28 Jul 2014

RAF Victorious at 2014 IS 24HR

Simon Harrison - Photograph courtesy of Alex Laws

So the dust has settled (there was a lot of it) and the RAF team and supporters have returned to camps various to recover.  26/27 July saw a fantastic weekends racing at the 2014 Interservice 24hr mountain bike champs held at Bontrager 24:12, Newnham Park Plymouth. Great results for the RAF teams not just in the Interservice category but overall with all 3 teams making their podiums.  2 soloists also managed an impressive number of laps each with Paul Rochford narrowly missing the top 10.  

Richie Nation - Photograph courtesy of Alex Laws
The team event is run Le Mans style with one rider on course at a time, the short 35-40 minute lap meant quick turn arounds and short rest periods.  Both the RAF mens and mixed team made strong starts with Martin Pearson and Mike Page staying out of trouble on the opening lap before handing over to their teammates.  4 hours in and both teams were on the podium in their respective open categories while the RAF were building a strong lead in the Interservice Competition.  The teams battled through 30 degree heat in the opening 6 hours with the support crew kept busy feeding and watering the riders while the mechanics kept bikes functioning perfectly.  The mens team suffered a set back 11 hours in when Jon Gates suffered a bad crash reducing the team to 3 riders for 6 hours while he visited the local A & E.  Time was lost to rivals but Jon came back strong and the fight back began with all riders giving all they had left to reduce the defecit.  Sadly time ran out and the team came 3rd in Open Men, a mere 2 minutes behind 2nd.  The RAF mixed team were also beaten by the clock their narrow margin to the Army meant their mixed category rivals had enough time to complete an extra lap, the final result not fully representing the closeness of the competition.  

Martin Pearson - Photograph courtesy of Alex Laws
Overall a strong performance from an RAF team comprising a mix of experienced racers, new faces and novice riders.  We all look forward to defending the title next year!

Interservice Competition
1st - RAF Cycling
2nd - Army Cycling
3rd - RNRMCA
2014 Interservice 24hr Champions at the end of Martins final lap - Photograph courtesy Fiona Innes

2014 Interservice 24hr Championships Podium - Photograph courtesy Fiona Innes

 Open Mixed Category
1st - Army cycling - 34 laps
2nd - RAF cycling mixed team (Mike Page, Chris Barstow,  Richie Nation, Louise Robins and Paige
Coope) - 33 laps
RAF mixed team take 2nd - Photograph courtesy of Fiona Innes

Open men Category
3rd - RAF cycling mens team - IS winning team (Simon Harrison, Jon Gates, Martin Pearson, Barrie-John Doherty) - 41 laps

RAF men take 3rd in Open Men - Photograph courtesy Fiona Innes
Mixed Pairs Category
3rd - RAF cycling mixed pair (Lucy Newcombe, Phil Cooke) - 21 laps

RAF mixed pairs take 3rd - Photograph courtesy Fiona Innes

12th - Paul Rochford 23 laps
46th - Kieron Jarratt 13 laps

Soloist Paul Rochford - Photograph courtesy of Alex Laws
Soloist Kieron Jarratt - Photograph courtesy of Alex Laws

Fun Category
4th Combined Services Novice Team - 30 laps

All of this wouldn't have been possible without the help of our amazing support crew - big thanks to Fluff, Andy Graham, Fie Innes, Vicky Doherty and Christin Merczynski. Also big thanks to dad Dean bringing our newest team member Paige Coopes bike down to the event.

23 Jul 2014

2014 Interservice 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships - Bontrager 24:12

2014 Interservice 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships - Bontrager 24:12 26-27 July

This weekend sees the RAF Mountain Bike Team competing at the Bontrager 24:12 24hr Mountain Bike event incorporating the 2014 Inter-Services Mountain Bike Championships.  The event at Newnham Park in Plymouth is run on a Le Mans style multi-lap format with teams and soloists aiming to complete as many laps as possible in the 24 hours.  The course comprises tough climbs, tight single track and a river crossing and will be a stern test for all the competitors.  In addition to challenging the best of the Army and Navy the RAF teams will be looking to place well against the large number of amateur and professional teams entered in the event.

At the time of writing the RAF is entering:
Team 1 - Mens team of 4
Team 2 - Mixed team of 5
Team 3 - Mixed pair
1 solo rider

Updates will be posted throughout the weekend with placings and goings on.

