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.