled. Warner was on hand to dish out the banter and the moments every rider had during the day were discussed over a few beers before early nights were had. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
Looking past the scale, steepness, bonkers jumps and flat out speed this was still a race and that morning goggles hid eyes that had been here hundreds of times before. Talking to some of the riders they were going to be happy to just to get down with a clean run but Danny Hart, Dan and Gee Atherton, Loic Bruni and Brendan Fairclough were there for the race. Dan hasn’t raced a World Cup downhill since 2011 but he was up there and clocked times close to his World Champion brother and the likes of Hart and Fairclough.
The key was to stay clean, Gee had qualified fastest but he knew that Dan would be fast and the likes of Hart, Bruni and Fairclough would in their element. The weather came good again and hot sunshine shone all day, Danny Hart nailed a solid run and crossed the line with a time just over 4 minutes. Dan and Loic had both put in good runs but all eyes flashed between the drop that could be seen from the finish arena and the timing screen. After Loic clocked a solid time the radios crackled with news that a rider was down, it was Fairclough. Crashing anywhere on this course wasn’t going to be healthy but thankfully good news came across the airwaves and he was back on his bike. Crossing the line with few scrapes and bruises Brendan commented on how intense it is.
It's tough to concentrate for a full run, you can't stop, it's intense top to bottom but not the do or die of Rampage. It's racing so you have to calculate each obstacle. - Brendan Fairclough
With Danny in the hotseat/sofa there was one man left to come down, Gee had been the first to drop the road gap after Dan saved it for him but he needed to hold it together down the whole track to make it count. At the finish we didn’t know what was going on but after the first split he was in the mix. That was when the radio crackled again, Gee had gone down and it looked like he was out of it. Coming across the line and straight to congratulate Danny Gee looked genuinely gutted to miss out on a track his brother had worked so hard to perfect.
1st Danny Hart 3.39.081
2nd Dan Atherton +2.410
3rd Loic Bruni + 8.351
Dan Atherton set out to make a statement and take our sport to the next level, in his own words.
to remind the world how gnarly downhill can be.
Mike Jones and Sam Dale both had big crashes that put them out of contention for finals but the 7 riders that finished the Hardline made a big mark in the racing world. Hardline was amazing, the hard graft that went into building the track, a feat that included extending a forest road across a huge bog, is testament to the passion engrained in the Atherton clan. Gee and Rach might live for racing World Cup downhill but Dan has his own agenda and it given the chance to express that to it’s fullest potential results in something astounding.
After seeing downhill racers pedal across flat runways and slide over manmade bike park tracks downhill needed a shot in the arm, a recap into just how far racing can be pushed. The best in the world came to a sleepy valley in Wales and although they only left tyre marks in the hillside they left a permanent mark in bike racing and we hope it’s here to stay.