20 Jun 2014

Double CSR DH points at Bala

Pro-Team style pits

The Bala round of the Pearce Cycles DH Series always offers something a bit different. This year Bala played host to 2 races, the first on the high speed “Nationals” track and the most recent on a track offering a mix of old and new. Adding a bit of spice to the event for all Services riders was the fact that it was a CSR Double Points round.
Still not convinced about Neil becoming the new RAF DH poster-boy!
The promise of an awesome track, efficient uplift and double points lured riders in from far and wide. RAF Scotland was there in force with the guys making the epic drive from Lossiemouth and Leuchars. The Army went one step further and had 2 riders making the ferry trip from Northern Ireland. So a record attendance of 21 Army and RAF riders. Where were the Navy? They need to sort their entry admin out for next year!
Base Camp
It was clear on arrival that the Services meant business. The RAF and Army gazebos and flags dominated the finish area.
Get off the brakes!
Friday evening’s track walk revealed something of a rarity in the UK. A full-on high speed bone dry dusty DH track. Line choice was fairly limited on the top and bottom sections but the brand new middle sections had lines and cut shorts a-plenty. “Gap that” was certainly heard on more than one occasion!
A rare species in the UK: a dusty DH bike
After a good night’s sleep (interrupted only by some particularly aggressive sheep), we woke up to the disappointing news that Andy Lochhead’s front brake had expired at some point during the long drive from Lossiemouth. Kris Benson stayed behind to help him fix it whilst the rest of us jumped in the uplift and started smashing out practice runs. Fast, loose, dusty and rough pretty much sums it up.
Jamie Corsby was rapid in practice!
Just before lunch, the boys from Lossie were ready to join us after a complete brake change... Or they would have been had Kris Benson not attempted a simple wheelie in a flat field on the way to the uplift. Off the back he went and down on the ground he remained. A badly bruised coccyx laid him out in his tent for much of the weekend (or was it just embarrassment!?) and he was unable to race.
The RAF's finest!
A few red flags interrupted practice but the weather stayed fine and everyone was happy to take the time to relax in the sun and discuss line choice. Saturday night’s track walk revealed yet more fresh lines to be had but the overall feeling was surreal. A perfectly blue cloudless sky, dust hanging in the air and heat still in the sun at 9pm. This was Mid-Wales, what was going on? A BBQ, a bonfire and some banter followed before the relentless midges drove everyone to their beds.
Welsh nightlife
Sunday dawned sunny again with just a few clouds bringing the possibility of a shower (which always makes the bottom field… interesting). Some racers do as many practice runs as possible on Sunday morning, others do a few, some do one and some do none. Andy Lochhead did as many as possible.
Prior to the event Andy Hart thought the track looked "a bit lame". A last place finish
in Seniors tells a different story! Appearances can be deceptive.
And so to the racing. It was fast and you had to go fast to do well. 62 kph through the speed trap was possible, high 50s was more common. Unseeded in his first Pearce race, Andy Lochhead went early and set the bar high. A time of 3.21 put him in the hot-seat for quite a while.
Was Ian Churchill feeling the pressure?
This subject has been discussed to death but I think it was hammered home to our “visiting” riders: just how high the standard of racer in the Pearce series is. Times started to tumble and our riders started slipping down the leader boards. There was pressure on our star rider Ian Churchill to perform here. A couple of minor mistakes cost him fractions but a 3.25 was only good enough for 47thin Seniors. Not something he’s used to!
A rising star? Neil McFarlane
Jamie Corsby had undoubtedly been fast in practice demonstrating his trademark style and laying down some very creative lines. However, race nerves got the better of him and his time was more than a few seconds slower than what he is easily capable of. Up-coming RAF rider Neil McFarlane has the speed and skills to do well but again, struggled to put together a clean race run.
Andy Lochhead was on it!
Kris Benson was behind the lens due to a failed wheelie attempt!
Andy Lochhead was quite simply unstoppable and in a different class on this occasion. A second run time of 3.18 placed him 16th in Masters which is no small achievement in your first ever Pearce race!
Lewis "1 Run" Wighton
So whilst the overall results might have been a little disappointing, the CSR results were an RAF whitewash. RAF riders in the top 5 positions demonstrating that our race preparations and tactics are starting to work. (See full results at www.facebook.com/rafdownhillteam) Ian Churchill now leads the CSR DH Series overall with Andy Lochhead very close behind in second.
In summary, one of the best race weekends ever from all aspects. Great track, great organisation, great results, great weather, great company and some great banter. Anyone for wheelie school?

