Alpine Bikes Winter Series: A race within a race?

April 06 2011

Turning up on a windy Friday afternoon and finding a small patch of earth soft enough to drive in our twisted tent pegs was the first challenge of the weekend. Getting there early meant the whole of Innerleithen’s car park was ours for the taking, and we duly commandeered a small patch of grass sheltered by a welcome hedge. Parking the vans for maximum wind protection we pitched up, only to find a dog had already claimed this patch as its own. Rocks piled atop of the mess, this little cairn became the marker of our camping ground, and a great place to prop the bikes up, factory as…

Jonathan Sykes Orange Bikes Alpine Winter Series 224-evo

Jono Sykes, factory admin and customer services downhill beast

Newcomers to this world of downhill, Jono and I decided we should copy other early arrivals and take a Friday night wander between the tape to “check out our lines”. Factory rivalry is all good-natured and tongue in cheek, but we still wanted to get the upper hand on master frame painter and skinny man extraordinaire Vaughan Evans. Track completed, we bumped into the V-dog and his partner in crime Tom Gooch on our way down, we told him there was “nothing to see at the top” and headed back down. One of the most impressive things I saw all weekend was Tom’s foot descent of the downhill track as it wound its way down 39 steps, over the Cresta run, and through the gully next to the bomb hole at the end. Hands in pockets he hyper-minced his way down running all his lines, including a headlong charge down the final chute, Jono and I willing him to take a comedy tumble. Unfortunately he didn’t, and as the sun set on a windy Innerleithen car park, we sheltered behind the van eating some freshly cooked tuna-pasta-mush-cordon-bleu. So far so good in the racing department!

Tom Gooch Orange Bikes 224 Innerleithen Alpine Winter Series

Tom Gooch, nearly as fast riding as he is track walking...

Friday night brought an onslaught of rain, the wind kindly picking it up and pelting it into the tent, my sleeping bag so wet I had a little feel inside to check I hadn’t had an accident (it’s been a good few years but you never know). A continental breakfast of Honey-Nut Cheerios consumed on the bonnet of Jono’s Scudo, it was time to don the battle garb for practice. Those who haven’t been to a DH race, it seems typical that you throw the bike in a truck, head up the hill and ride straight back down; not so at Innerleithen. You ride your 40lb downhill bike a mile down the road, load it in a cattle truck and take a ride up in the coach. Wearing full body armour and waterproofs top to bottom seemed a good idea in the rain, but if you haven’t sweated everything out riding on the road, you do on the final push up to the start hut, I thought this DH game was meant to be easy! Three runs in, I was also curious how the coach company could justify the clean up operation, turns out the local community service folk do it to help give a little back, a great idea and a brilliant way of supporting the area.

David Flynn Orange Bikes 224 Alpine Bikes winter series

Factory long legs, Dave Flynn in a rare poised moment

Practice was perhaps the most daunting part of the weekend with factory-jacksons flying past clad in all manner of pyjama suits. I’ve never understood the fascination with motocross inspired race kit, but after a muddy practise session, my Troy Lee ensemble is already on order for my next visitation to gravity racing. Like my resolve not to get a remote height-adjustable-seatpost, I’ve eaten my words on lots this weekend. One thing still curious to me: neck braces but no spine board or other protection? Answers on a post card please.

A sunny afternoon on Saturday with continued wind did a good job of drying out the track, perfect for Jono and I who were both riding High Rollers (another area of preparation we were lacking). This weather held for Sunday morning and into the seeding/first race runs. In the start hut I got a sudden surge of excitement, shot out pedalling at the first corner, tensed up, put my front wheel over the top of the berm and tripodded my way along the flat exit. Eager to get the time back I pedalled the next wide rooty section, grounding my pedal and again flirting with the course tape. Composure recovered, I got into the flow, flew over the road jump and did a reasonable job right to the bottom, getting the tricky final corners the best I had all weekend. Coming over the line I was a few seconds behind Vaughan and already pumped for my next run. Jono came down in an equally steady but altogether more collected fashion, both of us keen to get back up the hill for another go.

Doing it for the factory, Vaughan Evans, easily seen in a crowd...

Doing it for the factory, Vaughan Evans, easily spotted in a crowd

Race run time and Vaughan was first down the track out of the factory trio, he made it down in the dry but didn’t improve on his seeding run time. Twenty riders or so before my run and the rain started to pour, the drying track now filmed with greasy mud. More cautious out of the start hut I negotiated the first corner and got going, although I was dying by the bottom of the track, I’d had a clean run and was enjoying the experience of sliding around in the mud. The final chute didn’t deteriorate with the rain, but the wide multi-line corner had become a slip’n’slide as the smoother middle line forced riders to use the tree as a stopper before pumping through the ditch. It was good to see everyone struggle with this corner and made me feel a lot less rubbish. Coming down slower again, it was incredible fun and a credit to the track design as everyone enjoyed the variety and challenge of hitting sections fast. Jono and I rolled down 61st and 50th respectively, well and truly making up numbers, but having a great time along the way. Vaughan came in 13th in Masters, a good result from the Orange factory team old-dog.

Adam Hughes Orange Five  Alpine Bikes Winter Series

Adam Hughes, sixth place in Juveniles on his Orange Five

In proper news, MTBcut team racer and general pinner Joe Barnes took seventh in Elite despite bouncing between a couple of trees. Elite victory went to Adam Brayton with Inners local Ruaridh Cunningham taking second. Perth City Cycles’ Fergus Lamb took third place with the complete Elite podium all finishing on the same second (unfortunately the best part of a minute ahead of Jono and I, back in the box much...).

Erin Maguire Orange Bikes Alpine Bikes WInter Series

Erin Maguire making light work of the damp conditions, second in Youth Women 

Driving home from the event the speed of racing really hit home, Jono and I are both okay trail riders but neither of us assumed we’d be quite so average at a proper DH race. Our advice to someone looking to give it a go? Don’t hesitate to get signed up, everyone is incredibly welcoming and while the courses are a challenge, they’re all rideable for the novice. Our tips? Get some goggles and tear offs, get some mud tyres, wear body armour if you have a habit of hugging trees, relax and enjoy the track, but most importantly, don’t pitch your tent next to animal deposits. We'll see you next time.

Thanks to Ian Linton for all the great shots. Take a look on Roots and Rain to see if he's caught you in action, and read his full race report.

Thanks to everyone involved in organising, marshalling or spectating at the Alpine Bikes Winter Series, visit the website for full series results and stay tuned for next years plans.

Thanks as always to the smattering of film makers and photographers on the course, here's Stuz Leel's take on proceedings:



The next episode of factory racing: Jono and I will be heading to Glen Coe to throw ourselves down a mountain behind a whole smattering of other ridiculously fast riders. Stay tuned for the No Fuss Macavalanche, it’s going to be pretty special...



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