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!

25 Sep 2013

RAF Downhillers at the Megavalanche.

 (Words, Photos, Jerseys and Riding by Kris Benson)

The Megavalanche is a mass start downhill endurance mountain bike race set in the beautiful resort of Alpe D’Huez. It is one of the most demanding but popular races of the calendar, attracting up to 2000 entrants including elite riders and competitors from around the globe. The main race departs from Pic Blanc (3300m) in groups of up to 300 riders and descends the mountain via glacier, loose rocky singletrack, fast flowing meadows and steep technical trails etched deep into the hillside and forest. The finish line in Allemont is a mere 32km away and the vertical drop is roughly 2580m!

(The team sporting custom designed Mega jerseys)
The Megavalanche is a true challenge of the cycling world. Most downhill races in the UK, and elsewhere, are roughly 5 minutes at race pace: a weekend of practice runs, qualifying and then races. The Megavalanche is a similar format except the qualifying race can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, and the main race from 35minutes to 3hrs! It’s a battle of pure physical and mental attrition, now throw in some of the most technical terrain and shoulder to shoulder racing and you reach the sort of challenge that members of the RAF thrive on - especially those in the RAF Downhill Team!

With five willing volunteers, our sights were set on putting RAF Lossiemouth and the RAF Cycling Association on the map in France in July! Step forward please; Cpl Ian Churchill (6 Sqn, RAF Leuchars), SAC(T) Phil Ashcroft, SAC(T) Kris Benson, SAC(T) Lee Mace (all from XV(R) Sqn, RAF Lossiemouth) and SAC(T) James Redgrove (12(B) Sqn, RAF Lossiemouth).
(Home for a week)
The team based themselves out of Camping Les Bouleoux in Allemont- a stone’s throw from the finish line. Accommodation was a basic chalet, a little tight for 4 grown males with a week’s supply of riding gear but comfortable enough for the duration of the stay. With glorious mountain views imposing on our site we made perfect use of the decking to host several BBQ’s!

The region of Oisans has fantastic transport facilities - each day free public buses were available to take us to the lift stations, equipped with trailers specifically designed to transport almost 50 bikes comfortably. The lifts from Oz en Oisans and Alpe D’Huez were quick and efficient despite the thousands of riders putting them to use daily.

Due to the style and grading of trails in France, it was important to become acquainted with the terrain we were to be racing on. It soon became obvious after a morning’s ride that the trail rating was much different to that of the UK. Some of the blue and red trails (comparable to the ski piste rating system) would likely be graded black or orange at home. However, the qualities were hard to match - every run brought a long hard smile to our faces despite the occasional thunderstorm that churned the trails into a greasier mudfest than Glastonbury festival!
(Getting into the Mega vibe)
Throughout training we used Contour and Gopro cameras to record trail footage - taking advantage of these recordings enabled us to review the footage and discuss track lines and terrain.  It was a great way to gain an advantage come qualifying and race day, and amidst the hilarious running commentary from Cpl Ian Churchill and SAC(T) Phil Ashcroft, it was truly an indispensable tool.

Each qualifying race was based on race plate numbers. Approximately 110 riders in each group raced for a place in the best race category they could. Only the top 24 riders would make the Megavalanche cut: all positions after that would then filter into the Mega Challengers, Mega Amateurs, and finally the Mega Affinity. The track was an intense downhill run that started at the top of Petites Rousses (2810m) - winding its way down the mountainside on gravel, onto snow and then increasing in gradient through rocky terrain and loose switchback turns before reaching mid mountain position and a change in tempo. Man-made trails with table top jumps, and sharp bermed corners swooped their way into Alpe D’Huez for a short section of urban riding - features including concrete drops and tunnels made for a fast and fun part of the race, where many locals were lining the streets and cheering on the competitors for a welcomed boost. They were even caught cheering “C’mon on RAF”! The final stage to Huez village featured dusty fast berms (no less than 20 in fact) carved into the hillside giving tired legs and arms a thorough wake-up call. A tight left hand corner spat you out onto the final road stretch where everyone could get onto the pedals and sprint to the finish line after negotiating a narrow entrance via a basketball court. Huez Village was strewn with muddy bikes and sweaty riders, all taking time to relive the ordeal and receive their position and race group allocation in the blistering summer heat.  But wait, no time to relax... there’s still race day to come!