10 Jun 2014

RAF DH Team at the World Cup

Massive Fort William crowd makes this event special.

Last orders are called in a well known real ale pub on Sunday night in Fort William when in walks Greg Minnaar (current World Champ), Steve Peat (former World Champ), Rob Warner (DH Legend), Josh Bryceland (DH bad-boy), Stu Thomson (mtb film-maker) and the obligatory entourage of media types. This could get messy...

RAF DH Team in the thick of it.
Around 4 weeks prior to the event, I received a telephone call from the Armed Forces Careers Office in Glasgow. "Would it be possible for the RAF DH Team to put on a bit of a display at the UCI Downhill World Cup at Fort William?" That's the sort of offer you don't hear every day. A chance to put our team on the World stage. "Yeah, I'm sure we could sort something out."
Fox, Troy Lee Designs, RAF Cycling. Not bad company!

Cue an insanely intensive period of planning and preparation: rushing branded teamwear into production, tracking down banners and flags, producing flyers and stickers, editing our riding movies into a suitable format, compiling a slide show, selecting images for enlargement and designing an eye-catching display.

25000 spectators make the journey.
Those hips don't lie.
At approximately 1503 Hrs on Friday, elements of the team travelling from Oxfordshire, Yorkshire, Glasgow and Moray convened with almost military precision in a car park in Fort William centre. The AFCO Mobile Recruitment Vehicle (MRV) was loaded up and we were on our way to a reserved plot right in the centre of the exhibitors village at the biggest downhill mountain bike event in the world.

The multi-media equipped MRV.
The aim of our presence was to increase footfall through the MRV for the RAF Careers team. However, from a personal point of view, the aim was to raise awareness of the RAF DH Team and the Combined Services Racing Downhill Series we compete in. That aim was certainly achieved and we received lots of positive feedback. The only slightly concerning aspect was the number of serving RAF personnel who came for a chat and claimed not to know that the RAF had a DH Team!!! An issue we will certainly be addressing.

You couldn't miss us!
So, the weekend zipped by in a blur of sunshine, anti-midge lotion, cow bells, air horns, energy drinks, cheers, whistles, spectacular scenery and the small matter of the world's best mountain bike racers fighting for victory on an iconic track. 

The noise and atmosphere was incredible!
The British women suffered cruelly from punctures with Manon Carpenter, Tahnee Seagrave and Rachel Atherton falling victim whilst up at the early splits. In the men's race, Inverness local, Greg Williamson held on to the hot seat for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually he was dislodged (finishing 9th) as the times started to tumble. British rider Danny Hart once again narrowly missed out on a home win finishing third. Australian legend and crowd favourite Sam Hill was in the hot seat with only one rider to go. His fellow countryman Troy Brosnan smashed his race run to finish 1.6 secs ahead of Hill and secure his first ever World Cup victory. 

The Scottish weather was good to us.
Elder-Statesmen of the sport: Peaty & Pops
Even more quickly than it was set up, the entire World Cup circus was dismantled and was headed towards Leogang in Austria for the next round. Although not before a select few had stopped off to sample the local brew...
I think we left our mark...

5 Apr 2014

RAF DH Team BDS Debut

The RAF DH Team made its debut at the British Downhill Series, Rd1 Antur Stiniog, on the weekend of 29 Mar 2014. And what a debut! The team have now proved beyond any doubt that we are capable of competing at the very highest level.

Following on from the DH Team’s success during the 2013, we were lucky enough to be invited to race the BDS series by event organiser Si Paton. Sgt Nick “Pops” Larkin immediately took the initiative and secured a pitch in the “Pro Team” pit area. Driving down the winding tarmac road towards Antur Stiniog, the distinctive blue RAF Cycling gazebo proudly stood out like a beacon at the very front of the pits area.

The support crew played an essential role throughout the weekend. Setting up workstands and seating, organising timings and catering, supplying essential drinks and warm clothing, washing and maintaining bikes and kit, chatting to spectators and networking with bike industry players.

The racers were free to focus on line choice and putting down faster and faster practice runs. The track at Antur was extremely demanding. Steep, technical, loose and rocky with several vertical drops. Saturday practice was made extra difficult by a gusty crosswind that whipped bikes off the track as soon as the wheels were in the air. Needless to say, all team riders had various “offs” on the constantly changing and often slippy Welsh slate. A few words from ex-World Champion, Danny Hart, whilst on the uplift encouraged our riders to make some subtle changes to bike set-up.

