Well what a difference a week makes! Last weekend I was hauling myself around the second round of the Scottish Enduro series at Ae in 20˚ sunshine and bone dry trails; the biggest problem I had was keeping the dust out my eyes.
Fast-forward a week to Ae this time for the Scottish Cycling National Downhill Championships and I can tell you things couldn't have been more different. It started at 08:15 on Saturday when I got in the car to be greeted with a temperature reading of 3.5c and driving rain, coupled with a rather brisk North westerly breeze! As I drove down the M74 the rain showed no signs of abating and I considered how few practice laps I could do and still consider it a proper practice session; 2 maybe?
Mercifully the rain had stopped falling by the time I arrived at Ae and was greeted by the brilliant Scottish Downhill Association team at sign on. The track this year was very different to last year and was short and fast but not without its difficulty, the fast guys were practicing right up till the final uplift at 4:15. Now all we had to do was wait and hope that the rain that was forecast didn't put in an appearance. The track had bedded down very well as the day had gone on, and any suggestion of rain threatened to turn the whole lot back into a great big chocolate slide littered with sniper rocks and roots.
Sunday morning dawned cold and crisp with a ground frost but mercifully no rain. There was rain forecast but as it stood the day started dry and this bode well for the track holding up and not descending into the aforementioned chocolate mudslide.
I hooked up with the rest of the women racing and we headed up the hill for a practice run. The start of the downhill run at Ae truly does have a spectacular view, all the way to Cumbria across the Solway Firth. The track had packed down even more and there was a brilliant rut that had formed round the tricky corner I was having most difficulty on; this gave me a bit more confidence to get round there a quicker than the tiptoe I'd been managing so far.
The marshals are as ever the absolute linchpin to these events and sit on windy and cold hillsides for hours, but their enthusiasm for support seemed irrepressible this weekend. Tricky corner marshal was particularly enthusiastic when you made it round the without dabbing or dropping it; there were cowbells and general shouts of encouragement as well as the obligatory whistles as you zoomed past…well some folk undoubtedly zoomed past, possibly not the right description for my progress.
The fast lads were having a brilliant time trying all types of lines out on certain parts of the track and it was a privilege to watch these guys. Specifically Reece Wilson and Frazer McCubbing who I got to witness hucking the stump gap just before the road crossing. Amazing skill to drop out of the sky onto an area no bigger than a dining room table, rip round a wee berm and disappear into the distance; I can only marvel at the skill these guys have. There was a top selection of riders again at the elite and expert level for the men; Reece Wilson, Greg Williamson, Ruaridh Cunningham, Ben Cathro and, of course, ex-cross country rider Kenta Gallagher who looks like he has a very bright future ahead of him on the Downhill scene.
Now at this stage it’s worth warning you all that this report will contain no results; why is that I hear you cry. Well, unfortunately for the organisers the computer took a hissy fit and decided that it wouldn't speak to the timing apparatus, so whilst all times were recorded, the entire second race runs have to be put in manually by David and Allan, not an inconsiderable task.
In terms of the lay of the land after first race-runs I can tell you that in the Senior Women there was a mere 3-second gap between first and second; Junior Women was equally close with Eleanor Melton setting the pace with Rona Strivens and Freya Avis hot on her tail. The fastest time down the hill after first race runs for the men was held by former elite cross country racer Kenta Gallagher with a blistering time of 1:52:70; there was a pack of five further riders within 6 seconds of this time including Reece Wilson, Greg Williams, Ruaridh Cunningham and Ben Cathro, so it was absolutely all to play for on race run 2. In the Veterans category the usual suspects were in attendance with Alastair Maclennan and team mate Neil Wilson (who’s returning from a nasty crash) putting in fast first race runs. Also local DH legend Tally was lighting it up on his local tracks and looking super quick through the switchbacks in the bottom of the course.
I know you’re absolutely on the edge of your seats wondering how your intrepid reporter got on in her race run…well, I had a bit of a moment and got totally off line in the bottom of the track. This precipitated me parking behind a tree momentarily to save a high side over the bars; it cost me time and at the end of the race run I was sitting 4th with a 3:19:40 just 10 seconds off 3rd spot held by Shona McKinnon with a brilliant run of 3:08:70. Suffice to say I had it all to do in the second run!
Whilst we didn't have any rain we did have hail stones and sleet which I can tell you when you’re on almost the highest piece of ground in Dumfriesshire it’s a little raw! I was glad of a full face helmet and goggles, the freezing hail combined with a biting northerly wind made you feel like you were being sandblasted with ice cubes.
The weekend, as with the previous round of the SDA, was a fantastic example of likeminded people having fun and racing hard all with a real camaraderie. Even the timing malfunction was taken with good grace especially when the Herculean task of manually noting and entering of all rider’s second race runs had to be undertaken by the SDA organisers.
The next round sees the SDA caravan head north to the steep slopes of Glencoe where a recently refurbished black downhill track awaits. I'm sitting that round out but will hopefully be back for the Fort William round at the end of June to report on one of the toughest and most arduous courses in the world, never mind Scotland.
Full race results will be posted as soon as they become available.