All but SAC(T) Phil Ashcroft completed the Qualifier. An unfortunate overtaking manoeuvre resulted in both man and machine leaving the track, causing a little tumble and mechanical issue. Maybe next year Phil!?

 Qualifier Results

 Ian Churchill: 0:27:39 - 30th - Challengers

 Lee Mace: 0:30:11 - 59th - Amateurs

 Kris Benson: 0:32:08 - 65th - Amateurs

 James Redgrove: 0:40:13 - 81st - Affinity

(The summit)

Come race day, 300 riders were amassed at the top of Pic Blanc - nervous with excitement for the tapes to go up, but more so for Cpl Ian Churchill as the media helicopter burst into view for the Mega Challengers race! And off they went, arms from fellow competitors clashed and bikes slipped from under their pilots on the tricky snow covered start as everyone fought for the racing line through the carnage. After several km of snow the race soon becomes tight single-track, so putting down a good overtaking run was of great importance - navigating the snow was a difficult affair. However squeezing by with steep banked sides was even more so!

The main race traverses across mid mountain around one third of the way down, and despite the gradient easing off and double track sections, every rider continued to put pedal to the metal in order to shrug off close competitors and make valuable ground on those slowing down the pack, of which there were many! The Mega is a frustrating race for quick riders hoping to burst into a good position: every opportunity must be exploited. Before the track makes its way into the valley a tiring climb out of Alpe D’Huez really lets each rider recall the hard nature of the race - despite cheering crowds and water stations. Trying to ride, drink and breathe with a full face helmet on in the midday sun while putting in max effort is indeed a challenge in itself!

(Mass start!!!)
As you crest the climb and begin to descend through the avalanche gates the gradient once again increases dramatically - breakneck speeds could be achieved before carving into steep corners and tackling the forest section.  The lower third of the course ticked all the boxes for a fantastic ride, dusty rooted trails with plenty of grip gave for a lively but amazing ride as you stomped on the pedals and whizzed by huge fir trees and squeezed by as many competitors as possible. By now every inch of the body felt every bump and turn, muscles burned with lactic acid and lungs gulping for air - well aware that the finish line was not too far away all emotions could be ignored for that last ditch effort to achieve a better position!

Off the brakes and back to the task in hand, once the final bridge was passed a sprint (or a very loose version of it!) down the flat Land-Rover track (which seemed to last an eternity!) followed by the last two corners and the finish line was in sight. A huge crowd and mass of competitors to greet and cheer each rider as they wearily passed through the finish gate. The Megavalanche finally tackled!

 Race Results

 Ian Churchill:                     0:58:56 - 22nd

 Kris Benson:                      1:16:58 - 63rd

 Lee Mace:                          1:17:35 - 74th

 James Redgrove:            2:11:58 - 209th

(Hard fought results)

The team performed admirably: the results really do not reflect the hard work and effort put in! (Well maybe Ian Churchill’s does. 22nd in the Mega-Challengers is pretty impressive!) But despite this, we have all walked away with a feeling of great achievement and determination to once again revisit the Megavalanche, and tackle this behemoth race! Thanks go out to RAF Lossiemouth PEd Flt, SIF, the RAF Sports Board and Sports Lottery, not forgetting the RAF Cycling Association and lastly Cpl Andy Lochhead, who instigated the OV but had to pass the organisation on due to injury.

If the above narrative has left you chomping at the bit then get in touch with the RAF Cycling Association - or head to the official RAF DH Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rafdownhillteam
(Vive la France!)

20 Sep 2013

RAF Win the 2013 CSR DH Series

(Andy Lochhead was on it before his season-ending crash at Innerleithen)
The RAF have won the overall Combined Services Racing (CSR) Downhill series for the first time since 2010. Indeed, the top 3 positions were secured by RAF riders in what was a very eventful 2013 season.