Saturday night saw the team gather with most of the other racers for the premiere of downhill legend Steve Peat’s biographic film “Won’t Back Down”. After an introduction from the man himself, we were treated to a comprehensive and often emotional history of British and World Cup downhill. After a good night’s sleep, the RAF DH Team were ready to race.

The weather on Sunday was perfect. The track was constantly drying out and getting faster. 2 practice runs were completed in the morning before taking stints on the turbo trainer ahead of qualification.

Qualification went well with all RAF DH Team riders posting solid runs. However, it was clear that there was more speed to be unlocked from this track. By race time, the track was dry and running extremely quickly. Fortune favoured the brave on the unpredictable surface but our Number 1 rider, Ian Churchill, suffered an “over the bars” on his race run. Incredibly, he still finished 12th  in the Senior category in his first ever BDS race. If he hadn’t crashed… who knows?

Si Ward was not far behind, finishing in 18th place in Senior. Andy Lochhead finished 20th in Masters and Baz Fenton 24th. What was clear is that everyone felt that they could have gone faster. This is hugely encouraging as it demonstrates that there is plenty of room for improvement.

Another pleasing aspect of the weekend was the inter-services rivalry. This event comprised Rd2 of the CSR DH Series and it was a real pleasure to ride with and compete against the guys from the Army and Navy. Obviously, the fact that we beat them all made it even sweeter!

There was some very constructive discussion amongst the 3 Services teams about the CSR points system. Currently riders are awarded points for their overall position compared to every other racer and points for their position amongst other Services riders. It was generally agreed that perhaps a move to adopting the British Cycling points system (or a slightly modified version) would be worth considering this season or in the future. As a result, it is our intention to run both points systems this year and compare the results at the end of the season before making a final decision.

So all in all, a very productive race weekend. It is hugely satisfying to see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes come to fruition at one of the biggest events on the UK DH calendar. Having proved that the RAF DH Team can compete at this level, it is most certainly our intention to build on this success and go on to start claiming podiums.

9 Dec 2013

Inter-Services Downhill Champs 2013

This year the Inter-Services Downhill Mountain Bike Championships were held over the 22nd - 23rd October at Revolution Bikepark in Wales, and the event saw higher levels of attendance by service personnel than ever before. Organised this year by the Army, this standalone event in which 60 competitors took part is a clear sign that Downhill Mountain Bike racing is going from strength to strength, and this was echoed in the skill levels of the riders, all pushing it to the limit to make it from the top of the course to the finish line in the fastest possible time.

(Report by Si Ward)

This season the RAF dominated the Combined Services Racing Series; the top 3 competitors all riding for the RAF Cycling Association. This success was something the team were keen to continue, with riders putting in the hours on the bike and in the gym to make sure they were in the best possible form coming into the event.


(Pops Larkin styles it up in Vets)
RAF Riders from all over the UK descended on Capel Curig AT Centre the day before the event; this was to be our base for the next few days. The anticipation was obvious as riders prepped their bikes for the coming race. All talk was of tyre choice, the weather, and the track – a real test of skill, fitness and courage; it had high speed jumps, and a good mix of technical, steep, and rooty sections, along with the occasional flat sprint in case your legs weren’t already exhausted! 

 (Close inspection of the track from all angles is essential)

Practise day came, and having rained all night, the track was lethal. Riding quite fast at first, as more and more riders came down, the ruts began to form and the mud began to get deeper; and eventually riders were being chucked off the bike by the sheer amount of mud clogging their wheels in “that middle section”. The uplift on the other hand was incredible, one of the quickest in the UK without doubt, riders could go from the bottom to the top in no more than 15 minutes, all without a scratch on their precious bikes! Andy MacMillan managed the most runs of all during practise, notching an impressive 14 runs, and due to the failure of his goggles, doing some substantial damage to his eyes in the process. All in all, Tuesday was a fantastic day’s practise with some witty inter-service banter (or not in the Army’s case), unfortunately Matt Cook had a nasty off and seriously hurt his ankle, ruling him out for racing the following day.
(Slip sliding away)
The following day was race day, and despite patchy rain throughout the day, the sun was drying out and changing the track, making the mud thicker and the track more difficult to ride, and maintaining good momentum through the dreaded tight, steep, and gloopy section to keep the tyres clear was paramount to ensuring grip.

