Manon Carpenter: London Bike Show Pumptrack Challenge
World Cup racer Manon Carpenter escapes the snow in Wales and travels up to London to have a go at the Pumptrack Challenge at the London Bike Show.
London Bike Show Pumptrack Challenge Snow Weekend
Words and photos: Manon Carpenter
So here’s how I spent last weekend, in case you’re interested... And there are some photos for those of you who aren’t so into reading!!
It’s Thursday night, I’ve packed ready for an amazing weekend of Dirt Jumps, Pumptrack and Moto, set my alarm for half 5 and got into bed. Few hours later my alarm goes off and the apocalypse has hit. Well, not quite, but the multiple inches of snow on the roads mean I’m not getting out of Caerphilly anytime soon, let alone driving to London!
Friday – Snow Day
After sulking for a bit it’s hard to resist a day in the snow so pretty soon we were out on the motorbikes having an explore. I’ll be honest; moto enduro in the snow wasn’t quite what I expected! For starters just riding along the road was sketchy as fook, the slightest bit too much throttle or catching the edge of tyre tracks and you were going sideways. Kinda like taking a motorbike on an ice rink.
Once we warmed up and got off-road it was less hazardous, mainly because the ground was softer to fall on! It was pretty funny trying to stay upright and in a straight line but trying to go anywhere fast was hard work, I had my poor bike screaming trying to get to the top of the hill and you couldn’t see a thing that you were riding on. Nevertheless, snow makes everything look awesome so I kinda spent most of the ride taking photos!
Next up was snowboarding, I’d been itching to have a go all day so rang our friend Jimmy to ask if I could steal his board for a few runs when he was free. I think he’s one of the only people in town with snow chains for his car so he was a busy man that day!
So it’s not quite the Alps... and me still being fairly amateur at snowboarding you don’t get much time to get your snow legs back on the five second descent vs five minute ascent but it’s still good fun, and you definitely get a work out walking back up!
A day in the snow was fun but it didn’t take me long to realise that if I stayed at home there wasn’t going to be a hell of a lot to do that weekend, especially as my van didn’t look like it was going anywhere! So at half past nine that evening I text Katy Curd to see what was occurring and pretty soon we had a plan. I set my alarm for five in the morning and got into bed... again.
Saturday – London Bike Show
Getting up at 5 in the morning and riding to the nearest train station in the cold, dark and snow to get a 6 o’clock train for a four and a half hour journey to London might seem like hell to most people; but as soon as I got out of the house and started riding down the icy hill to the station mega-avalanche style it felt more like an adventure than a drag! It’s definitely a good way to wake up in the morning anyway.
Getting the tube across London with my bike was actually a bit of a mission and I was pretty relieved when I finally made it to the ExCeL where the Bike Show was taking place. If I’d seen this poster on the underground (spotted later on by Jacob Gibbins) it might have made my journey a bit more interesting!
London Bike Show Day 1
I turned up late so by the time I found the pumptrack area (after a few accidental detours through the Boat and Travel Shows) people were already riding. The pumptrack was made up of wooden segments, designed really well with smooth rollers and curved berms so riders were absolutely flying round.
First few laps of practise felt as crazy as the last race laps, all it took was a couple of good pumps over the rollers and you were straight up to speed; the near vertical berms spat you out at all angles so if you didn’t react quick enough you were sent careering off the track!
After practise we went for an explore round the show, it was fun to catch up with everyone from Madison Saracen and riders who were there chatting up sponsors with their CVs (ahem, Jono Jones ;-)) and Katy made the most of the free sweets being given out on most stands! The Saracen Bikes stand looked amazing and I definitely can't wait to get my hands on the new team bikes which are going to look just as good!!
Saturday was definitely the busiest day for the pumptrack challenge and soon there were so many quick riders signed up the competition was getting tough! Only the top 10 from the Qualifying round would go through to the final round and we only got one run so everyone was pretty nervous. I wasn’t expecting to get into the top 10 at all that day but I had made a few bets with other riders who I wanted to beat and there were so many people watching so the pressure was still on!