The CSR DH series consisted of 10 rounds this year comprising the Pearce Cycles and SDA DH series. Riders are awarded up to 20 points based on their overall result in the race and up to 20 points for their position amongst the other CSR riders. A maximum of 40 points can be claimed per round with the rider's 6 best finishes counting towards the total.

As in previous years, it proved impossible for any of the CSR riders to actually participate in 6 rounds. This is due to the numerous training courses, work commitments and operational deployments to the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Falklands that our riders must juggle during the season.

(Jamie Corsby in action at Bucknell)
Before the season even kicked off, the Army Team had demonstrated their intentions and ability to win the title. Brian Anderson had set the fastest time of the day in the 661 Mini DH race at the Forest of Dean followed by a first place in the Senior category at Rd1 of the Borderline series at Innerleithen. A daunting gauntlet had been laid down.

The first round of the CSR series (SDA Rd1) at Innerleithen saw a record turn out from the RAF team with 11 riders participating. It was a chance for some of the team to get to grips with their new Devinci Wilson bikes provided by Haven Distribution. Unfortunately, Andy Lochhead suffered a severe crash towards the end of practice on the Saturday sustaining a broken elbow, puncture wound to the chest and numerous cuts and bruises. This took him out of contention for the entire season and only in the last few weeks has he started to get back on his bike.

(Dave Page managed an impressive CSR top 10 finish riding in Vets)
Otherwise, it was a very successful weekend with impressive performances from team regulars Ian Churchill and Phil Ashcroft. However, it was Si Ward who raised the most eyebrows with an outstanding 2nd CSR place finish in his first season of riding for the team. A sign of things to come?

Normal service was resumed during the first two Pearce Cycles rounds with the Army Team and Brian Anderson in particular dominating. It was clear that something had to be done to prevent the Army from running away with the series. Step forward Nick "Pops" Larkin.

(Ian Churchill (left) and Phil Ashcroft (right) share a joke at the training week before finishing 1st and 3rd overall in the CSR respectively)

Pops organised an incredibly successful training week in early June at the new Antur Stiniog DH training facility in North Wales. World class training was provided by ex-World Cup racer Neil Donoghue. The team picked up tips and techniques that would prove invaluable over the rest of the season.


The team, now armed with knowledge and excellent new race jerseys (designed by RSD Sports of Wigan) started to claw back the gap. A notable performance from Ian Churchill at Killin resulted in his picture appearing in no less a publication that The Oban Times! Si Ward and Phil Ashcroft braved the extreme weather and track at Glencoe and were rewarded with a sizeable points haul.

(Chris Goodwin raced his first season for the RAF)

Back down south, Brian Anderson and the rest of the Army team dominated the Bucknell round of the Pearce series. With 3 rounds remaining, it looked like the series would go down to the wire in a three way fight between Brian Anderson, Ian Churchill and Si Ward. The gap was closed at Ae Forest with only 14 points separating the top 4.


Rumours then started to surface that Brian Anderson had been injured whilst riding in the Alps. Would he be fit for the final round of the series (Pearce 4) at Hopton? Without knowing for sure, the RAF team had to give their all at the final SDA race of the season at Fort William. Ian Churchill, Si Ward and Phil Ashcroft were all still in contention for the overall CSR win. On the day, that proved to be the finishing order so Ian Churchill topped the table for the first time this year with Si Ward in second and Phil Ashcroft in third.

(Matt Cook in action at Ae.)

With Brian Anderson missing the final round due to a confirmed broken hand, the rest of the Army team were unable to close the gap at Hopton. A slightly disappointing finish to the season in terms of excitement but altogether a very impressive season for the RAF. Injury always plays its part in downhill racing: what would have happened last year if Ian Churchill hadn't broken his wrist early in the season at Fort William? What if Andy Lochhead hadn't crashed at Innerleithen this year? Sadly, these things happen.

(Full results)

2013 has proved to be the most successful year for RAF Downhill in its history. New bikes, new kit, new jerseys, new team members, new training opportunities and results to back it up. The team will aim to build and develop over the winter coming back stronger and fitter, ready to retain the CSR title in 2014.