First race runs came around and the RAF senior category (aged 19-29) were the first to go down, laying down some quick times. Andy Lochhead was sitting in first place for some time after his first run with a time of 3:36. This time was eventually beaten by Army riders Brian Anderson (3:19) and Matt Forster (3:30), but with second runs still to come and the track drying out by the minute, it was all to play for. Lewis Wighton put in a great run with a 4.05, showing his dirt jumping influences with some serious style over the fast flowing finishing section of the track.

(Si Ward on course to 3rd overall)
The masters category (aged 30-39), turned out to be a much smaller group than anticipated; the benefit being that they all managed to squeeze into the Defender uplift together! With experienced riders such as Gaz Lake and Ste “Tinks” Taylor representing the Army, and an unknown Navy rider, only Chris Penneck and Kris Benson were out to fly the flag for the RAF. The track had certainly seen far too many wheels from the senior category, and the gloop from the 1st runs dragged almost all of the masters into the muddy abyss. It was hard not to chuckle at the start line while witnessing Gaz jump onto Brian Anderson’s turbo trainer and bust out some leg circles – the last laugh of course was not shared by Kris, as a mistake in line choice led to a standstill on a very unwelcomed sharp rise in the track, followed by the remainder of the race run being breathed through ones rear hind!
Times were looking average from the masters, with Kris Benson sitting in 2nd place, and Chris Penneck posting a 05:24:89, it was Gaz filling the top spot with a time of around 04:05

(Tough race conditions)
Second runs came around and most riders went quicker. Having crashed in his first run, Si Ward came down with a 3:27, enough to put him into second place. Andrew Lochhead’s second run didn’t go to plan and a crash saw him come in with a 3:48. All eyes turned to the Army riders to see what they could do. Brian Anderson went even quicker, laying down a blistering time of 3:09, leaving everyone in no doubt as to who is the fastest rider in the Armed Forces. Matt Forster shaved 6 seconds of his first run, and his 3:24 was enough to take 2nd place and bump Si Ward down into 3rd.

The race was on, and everyone in Masters was keen to get on it. There was talk of a few folk missing their second run, but with a full wagon like before, not just riders and bikes but mud too, we were off to the top like a rocket.

Once again Chris Penneck was the first to head off down the track, previously finding his chain incorrectly routed through his rear derailleur, this time round all was in order and off he went at race pace. Then it was Kris’s turn, and being the remaining RAF racer left at the top, there was only a few seconds for reflection before the stopwatch ticked down and he was getting hot on the gas for the first few tabletops of the course. The pace was rapid (for a master with a bag of excuses that contains minimal race experience, skill, fitness and the list continues), but an unfortunate off still left Kris well and truly wrapped up in race tape and trees to end any chance of beating his initial time. Yet again the RAF were bumped down into 3rd place, with Gaz Lake taking second place with 03:51:71 and our unknown quantity in the Navy, John Bennett taking the top spot with a cheeky 03:51:68.  Chris unfortunately didn’t manage to beat his first run with a second run time of 05:27:14 but still beating two of our Army competitors all the same!

Usually the veterans (aged 40-49) are one of the first categories to race, but here they were the last and after grumblings of cold old bones, runs started to take place. Perhaps prior knowledge from a coaching event at this very location earlier in the year led to the Army guys all putting in good runs and taking the top two spots: Justin Revell first with a 4.01:21 and Zak Needham second with a 4.05:45. Andy MacMillian capitalised fully from his exhaustive practice day by putting in 2 nice runs and finishing third vet and fastest RAF Vet with a time of 4.06:14. After having to stop and unblock mud and slate choked wheels, with time bleeding away on the first run, Pops Larkin managed to improve slightly and get down the course in 5.14:54 on the second run, which included a couple of crashes in ‘that middle section’, finishing sixth vet and second RAF vet. Martin Parsons also fell victim to the middle section on both of his runs, with a couple of frustrating spills, finishing seventh vet and third RAF vet with a time of 5.43:45.

("Did anyone else notice mud on the track?")
Unfortunately, some team riders were injured in the run up to the event, but they still came along to support; Phil Ashcroft and Paul Rogers were instrumental in the timing on race day, which ran smoother than it does at most national races, thanks very much guys!

The RAF Downhill team has had an incredible year, and this is due in no small part to the support we have received from our sponsors, so a huge shout out to Decade-Europe, J-Tech Suspension, Burgtec and Haven Distribution.

The team is now heading into winter training time full of motivation and looking forward to competing at races throughout the UK in 2014, and a training trip to Malaga as well! Here’s to another great year!