DESCENT GEAR UNCLIPPED, MOELFRE.
Race report, photos and video from the recent race at Moelfre.
Words by Seb Frost
Photos by Jeron Holy
Although this is only Mike Marsden’s fourth ever event, he’s rapidly getting a reputation as one of the better race organisers in the land. His company Borderline Events first landed at Moelfre this time last year and they’ve gone from strength-to-strength since.
The BC are so happy with this newcomer that he’s even landed the inauspicious job of handling the 2010 National Champs... good luck with that one Mike! Could he pull off another smooth race at his favoured venue of Moelfre. Originally scoped out by the Athertons when they moved up Oswestry way, it’s become a well-known venue on the UK scene, even if it does divide opinion at times....
So, it was with much trepidation that I crawled up the A49 en-route to the last DH race of the season. Why’s that you ask? (OK, you probably didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway). Well it may only be a 130 mile jaunt for me from Cardiff, but on this autumnal Friday afternoon, it had so far rained for, err, 130 miles. Not cats-and-dogs rain, but heavy enough to be foreboding... For those that haven’t been before, Moelfre is not a place you want to be when it’s raining.
The venue is pretty unique in the UK, since it is almost totally treeless. When the weather closes in, believe me, you know about it, and there is nowhere to hide – speaking of which, I’ve no idea how the mums that marshal for us manage to go pee-pee during practice?! Let’s just be thankful that they seem to cope somehow!
Last time I came to Moelfre I swore I’d never go again unless I knew it was going to be sunny. Well, as a die-hard race-addict I ended up breaking that promise, feeling that I couldn’t possibly miss this year’s season finale, and get a final hit before winter closes in. I’m glad I did, it proved to be a good’un.
Unusually, the track was open for riding on the Friday before the event. Mike had laid on two tractors and 30 or so riders took advantage of the extra practice. Despite my miserable journey, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it hadn’t rained at all until 10 minutes before I got there – maybe the weekend wouldn’t be so bad after all!
So, first things first (or, in this case, after a long waffly introduction!): The course walk.
Remaining largely unchanged from previous races, there were a couple of notable exceptions. In case you’re not familiar, I’ll give a full run-down.
The course starts on the exposed grassy summit. Actually, “exposed" doesn’t really do it justice – if it’s a windy day it can be a struggle just to ride your bike in a straight line!! Two pedal strokes out of the start gate and you were into a long RH rut, cutting out of it early to take the grassy inside line rather than carrying on in the LH rut down towards the quarry drop. In good conditions this is a 20ft huck clearable only by the most committed (as in “they should be committed...") riders. For 99% of us mere mortals it’s a case of dropping off of it at mid-pace, and absorbing the hit. Was going off the bigger RH line any quicker? Certainly set you up better into the LH after it, but the uphill landing was pretty unpleasant (for this rider at least!) After that there’s a few smaller drops – scary when you have a 50mph side wind, but perfectly rideable this weekend.
The two big step-down jumps had an odd alteration – the second one being taped out and replaced by a tiny fly-off kicker to its left. Reason unknown? This took you down into a new RH berm, then into the new section instead of the familiar switchbacks. Two small jumps – one aptly named “the grave jump" – delivered you at the start of the trickiest section of the track; an off-camber traverse that then twitched right into a horrendously bumpy chute, with a massively-useless right-hander at the bottom of it. Few pedal strokes out of that and you were into a surprisingly slippery, rocky 180° berm that guided you back across the hill before kinking right around another berm down to the wooden fade-drop towards the uplift crossing.
Interestingly, last year’s dubious uplift track step-up-to-uphill-landing was no longer the line of choice for most; the route inside of it having been worn away so smoothly that it was quicker to keep the bike on the ground and get a couple of pedal-strokes in.
Now comes the bit that anyone has ridden into a headwind dreads – the infamous Moelfre straightaway. Pedal, pedal, then pedal some more. Try not to worry about pinch-flatting on the occasional rocky bits, and try not to fall off of the RH side of the track on the slight left-hander deviations. Eventually you’re relieved to come to the jump past the wall, knowing that means the end is – with no trees on the hill, literally – in sight! Sprint across the grass, cut right, control the braking bumps, then left into braking bumps so big you can double them up now, hard right, down the slab drop, please the crowd with a big whip off the fade drop, then worry about your spleen and other internal organs as you blast through the 30mph+ double-compression with the ever-inviting gatepost on the outside of the corner... Eek!
If you survived that (a scary place to spectated!) it was a simple sprint with a little kicker to boost you over the line. 2min40 for all that and you’d be finishing in the top third overall, 2min30 would elude 90% of riders and the fastest times of the day were in the 2min17s.
A bit of an aside quickly... I learnt something new about Moelfre at the weekend. Have you ever seen the Hugh Grant film The Englishman that went up a Hill and came down a Mountain? No? Well, me neither, but I vaguely know of it. When you’re heading up the uplift track on the tractor, I’m sure you’ve noticed the odd bump on the smaller summit (behind the two step-downs near the top of the track). Turns out that is the bump that they built for the film, and the reason that we can race at Moelfre! There was no upliftable uplift track before Hollywood came and splashed their cash. So there ya go. OK, history lesson over.
Saturday practice started out a bit slippery from the spattering of rain the night before, but the track quickly (benefit of being so open!) dried out. There was a brief track closure at midday when some poor kid nailed themselves into the uplift crossing, and eventually had to be airlifted off with a broken hip. Many riders took this opportunity to grab a spot of lunch, and Mike was good enough to extend practice by half an hour at the end of the day – that’s what we like from a race organiser!