The 2013 season isn't over yet though! The Inter-Services Downhill Champs are scheduled to take place at Revolution Bike Park in Wales on 21-23 Oct. A final showdown between the Army and the RAF? Or will the Navy turn up and throw a spanner in the works?
(Ian Churchill scooped the 2013 CSR title and "Photo of the year" with this epic shot at Ft William.)

27 Aug 2013

12:12 Torq In Your Sleep Race Report

7 RAF riders raced the Torq In Your Sleep 12 hour race over the August bank holiday weekend, held at Minley Manor annually the event is growing in size each year and pairs superb organisation with a brilliant course and great atmosphere.

The RAF contingent was made up of 2 mixed pairs (Fie Innes & Russ Holman, Lou Robins & Martin Pearson) and 3 solo riders (Mitch Webster, Si Harrison and BJ Doherty).  With the event growing in size so the quality of the field had increased, in particular the mixed pairs category looked particularly strong.  Following their superb podium last year Fie and Russ were looking for another good result and Lou and Martin were hoping to also be in contention.

The Army Cycling Union who had helped set up the course had reserved us a trackside spot near the arena and we arrived Saturday afternoon to sort our camp and pre-ride the course.  The weather was mixed with heavy showers but the sandy soil meant the course drained well and with a better forecast for Sunday everyone stuck with dry weather tyres.  Saturday night saw the team gather for  a BBQ and carb loading session before an early night for all.

The RAF Camp including Vicky one of the masseuses hard at work. 
Sunday morning brought with it dry weather, following a solid breakfast everyone ensured their bikes were serviceable and prepared their nutrition for the 12hrs ahead.  At 1145 everyone headed down to the start line to get a good position for the usual chaotic mass start.  1200 came and following a brief neutralised section behind a quad bike the race was on!

Russ and Martin on the start line.
All the RAF riders got good starts with the solo riders staying out of trouble and the pairs riders starting hard to set up the remainder of the 12 hours.  BJ and Si decided to ride together for the first few laps and were aiming for a similar number of laps overall.  Both the pairs had opted for different strategies with Russ and Fie changing after the first lap while Martin did a double lap to start before handing over to Lou.  It would be 4 or 5 hours before all the different strategies unwound and a clear picture of overall placings became apparent.  We were fortunate enough to have 2 sports masseurs available in the form of BJs wife Vicky and Sarah Patterson who had previously supported the team at Mountain Mayhem, although of no assistance to the solo riders the RAF and neighbouring Army pairs teams used their services in between stints.

Vicky and Sarah the two masseuses were kept busy by the RAF and Army riders
As both pairs were involved in a fierce battle both with each other and the rest of the field, the solo riders continued to put in consistent laps.  BJ and Si rode together for the first couple of laps refuelling each time through the pits.  Unfortunately on the 2nd lap BJ crashed while taking a drink and badly bruised his lower back, this caused him to retire on lap 4, disappointed but glad not to be more seriously injured.  Mitch taking part in his first solo endurance event continued to put in consistent laps supported by wife Laura.  Having only started XC racing this year entering a 12hr solo event represented a big step up but he maintained a measured approach throughout.

The RAF Synchronised Pocket Fumbling Team - Si and BJ refuel
Mitch refuels in the middle of his debut solo 12
Approaching halfway and the RAF riders were in strong positions, Si was holding 5th in the Solo male while Lou and Martin were 2nd in the very close mixed pairs category, Fie and Russ just 9 minutes behind in 4th place.

Unfortunately while on his 6th and the teams 8th lap Martin got baulked by a slower rider into a technical section this caused his chain to jump off and destroy the rear mech, chain and mech hanger.  Being only 3 miles into the 8 mile lap this meant a long walk/run back in stiff soled race shoes.  This would eventually result in a 90 min lap (compared to 40 min previously) and the loss of a lap and a half.  With blisters on both Martins feet Lou was forced to do a double lap to allow some repairs to both body and bike.  Lou completed a steady 2 laps but towards the end of the second suffered a recurrence of a long term chest injury and her race was over with still 4 hours of darkness to go.  Martins 29er race bike was irreparable meaning he had only his 26in rigid singlespeed.  He opted to continue and put in 5 consistent laps to bring the team home in 8th place with 15 laps completed.  A good result but disappointing as without the mechanical they would have been in podium contention.

