Comrades and Gun slingers
Words and Photos by Steven Jones
In these haunted or hallowed woods, depending on your perspective and performance, lay tales of mishap and endeavour. Stories of missed lines and needless braking mingled alongside ones of high risk and total flow. The champions, not all, absolute in their commitment, relentlessly on line, in the zone where the periphery blurs, the sounds ephemeral and the target simple and yet so complex. Winning.
In many ways it was a business-like weekend. In others it was personal. Peel back the veneer of team pit canvas, and after all that’s all it is, and you are graced with beer, sheep, barbecues and banter. The peasants field was buzzing, the drizzle succumbing to hot action from above. There was no escaping that this was a close-knit, close-fought affair but was warfare nonetheless.
“inside it was a warren of anxiety, a stadium within the sitka”
Friday chat centred upon the fact that the track was pretty technical, tight and downhill, unlike some of the current fare that’s being dealt out, dreamt up, both nationally and internationally. Hang on and hope versus this – calculated flow and rapid direction change. This was old school, kind of, to be attacked by the current worlds finest and fastest downhill racer – Danny Hart – and the hundreds of privateers that make this sport so special, so personal.
There were some mouthwatering encounters, no more so than in the veteran’s class, a collective of former pro’s that had been there, done it, still doing it harder than ever. The Longden/Ponting/Whitfield duel was an encounter not to be missed, former champions, world class legends still engaged, still hungry, still having to deal with the pressure of one run and the never ending challenge to avoid pulling the black levers inwards. From the outside it was a conifer woods surrounded by sheep and rocks, on the inside it was a warren of anxiety, a stadium within the sitka.
On current form Danny Hart would be hard to beat, fresh from world cup glory. Of the other top men Ruaridh Cunningham was gathering speed, Bren Fairclough gathering dust at home in Surrey. Adam Brayton, Laurie Greenland, Greg Williamson were in form and it seemed Atherton, Bryceland, Peat were simply there to add flavour rather than challenge for the title of National Downhill Champion. Or so was the talk….
There were a ton of local’s giving it some gas. Tahnee Seagrave from Llanfyllin, and Rachel Atherton who’s spent many years in this valley where Llangynnog is the hub, the place of progressiveness, forward thinking. Of world downhill champions. Of future national champions. Atherton’s race run was formidable, utterly brilliant.
The track had gained some traction on the fact that it was quite different to what is currently on offer. Gravity having more effect than lung capacity. One of fifty or so turns in the coniferous plantation before it broke out into daylight and a hefty dumping ground of slate waste shaped into artificial banks, commonly known as berms. This was a hybrid track. When Rob Warner ousted Peaty for National Champion twenty years ago not a million miles from here he’d ridden a lot more root and a lot less bike for the win.
But the woods were awesome, a tightrope, dangerous, high speed and hectic. In here mistakes were rife, in the finish arena all that had to be overcome was sunburn. But this was a scorching race.
Here was Peaty, twenty years on still hungry, still in the mix, still carping on about his retirement, and as it was to be, still fully embarrassing and schooling the majority of the field. This was vintage stuff from the former World Champion.
Yet the day belonged to the future. In Matt Walker and Charlie Hatton who dished out a thriller and the even younger future stars in Harry Barrett, Henry Kerr along with Megan James and Aston Tutt. In Greg Williamson we have a fully deserved champion bearing up to the pressure of first place qualification, of delivering a run of class under a heavy expectation and clear blue skies.
2016 National Champions
Senior Champs Men – Greg Williamson
Senior Champs Women – Rachel Atherton
0 – 14 Boys – Harry Barrett
15-16 Boys – Henry Kerr
15 – 16 Girls – Megan James
17 – 18 Boys – Matt Walker
17 – 18 Girls – Aston Tutt
30 -34 Men (Fossils) – Chris Sinden
35 – 39 Men – Neil White
40 -44 Men – Will Longden
44 – 49 Men – Pete Little
50 + Men (Coffin Dodgers) – Yours Truly
Special thanks to…
Revolution provided a great location, with fantastic hosts and slick uplift from one of the country’s top downhill destinations. Aided with Dave Pearce’s exceptional uplifting skills, the lively commentary and the commissar’s keeping the flow going together with the treasured marshals the 2016 National Championships run by Mike Marsden of Borderline Events was a great spread for Uk downhill.