Race Report by Paul Aston.
Practice on Saturday was pretty wet to say the least, and it showed no sign of stopping late in to the evening. Meeting at the PedalABikeAway Café at 11(ish) to pick up the route maps before heading up the hill. Practice was a relaxed affair, with many riders making the trip the day before the event to gain some seconds on their mates.
All 3 stages were made from ‘old skool’ DH tracks, with a few extra bits thrown in, although I think most peoples bikes now are more capable than the bikes that were used for DH racing ‘back in the day’. Muddy, flowing, rutted and not too much pedalling. Race winner Neil Donoghue admitted to sneaky pre-race practicing on Stage 2 after letting on that he raced the same track back in 1997!
I quickly decided most of the time could be made up on Stage 1, and the second half of Stage 3, so I spent most of my time practicing these. Stage one had some greasy loamy corners and a long off camber section so was worth trying to get the lines dialled. The second half of Stage 3 was steep, off camber and rutted out, one section even had a foot rut carved out alongside the tyre rut. It was hard to get down on the bike, let alone race down. The rest of the stages comprised of mellow single tracks, some short, sharp sprints and some testing fast and flat corners. It was a fairly short loop around 10miles in total but for me the perfect format for winter racing, no standing around getting cold and wet. Get your bike out the van, smash it, and go hang out in the café next to the log fire for the rest of the day.
Sunday Racing kicked off at 12.15, giving everyone time to get in a few more practice runs before they raced. Blue skies came from nowhere and lasted all day, and the tracks started to dry out quickly. The Pro Am boys started first with Neil Donoghue hucking the bomb hole at the end of Stage 1 to take the win on this stage and Stage 3, a close 2nd on Stage 2. Chris Keeble-Smith pushed him all day and was only 3.6seconds behind at the end of the stages. After a few timing updates I finished 3rd.
I changed to Specialized Storm tyres on Saturday night which helped cut through the soft stuff and softened my suspension slightly to try and grab a little more grip in the slimy conditions. This helped massively with my confidence, and helped me push to get in to the Top 3. Joe Taylor took a convincing win in Senior by nearly 17seconds. His time would have placed 6th in Pro-Am category.
In the Masters category, the biggest at 90 riders, and probably the most competitive, the top 5 consisted entirely of ex DH heroes: Andrew Titley, Joe Finney, Stu Hughes, Tim Williams and Martin Astley – finishing in that order.
Andy Sadler showed the old boys who was the boss in Vets. A great turnout for them with 47 riders! Black Country locals, Rich King in 4th and Steve Parr in 5th, proving that he can still race after spending the last 6 years organising them.
Multiple Grand Vet National Champ could only make 3rd in Super Vets, with Neil Small taking the win. Shropshire’s coolest 50 year old, John Baker managed 4th at his 2nd ever race, even though he’s probably still hanging from his 50th Birthday celebrations last week, It was one hell of a party! Tim ‘TFTuned’ Flooks also showed up to race for the first time in years.
Another Black country local, and probably the most enthusiastic rider of the day, Peter Lloyd took the win in hardtail. Liz Simmonds, aka Wizzy the Witch took the win in the Ladies.
Aside from results, I think the best part of these races is the social aspect. Especially at the Forest of Dean with the great cafe/bikeshop area. Turn up with your mates, cruise up the climbs, smash out some race runs, refuel on tea and cakes and chat about wheel sizes for a few hours until the podium.