The southwest’s Ae Forest played host to a memorable edition of the Scottish National Downhill Mountain Bike Championships, a healthy dose of mud, and changeable conditions, testing the riders’ abilities.
After a couple of days of practice, and the top end of the course being affectionately referred to as a chocolate fondue, the riders knew what they were in for. With conditions in the car park of the 7Stanes venue more akin to cyclocross, with riders and helpers frantically jet washing bikes, it was time for the two timed runs, to see who would stand atop the national championship podiums in 2023.
It was great to see riders from the length and breadth of Scotland on the start sheet, but there were a number of names that jumped out; Mikayla Parton (Resolute Racing), who needs no introduction, and Nina-Yves Cameron (West Highland Wheelers), the junior rider this week named in the GB team for the World Championships alongside Parton, who will go in the elite race. On the men’s side, all eyes were on William Brodie (Specialized-The Bike Shop Innerleithen) and Corey Watson (Nukeproof Sram Factory Racing), as well as Ryan Brannen (555 Gravity Racing) as he continues his return from injury.
Despite their skill and experience, the variance in conditions down the track was even catching out the very best riders, Parton taking a spill on the final corner on her opening run, whilst the big drop on the course claimed a number of victims, thankfully nobody badly injured. The top of the course was also proving to be extremely challenging, with thick goopy mud meaning if you lost momentum, scooting was required.
Spirits were high though, the Scottish Downhill Association (SDA), who organised the event as well as the rest of the series, creating a great atmosphere and an even better track; a number of riders commenting on how impressive it was to create such a different feel to 12 months previous.
It was a predictable result, if not a straightforward performance for Mikayla Parton as she scooped the Scottish title and got to pull on the lovely new Scottish champions jersey. Run one was going so well, as she navigated the swamp section efficiently, and then carried good speed lower down the track, but the last right hard corner proved slippier than expected as she washed out.
Thankfully no harm was done, and after finishing the run she still topped the elite standings but trailed junior Heather Wilson who put in an extremely impressive 2.34.423 effort.
16 year old Wilson, who has just been signed for Muc-Off Young Guns, is in fantastic form, and would improve her time to 2.32.293 on run two, wrapping up the Youth Women’s title, but really laying down the gauntlet to Parton who followed shortly after.
Keeping her poise, Parton put in a really solid second run, if you ignore a skirmish with a tree half way down, flying into the bowl to cross the line in 2.30.722, the fastest woman on course on the day and the new Scottish Champion. Silver went the way of Bethany McCully (Team Creation Cycles) with Tiandra Anderson putting in a mega ride in the senior category to scoop bronze.
Assessing her efforts, Parton said:
“It was a bit of a weird weekend for me – I came off on the first run on the last turn, and on my second run I went into a tree (!) so I’m happy to be Scottish Champ considering that!”
On her Worlds selection last week, she added:
“I’m so happy and it’s so cool to know Worlds is going to Fort William, my hometown, and although I didn’t grow up riding, now that I’ve become a rider in Fort William it’s really quite special getting to race World Champs at home.
“The track is currently shut, so I won’t get to ride the new track just like everyone else, so no home advantage for me, just all the pressure though!” she joked. “Last year was my first race day at Fort William because of COVID, and honestly it was the most insane thing ever – the crowd was just amazing and it really helps you get down the hill.”
Wilson would end the day as second quickest overall, whilst from Nina-Yves Cameron topped the Junior Women’s list and Katy McGowan the fastest Juvenile.
In the Elite Men’s race it was William Brodie who topped the standings after the first run, the former British Junior Downhill Champion clocking 2.08.010 to put himself 1.5 seconds ahead of Corey Watson. He wasn’t to have it all his own way though.
His rivals were motivated for run two, a Scottish title on the line, and with the sun out and conditions drying up further, there was speed to be found on track. First to find it was Lachlan Blair (Deviate Cycles) who went sub 2.10 to put himself into second place, before it all changed with the penultimate rider Watson taking the lead with a 2.07.086 run.
That set up a grandstand finish with Brodie the last man on track, hundreds of people gathered in the finishing bowl and the commentator whipping up a frenzy. As the borders man came into view on the lower slopes, with just two turns to go, the clock was just shy of two minutes and it was going to be oh so close.
Lunging across the line, he looked back over his shoulder as the clock stopped at 2.06.447 and victory was his. A warm embrace between Brodie and Watson was lovely to see, Brodie later showering his friend in bubbles on the podium, with Blair joining them.
Of his efforts, Will said:
“That was good! It was tough conditions all weekend – it was raining, it was dry, boggy, then slippery. Coming into that second run I knew Corey was going to be faster and I mucked up the top section, but I just said to myself, ‘get this bottom bit perfect’ and when I crossed the line I’d won, so I’m pretty happy!
“I could hear the commentator talking about how close it was so I was just pedalling as hard as I could! I’ve been Downhill and Enduro this season and I’ve been enjoying mixing it up as Enduro is good for the fitness and helps towards the Downhill – but I’m doing British Downhill Champs next week.”
The battle for the Junior Men’s Scottish title was arguably the hardest fought of the day, with just two seconds separating the top five, most of the boys nailing two runs within a second of each other, meaning it was a nail biting finish. In the end though, Daniel Parfitt (West Highland Wheelers) did enough on run one with a 2.19.936 effort to climb onto the top step of the podium. The scrap for the minor medals was super tight, but in the end it was Elijah Shearer who secured silver and Tomasso Campana improving by 1.5 seconds with his second run to bag bronze.
Elsewhere there were wins for Kyle Higgins in the Youth category and Reid Simpson in the Juvenile age-group. The Masters Men’s title went the way of home boy Callum McCubbing, whilst John Young secured the Veteran title. Full results will be on Roots & Rain in the next 24 hours.
A big thanks to the SDA and Ae Bike Association, a new club who have affiliated for the first time in 2023, for putting together a great weekend of downhill.