Plenty of riders managed ten or more runs. The only real hiccup this weekend, was an over-keenness to red-flag riders to allow tractors past. This caused congestion in the most technical part of the track, preventing riders from getting many clean runs into it. Mike’s taken this criticism on board though, and plans to improve the situation at future races. Mike’s very approachable, you always know he’ll listen to any feedback and is happy to act on it.
Sunday morning demonstrated an interesting new idea. Practice started at 07:45am. Yes, A QUARTER TO EIGHT! The cunning thing about this is that most people couldn’t be bothered with it... Eh? Why’s that cunning? Well, because it meant that there was no massive queue at the start of practice as you’d normally get on a Sunday at a race! The keen beans got on before 8am, the rest of us stayed in bed and moseyed over at about 9, when everything was already in full flow. Especially important when you consider that this was the most populous race of the year, with over 330 riders entered.
Onto racing then. Harry Molloy took the fastest time of the day, and sewed up Juniors, narrowly pipping the sole Elite James Hughes to the top overall spot. James’ top split was impressive, a second up on Molloy, but he threw it away on the easier 2nd half of the track – Molloy must have really hung it out down there! 2nd and 3rd in Juniors were Simon Stuttard (season best) and Danny Bradford.
Next fastest were some keen Seniors, four of them managing to best Ali MacLennan’s Expert-winning time. Oli Burton had a close-fought battle with Ralph Richardson and Elliot Machin, putting in a great 2nd run time to take the win.[Ralph’s the guy who many of you will have spotted in his gold skinsuit that he rocks out during the Moelfre long-jump competitions, and this weekend was no exception. A big over-the-bars crash put him out of contention there though, with Sam Maddison (7th in Youth) taking the win from a determined Molloy. Amazingly these boys were managing to go about 40ft off of the tiny kicker in the field!]
Experts was a small field this weekend, not that Ali MacLennan will be complaining – his first win since moving into Expert some years ago, he went home a happy lad. Si Parsons reckons he had a lot more in the tank, but failed to pull it out of the bag and had to settle for 2nd, with Don Howe finishing off the podium on a borrowed bike that he’d never ridden before his race run!
Harriet Latchem in the girls got a great result this weekend – her time of 2min44 beat 2/3rds of the men’s field – again on a bike she’d never ridden before! Second was Monet Adams who’s taken a bit of a break from racing this year, good to see her back, and a great result considering she’d had flu all week. Rosie Smith should be pretty happy with 3rd, in her second ever race – one to watch maybe!
In Youth Bradley Craggs managed to get one over Dave Kynaston, putting in a great time. Third was Alex Glass, a great finish to a solid season for him aboard his 2Stage.
Sion Jones managed a fantastic win in the Masters category, beating Adrian Bradley by one hundredth of a second. All the more impressive since he missed Saturday’s practice, was working a night shift until 4am, and only had 2 hours sleep before rocking up on Sunday! David Fairservice brought up the rear a couple of seconds down.
Vets winner John Cobb showed us more than we really wanted to see on the long jump, but regained our respect with another solid win, putting 10 seconds into second-place man Dai Jones.
Last but not least is the Hardtails. Fair play to them, some savage bumps were proving rough enough on 8" bouncers. Dom McRae put in a great time of 2min48, with Stuart Bond hot on his heels in 2nd, 3rd place going to Barry Glover, back racing after two years out.
All in all a very well run event. Things weren’t perfect, but the basics were right. A quick uplift, a half-decent course, and most importantly of all a great, relaxed end-of-season atmosphere. Commentating duties were split between Ellie Smith and Steve ‘jabbermouth’ Hardcastle (9th in Masters), thanks to them for keeping us all up-to-date on the proceedings!
Big thanks also to the Pearce Cycles guys for flawless timing once again, and an even bigger thanks to all of those marshals that sat on the hill in frigid conditions, especially when the wind picked up on Sunday. Emma Wareham (Leisure Lakes) even chose to sit this one out and give something back to the sport by helping out, something we should all try and do once in a while... That said, I think she may have regretted her decision after Mike stationed her at the summit – I guess he’s known as Mean Bean for a reason!
Roll on 2010; I feel it’s going to be a good one!
Harriet Latchem 2:44.831
Monet Adams (All Terrain Cycles/Nikita) 2:52.901
Rosie Smith 3:16.958
Charlotte Hughes 3:18.721
Nadia Williams 3:20.614
James Hughes (Intense/MTB Direct /Shift) 2:17.714
Ali MacLennan (Pinkbike.com) 2:24.635
Si Parson (Freedom Bikes) 2:25.497
Don Howe (Kustom Bikes) 2:31.261
Dom McRae 2:48.860
Stuart Bond (The Hills Have Eyes) 2:56.024
Barry Glover 2:58.439
Harry Molloy (DMR/Last/Lifestyle Ford/Mojo/Rezurgence) 2:17.188 (fastest time of the day)
Simon Stuttard 2:25.005
Danny Bradford (AWCycles.co.uk) 2:26.894
Callum Harvard (Cwmdown/PS Cycles) 2:36.228
Will Weston (Six Pack/Tollbar Warwick Volvo) 2:43.011
Tom Proffitt (Bad Ass Bikes) 2:45.764
Sion Jones (MTB Direct) 2:29.838
Adrian Bradley (Eryri DH) 2:29.850
David Fairservice 2:31.772
Oli Burton (Axo/Superstar) 2:18.285
Ralph Richardson (Bike Outlet/Carbocage) 2:20.345
Elliot Machin (Racers’ Guid/Swinnerton Cycles) 2:21.939
John ‘tackle-out’ Cobb 2:34.681
Dai Jones (Eryri DH) 2:44.579
John Moreland 2:46.407
Bradley Craggs (The Bike Place, Newcastle) 2:25.335
SamHill Kynaston 2:27.724
Alex Glass (2Stage Bikes/Bedstone College) 2:28.417
Full results here