The misfortune of Lou and Martin elevated Fie and Russ into the tight battle for 2nd place, with 4 teams separated by less than 15 minutes.  In only her 2nd year of racing and with limited night riding experience their strategy was for Fie to do a double lap at dusk finishing at about 2030, Russ would complete the race with a 4 lap stint in a replay of their podium strategy from last year.  Fie put in 2 solid laps to keep them in contention and then handed over to Russ with the team in 3rd place.  With elite riders ahead and behind, Russ had a tough task ahead of him.  Russ once again impressed and showed his suitability to endurance races with 4 superb 43 minute laps, despite being in touch with 2nd place he  couldn't quite match the final lap pace of Fully Sussed rider Jay Horton and came home in 3rd for the 2nd year running.

Fie and Russ take 3rd for the second year running
 The solo riders continued to lap consistently taking on food, fluids and the occasional ibuprofen as the race continued.  With the gaps between riders now consistent there were few gains to be made so steady progress secured both Si and Mitch their finishing positions.  Si in 5th place on 15 laps and Mitch in 33rd place on 11 laps.

Overall the event once again proved itself as one of the best endurance events on the calendar with everyone having enjoyed the course and atmosphere at the event.  Another podium continues the bumper year for the RAF CA MTB Team with both established riders and new talents performing to a high standard throughout the season.  A huge thanks to Vicky Doherty and Sarah Patterson for their massage services and to Tiny of the ACU for sorting our trackside pitch.  The RAF riders left the venue discussing pairs and teams for next years event... see you there!


12hr Mixed Pair

3rd - Fie Innes and Russ Holman - 17 laps
8th - Lou Robins and Martin Pearson - 15 laps

12hr Solo Male

5th - Si Harrison - 15 laps
33rd - Mitch Webster - 11 laps
Retired Injured - BJ Doherty - 4 laps

23 Aug 2013

RESULT: Altura Nutcracker XC Round 6 - Dales Bike Centre, Swaledale

Saturday 10th August saw 5 RAF riders compete in the final round of the Altura Nutcracker XC Series.  This was touted as a challenging finale to what has been a well organised series racing on some of Yorkshires toughest terrain.  The event was based out of the Dales Bike Centre in Fremington, Swaledale none of the RAF riders knew what to expect having never ridden at the venue before.  Dales Bike Centre in contrast to many trail centres serves not to service a network of sanitised man-made trails but as a jumping off point into the Dales stunning natural terrain.

Unusually the participants would gather at the bike centre before completing a neutralised transition to the starting grid.  During the pre-ride it turned out that this neutralised section comprised a severely steep 10 minute road climb before popping out onto the hillside where the start was.  The course was as promised very tough, tight rocky singletrack, steep climbs, exposed tracks with strong headwinds and steep technical descents.  Interrogation of the Garmin following the pre-ride revealed a 6km lap with 250m of climbing, it quickly became apparent that consistency and pacing would be key as would careful line choice to avoid having mechanical problems.

The RAF Riders competing were Mick Hardcastle (Vet), Mitch Webster (Sport Male), Fie Innes (Sport Female), Lou Robins (Expert Female) and Martin Pearson (Expert Male).  Russ Holman though injured turned up to provide support by handing out bottles, which on a deceptively hot day proved a lifesaver!

First on course were the Elite and Expert riders, although unsure what to expect following return from Afghanistan Martin got a good start and unusually made steady progress through the groups of riders ahead on the first climb.  Maybe no alcohol, average food and a spinning bike with no power/HR measurement is the way forward!  Despite going out pretty hard on the first 2 laps he put in a consistent performance over the 4 lap race distance and was somewhat surprised to find that he had won the Expert Male category on crossing the finishing line!  

Next to start were the Sport and Vet categories where Mitch and Mick represented the RAF interests.  Mitch continues to improve in his first season racing and his consistent results were reflected in his strong series position.  The tough course required pacing and Mitch rode a strong race to finish 17th and secured 12th place in the series.  Without a doubt though Mitch was the winner of the day when it came to the post race charity raffle, taking home no less than 3 prizes!  Mick had a few technical issues throughout the race losing his only water bottle on the first lap, then tearing a tyre on the first lap which required a lengthy repair and a tentative final lap, despite this he still achieved 13th place... unlucky for some?

