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...