View From A Ditch: Dalby World Cup
British Cycling's regular XC reporter and photographer Joolze Dymond reports back on a spectacular and frenetic weekend in Dalby Forest as the World Cup circus came to town!
The World Cup finally came to Dalby: after months of planning, building, stake banging, tape tying and anticipation, the World's best mountain bikers descending on this little gem nestled in North Yorkshire, for a brand new course and a welcome that only the Brits can muster!
It's been a long process and watching from the sidelines it seems the British Cycling have overcome a true logistical nightmare, transforming what was literally a facility-free grass field, just a week or so ago, into a thriving event village and for that one weekend the ability to ring home, should you wish! (Previous to this you had to find ‘the special corner' or walk a mile or two searching for that elusive signal..).
Over the course of the years I've had the good fortune to visit Dalby Forest on numerous occasions, whether it was covering races or shooting images for mags. I've sort of watched it grow up, from taking its first baby steps, to taking its place in what now is certain to be regarded as one of the best World Cup courses on the circuit.
Living in Yorkshire I can almost claim to feel a certain amount of pride that this all evolved on my ‘patch'. Cue moist tear in the eye...
For months now I've been waiting patiently to finally take my place in a ditch somewhere on the Dalby circuit ready for the World Cup Series to get underway. A chance to watch and shoot some of the best mountain bike action in the world and due to it being on home turf a great chance to see a whole load of GB athletes having a go.
Having never held a World Cup at this particular venue, breaths were held as to whether it could step up to the mark set over the years by Fort William, which has regularly been the XC hot spot in the UK for some amazing battles amongst the World's Elite.
Could the organisers transform a barren field into a frenetic hub of activity and could North Yorkshire deliver a good dose of a real Northern welcome? Two thousand stakes, miles of tape, plus a couple of impressive TV screens and marquees and the answer had to be ‘oh yes and with knobs on!'
The event kicked-off with Friday night's Pro-Sprint Eliminator, a wonderful blend of outright fun and stiff competition as some of the biggest names, past and present, lined up to take part in a mad dash around the town centre of Pickering.
The locals welcomed what could have been viewed as an intrusion with open arms and the streets were thronged 4 or 5 deep. People clapped, cheered and toasted the health of the sport, each other and anything else that came to mind as the riders went about the business of racing: there were dramas, crashes and nail biting endings much to the amusement of the crowds.
A sprinkling of British riders, including Gary Foord and Nick Craig, gave the legends race their all out, hardest sprinting support. Juniors Steve James and Kenta Gallagher drew huge cheers when they led their respective first rounds. However, despite their hard work, no GB riders made it through to the final, but it didn't spoil a fine evening!
Then it was suddenly Saturday. They say time flies by when you're having fun and despite driving home and back again I was clearly having fun as the weekend seemed to be flashing by. Anyway, I was back at the course, raring to go, rainbow pass in hand and my ever so becoming lycra UCI tog bib (I love wearing this, by time I have it on and put my tog jacket over the top, it no longer say's "PHOTO', it just announces ‘HOT'!)
Hoping against hope that it would be hot both weather wise and action wise, I headed off into the copious amount of singletrack ready for the Junior racing to get underway. What a way to start off proceedings! Our boy in blue, red and white, Steve James, did us proud, grabbing a podium spot for a fine third spot.
Next it was time to head off once again to find a suitable ditch to watch the public get to grips with the World Cup circuit in the Dalby Dare. For them it was a chance to ride a timed lap to see how they measured up with the world's best.
Then it was a quick dash home, download images, process, select, upload, before falling into bed ready to do it all again the next day.
An even earlier start beckoned on Sunday: living 50 or so miles from Dalby, the trip took around 90mins, hurtling up the A64. Through half closed eyes I loaded the car and suddenly realised that it was looking rather damp! Oh, the lovely almost summer like weather had been cruelly replaced by rain, heavy rain - well that's the joy of living in wet Yorkshire!
Heading up the road, waterproofs and thermals replacing t-shirts, we tried to calculate whether we might just outrun the weather. Nope. It was raining when we got to Dalby too, those evil black clouds following us all the way. Fortunately as the morning progressed the inclement weather gradually faded away as spectators started to arrive in their droves ready to watch the elites get to grips with Dalby.
Suited and booted ready for a day in potential mud we headed once more for the trails. With all the action hot spots spread around the course it was a case of military planning, deciding where to shoot and how to get where and how to get back for those all-important finishing shots. You certainly do a lot of walking in this job, usually heavily laden with not so light kit, before you can take a rest in a ditch or two.
Usually the best spots are commandeered by the TV crews so you're constantly having to rethink your position on the course to get the images you want, while cheering on the riders and watching the racing unfold, add to that a little videoing exploits and I certainly had a full day on my hands!
The women's racing was excellent, with Annie Last treating the crowds to a sprint finish to grab a top 20 spot but also claiming our second podium spot of the weekend with a fine third in the under-23 race.
Commiserations to both Maddie Horton and Mel Alexander: their races were over even before they got to the start line with heavy crashes in training leaving then broken, battered and bruised!
GB fared less well in the elite men's race, with Oli Beckingsale finishing in 37th spot: I know he'll improve on this in the coming months.
And then just as quickly as the carnival of racing had arrived it was over. Thousands of spectators dispersed and teams were heading to the next stop on the World Cup circuit, Houffalize.
Dalby was left like a Wild West town after a shoot out - all dusty and windblown. I half expected to see tumbleweed bowling across the road.
Hopefully the World Cup will visit again, but it's not yet a done deal: dates have to be submitted and the UCI persuaded that Dalby can be even better than it was and, to my mind, it was certainly pretty amazing! The consensus amongst riders was that this course was one of the best they'd ridden and I for one would love for the World Cup to come back again to my home patch. Fingers crossed that we can do it all again next year....I've got my ditch marked ready, just in case.
Thanks to everyone who made the event what it was, from the hardworking organisers right through to the volunteers and the thousands of spectators who headed to Dalby to see the best in action on a fantastic course. See you next year!