It’s that time of year again, the BUCS championships. A downhill race specifically for students, it was held this year in Ae forest just north of the English border.
Tom Wharton was on hand to bring us words and photos:
As the hordes of vans with University logos slapped on the side parked up, the riders unpacked the bounty within. Just standing in the car park and gazing around it was clear to see which universities around the country valued their mountain bike team the most. I must admit our university (Gloucestershire) had given us bugger all funding (and actually failed to send the entry forms off, which we later discovered) so I was quite jealous to see the car park filled with sprinter vans and mini buses (quite rightly stolen from the rugby teams for the weekend.) Walking around the camp at night it was obvious most people weren’t happy. There were many grumbles about the area not being particularly steep, a couple of people assumed that because the drive in was relatively flat, the hill would be too. Come morning though those doubts were put to rest as we walked the track. Most took one look at the bottom section and went to the bottom to buy spiked tyres from the man in the paddock who had clearly done his research and probably made a killing on the sale of tyres alone.
The track was split into several sections. It started at the very top of the hill on an open field, first up was a mellow chute littered with rocks with two main lines, next up was an even rockier section that led sideways across a field into a couple of berms and a mellow kicker type thing, at this point it got pretty wet and soggy, making it fairly greasy and almost impossible to carry decent speed through the section if you didn’t have your line exactly right. Straight into the woods now with a speed killing root section which spat you into a couple of trees with only minimal space between the trees a few riders suffered here clipping shoulders and bar ends. The next section saw a LOT of crashes myself included, once you had come out of the woods you were met with a small drop over a stream (I’m talking about four foot in distance at the maximum) but due to the nature of the take off it looked as though there was no gap at all. Many in the first practice run of the day decided to roll the drop and just take it easy on the first practice run until we knew the track. It was only when it was too late that you then realised there was actually a gap to cross. I was sat at the edge of the track and honestly 3 riders in a row crashed badly on the same drop for the same reason. Poor Jimmy from Notts Uni ended up cracking his lid, snapping his visor off and blood pouring down his face leaving the Nottingham lads a man down for the weekend.
There were two other sections on everyone’s minds, the hip just before the fire road with a lip that looked like something right out of the x-games (although I did witness the best ever overtake at this jump when a faster ride simply bypassed the slower ride mid-air on the hip-absolute genius.) Bar a few rock gardens it was all pretty standard until the bottom section which was by far the highlight of the track. A pretty steep section with a couple of switchbacks, it had been freshly layered and was covered in loamy topsoil meaning the ground moved underneath you and keeping in a straight-line was next to impossible, once the first few riders had fallen and taken the topsoil with them it began to rut and a couple of lines began to form. It was at this point tree stumps that were previously hidden under the topsoil began to emerge. Come race day and pretty much everyone who wasn’t riding at the time set themselves up at this section to watch the carnage. With the added pressure of the whole crowd concentrated in one spot banging their pots and pans and ringing their cowbells (oh and the guy with the megaphone; nice job with the heckling) on an already difficult section it was easy to see why pretty much everyone but the lucky fell victim to this section, much to the delight of the crowd whose cheered every time without fail. Some people even managed to crash up to four times in a single section.
At the end of the practice day there was a general consensus not to overdo it before race day, clearly the message didn’t get through to the lads who decided to fuel up on cider and sausage roll down the steepest hill they could find would be a good idea (it may not have been a good idea but it was hilarious for those looking on.) This turned into some admittedly funny but slightly scary antics. There was a small kicker (perhaps a foot tall) at the bottom of a steep and bumpy run in, which some guy decided would be fun to try on his hard tail with people laying in the gap. Bearing in mind this was in the pitch black and the take off was only just visible through the crowd shining the screens from their mobiles onto the take off, it took balls to lay in that gap.
But what took even bigger balls was the guy from Preston who did a handstand in the gap, spread his legs, got the crowd to steady him and let the rider launch himself blindly off the jump which was a foot high in the hope he didn’t his family jewels didn’t suddenly meet with a pair of Maxxis tyres travelling at warp speed. I think we all had a lot of respect for him after that. We all know when students get drunk that weird things tend to happen like that, but I thought it would at least wait until the night of the party.
Race day and the conditions had changed once again, whilst it was relatively dry the day before it had rained heavily on the Friday night. Meaning line choices needed to be rethought and wet tyres fitted; the sun came out and dried everything within minutes changing the track yet again. On the day there was one phrase which was constantly uttered everywhere I went
“I want to get sub three minute times”
And many managed it or were on the cusp of it. Manchester University posted a time of 2:17 who knocked Rich Thomas from Bath off the hot seat who was less than half a second behind. A bit of a delay and the second runs commenced with only the top four fastest riders from each university competing in the final race run to speed things up. This sudden excess of riders decided to set up camp at the bottom section overlooking the loose and loamy section (which was now looking completely different) which saw enough carnage over the weekend to fill an entire series of “You’ve been framed.” The pressure was really on now, most of the fast boys had the rest of the track dialled but it was still this section that was giving people problems much to the crowds delight.
At the end of the day it was Rich Thomas from Bath who clawed back the win with an impressive 2:14.154 a whole 3 seconds quicker than Jack Reading’s quickest time of 2:17:939 much to the delight of his entourage from the West Country. With Gareth McKee from queens Belfast university stepping onto the remaining podium place with a solid time of 2:22:922.
Saturday night and the downhill championships were over for another year, with crowd fully stocked on free monster energy drinks as well as the cider and Beer stashed in people’s tents, it all got pretty messy.
Until next year…
Full results on BUCS