Qualifying got pretty tense for me. Amazingly after everyone had done a lap I was still in ninth position with a decent time of 8.40 seconds, but a couple of people had to have re runs after they got spat out of the last corner off balance and missed the timing beams completely. Actually, tense is an understatement, I wanted to qualify with the boys so badly!
Slowly I got pushed down to tenth position with one rider to go. As Christian was coming round the last two corners I couldn’t look at the clock until it stopped... at 8.48 seconds. I was so excited to have qualified overall and shown some of the lads up, I couldn’t help making the most of it and dishing out some abuse. I thought it was pretty funny when Scott Beaumont said I liked battering guys’ egos, it’s all friendly banter... kind of ;-)
That night Chris Roberts (pumptrack organiser) very kindly sorted us out a hotel room which involved kicking Olly Wilkins and his girlfriend out of the room they had stayed in the night before. They’d obviously had a heavy night so Olly left us a lovely message apologising for the state of the room...
London Bike Show Day 2
By Sunday it was snowing again but that didn’t stop more people turning up to the show. I think that was one of the things that made the Show so much fun. Before qualifying and finals on the pumptrack the Animal Bike Tour which was next door would have a display with Blake Samson and Martyn Ashton getting rad, so everyone would head straight over for the pumptrack afterwards and watch the fun!
At first we thought there weren’t going to be many people racing on Sunday but by the afternoon there were plenty of quick 4x racers and Brendan Fairclough turned up again for a second round with his brother Christian and the S4P gang, so again there was plenty of competition.
At dinner the night before I’d been set a goal of getting under 8 seconds which I thought I could get with a good lap, it was just a matter of staying in a straight line which is easier said than done on that track. During practise I was feeling quick and putting the effort in but I wasn’t expecting to do quite as well as I did...
This time we didn’t have qualifying, we just went straight through to the Final where we had three laps to set our best time. Yet again, everyone was feeling the pressure. It’s crazy how nerve-wracking a pumptrack race can be and every time I finished a lap my hands were shaking and my legs felt like jelly. I beat my goal of a sub-8 second lap on my first attempt, beating the first few riders that had already gone and shocking myself as well as a few others!
After the first round I was in third position behind Brendan and Tom Dowie and I was hungry... I wanted a podium! However a few people hadn’t placed times in the first round so by the end of the second round I’d been pushed down to fifth by Scott Beaumont and Arthur Cotterell.
I’ve got to say here that Brendan was looking ridiculously fast, like in a totally different league. It’s mad how someone riding around in circles on a wooden track can look so impressive!
The problem with beating my goal for that day in the first round meant that I wasn’t happy with it anymore, top 3 had been dangled in front of my face and I wanted it. I wasn’t too far behind Scott but I’d have to find 0.2 to beat Arthur which is hard on such a short track!
The third round came around and I was sat on the start. After a warm up lap I got up to speed and went through the beams to start the clock...
...7.769 seconds later it stopped when I crossed the line. It wasn’t enough to put me on the podium but it just about beat Boom Boom’s fastest time, which was pretty crazy in itself!
I hadn’t even thought that that might happen, and I’d beaten some other really good riders as well so yet again I was over the moon! I don’t know what it is that makes beating guys so good... Probably the look on their and everyone elses faces when they realise what’s just happened, haha.
The best part of the day though came just as I was leaving the pumptrack area and a little girl came over to say how fast I’d been that day. I mentioned this to Katy to which she replied "that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?", which is so right. I loved the idea that we might have inspired that girl and others to pick up a bike, have a go and see how much fun it is. I love riding bikes; they can give you so much confidence, take you to so many places, and you get to meet all the other lovely people who ride bikes too!
The snow had started falling again so it was time to leave and 36 hours after I left Caerphilly at 6 in the morning I was back on the train home with my steed... I was still really excited from the day’s events, running on a similar high to doing well at a World Cup if I’m honest!
All in all it had been a really good weekend and I’m so glad I decided last minute on Friday night to go. Thanks to Chris Roberts for organising the Pumptrack Challenge and letting me steal some of his photos, Olly for giving up his hotel room for us, Katy and Jake for breakfast Sunday morning and everyone for making it so much fun!
All the best... Manon