Probably the most hotly contested race of the day was the womens race, with all categories racing together there were a number of races within races.  Fie was racing against fierce rival Vanessa Holmes in the sport category, with the winner not only taking the race but the overall series victory.  Although the only expert rider racing Lou Robins would also become involved in this battle with the 3 girls racing together for much of the race.  In the end Vanessa's climbing ability would prove decisive with neither of the RAF girls able to stay with her.  Fie took 2nd in Sport and 2nd in the overall series a great result in her first season of proper competition especially given she is the number 1 ranked Sport rider nationally and won the National XC series this year.  

Lou came home just ahead of Fie to win [sic] the Expert category, and took part in probably the most comedy podium of the day!

Series sponsor Altura provided the generous prizes in the way of clothing vouchers and the Cafe at the Dales Bike Centre provided an array of delicious cakes.  At the end of the series it is worth saying a big thanks to all of those who made the race and series possible, its superbly organised with brilliant courses and has well supported by both sponsors and riders.  I'm sure the RAF will have a continued presence at the series next year, hopefully on the podium!


Expert Male
Martin Pearson 1st

Expert Female
Lou Robins 1st

Sport Female
Fie Innes 2nd

Mick Hardcastle 13th

Sport Male
Mitch Webster 17th 

2 Jul 2013

RAF Downhill Team Training Event 2013

Blazing sunshine, a bone dry downhill track and efficient uplift. This rare combination provided the perfect backdrop for the 2013 RAF Downhill Team training event.
Ex World Cup racer and current UK Gravity Enduro Champion, Neil Donoghue, provided world class training for 16 racers from the RAF Downhill Team. Over two days at Antur Stiniog, North Wales’ most extreme purpose built downhill mountain bike facility, skills and techniques were taught to increase confidence and speed on the most demanding of terrain.
The group was split into two groups of eight: one advanced and one intermediate. Obstacles included: rough sections of bedrock, tight switchbacks, fast berms, vertical drop offs, long gap jumps and a twenty foot cliff face. Riders were coached in body position, line choice and “pump”: the art of generating speed without pedalling. The results were visibly apparent by the end of each day with riders carrying more speed smoothly through sections of track where previously they had been nervous and “sketchy”.

During the bike set up brief, Neil stressed the importance of running the correct tyre pressures front and rear depending on the conditions. Without exception, tyre pressures were adjusted and the results were startling. Despite the razor sharp bedrock shredding rubber, the group escaped relatively puncture free when compared to other trail users. Of course, Cpl Ian Churchill (RAF Leuchars) proved the exception to this rule by blowing a tubeless tyre after dropping off the cliff and bravely clearing both “doubles” accompanied by the hiss of high pressure air escaping from a rapidly developing “flat”!

The 16 members of the RAF Downhill team were accommodated at the excellent Joint Services Adventure Training Centre at LLanrwst. The weather conditions were perfect with clear skies, high temperatures and dusty trails.

Downhill mountain bike racing is extremely competitive and every advantage and opportunity must be exploited. It is not unusual for ten or more racers to finish within one second of each other. It was a rare opportunity for the RAF team to train with an instructor of Neil Donoghue’s pedigree and quality. His insights into race techniques and strategies were invaluable, providing a solid base on which to build for the future. The training event would not have taken place without the hard work and dedication of Sgt Nick “Pops” Larkin (RAF Benson) and the support of the RAF Sports Lottery.

The RAF DH Team competes nationally in the Combined Services Racing series which comprises the Pearce Cycles and Scottish Downhill Association series. In recent years, we have faced stiff competition from the Army and Navy. For the 2013 season, the team has secured a strong support package: Haven Distribution have supplied World Cup winning Devinci Wilson bikes, Decade-Europe provide clothing and equipment support from leading manufacturers like Royal Racing and 100% Goggles, Burgtec have provided British built handlebars and stems, J-Tech offer the team discount on vital suspension set-up and servicing and RSD Sports have designed distinctive new team jerseys.

