(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)
(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?
(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.
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.)