The team is always on the lookout for new talent from within the RAF. For further information contact: dhsec@rafcycling.org.uk

2 May 2013

BMBS Round 2 - Victory for RAFCC

Despite the location for Rd 2 being at the end of the earth the hunger for points ensured that Fie Innes and Russ Holman made the epic journey South to Redruth.

While the accommodation in Chasewater was something of an eye opener it still proved to be significantly better than some of the Barrack Blocks the RAF has to offer.

Hoping that the journey South would provide some sun rather than the snow at Sherwood pines Saturday morning started very positively, until Fie discovered during practice how technical the course was.
After much banter and persuasion from Russ an hour later the pair completed a lap of the 5.3k course, things were not looking so positive. Retiring for the day the pair opted to celebrate Martin Pearson’s 30th Birthday (in his absence) instead with some fine complex carb’s in the form of a Carrot Cake!

Sunday saw Fie up first for 3 laps of the course. With a really good start she powered off the start line and out of the arena well ahead of the other sport riders. Battling with the fear of the technical descents she followed the wheel of a Vet rider, which saw her fly down the steep gravel terrain. Opting for some of the B-lines proved to be a wining decision which saw her finish the race in 1st place, over 10 mins ahead of 2nd place.

Next up in the Male Expert Cat was Toby Rose, starting his first race of the season. Unfortunately owing to a mechanical issue Toby retired from the race half way through his 2nd lap, clearly this only suggests that he needs to get himself a new Whyte 29er..!!!

Russ Holman found himself girded 10th in a very strong field of 34 Sport Riders. The start was rapid and Russ did well to maintain the pace, coming through on the 1st lap only seconds behind Toby in  Expert, showing great potential for the future. The Sport Race was a gruelling battle of wills and after 5 laps Russ finished the race in a very respectable 12th place fingers crossed he can break into the top 10 at the next round!

All in all a fantastic Result for RAFCC this weekend.

10 Apr 2013

UK Gravity Enduro Series – Round One, Afan, South Wales

The weekend of the 23-24 March saw the first round of the 2013 UK Gravity Enduro Series. Flt Lt Fay Cunningham, Sgt Lee Jordan and Sgt John Summerton were there to tackle everything the Enduro scene had to offer, proudly emblazoned in the RAF Jersey.

Originating from France in 2003, the Gravity Enduro format is based on motorbike enduro and anyone who has followed car rallying should find it instantly familiar. The most basic definition is timed downhills and untimed uphills. Racing is over a series of special stages and whoever has the fastest combined time after those stages wins. Riders need to get between the stages, often for a set start time. The Gravity Enduro races in the UK are over five timed stages.

The race itself was touch and go with the fantastic weather we have been experiencing here in the UK! Luckily Afan, in South Wales, managed to avoid the snow, but heavy rainfall leading up to the weekend meant that some of the sections were extremely muddy and almost impossible to ride.

The Saturday consisted of a practice day with each athlete given time to complete the 5 timed sections and the transitions, followed by a seeding run on section 5 which would also count towards the final standings.

On the Sunday, Afan managed to avoid the rain but the temperature was below zero, only creeping up to 2 or 3 degrees at best all day. The riders ensured that they had plenty of kit for the day with extra gloves and warm jackets for the transition stages. It was really important to keep your hands warm as it would not be good trying to hold on and brake with hands that would not work!

Race day went well with Fay, Lee and John all putting down competitive times at each stage, Fay was racing in the Elite category amongst professionals such as Tracey Moseley in her Rainbow Jersey. Lee was racing in the Masters Men and managed to put in two amazing first runs on timed sections one and two which would not have been out of place in the Elite category and John was racing in the Veterans Men’s category, again putting down some great times that saw him take time out of some of the Elite racers.

It was a great start to the Gravity Enduro season and final standings saw Fay hold her own in the Elite Women’s category gaining 6th place, Lee finished in a respectable 66th place in the largest category, the Masters (123 racers in total) and John took 23rd place in the Vets.

The next round is set to be more technical and hopefully warmer, although as it is going to be held in Innerleithen in Scotland there will be no promises with the weather!