Enduring the Downhill
July 28 2010
The Hope Endurance Downhill is perhaps our favourite event with all the staff wanting a go, here's the Orange story from 2010.
The No Fuss Downhill is in its third year, with each race showing a surge in entries it’s becoming a major date on the calendar. Its unique format keeps racers lapping the Fort William downhill track, each attempting to cram in more runs than the next competitor - riders on the same lap are split according to their cumulative time. So while the sprint to the gondola is an important part for sneaking in that extra run, you’ve got to be quick on and off the course to be in contention. To complicate things, if you smash your bike up you’re responsible for your own repairs, with limited spares allowed in the pits. It’s important to keep your runs smooth on your bike, but hard on the clock. – not easy on a track this rough…
From the factory we had James Milner, Vaughan Evans and I, none of us were interested in the overall, more our relative positions. Vaughan lost out to my sketchy line choices last year, so keen to get his revenge he gave his prototype 225 a fresh drag-reducing polish and set his tyres to 0.8psi for maximum grip. New boy James was also new to Fort William’s man-track, so with a box fresh 224-evolution he was ready to style his way through the ranks. Responsible for the pit-mascot, he was also on dog walking duties, meet Zook…
In an effort to continue the three No Fuss challenges on the Five, I gave it a makeover. With a Fox 36, Cane Creek Double Barrel and a chain device, it was ready to go. Check the video if you're interested in the spec.
Just like in the Hope camp, the staff race was on, we all had out tactics worked out, our lap predictions logged and our various take-out manouvres calculated. In this picture, the Hope boys conspire...
To mix it up the Orange crew had a couple of special guests. The first was Guy Martin, a motor bike legend; if you don’t know what he normally does, check this out. Second up was Tim Sadler of LowePro, with an interest in the event we were keen to have him along and share our fireside pit beer (he’s welcome anytime with his collection of real ales and skate-based anecdotes).
So how did the race go, well, it was a mixed bag for the Orange crew, a real attrition on bike and body for the three Orange musketeers. James put himself out of contention early on, hitting the boardwalk at the top of the track a little skew-whiff, he fired himself headfirst along the slidy wooden death-chute. With a marshal fearing the worst he gathered himself and took a fifteen minute recovery session. Results wise he managed an impressive 11 runs with a thoroughly respectable 56th place. Bike intact he continued down the track, even with the 'off', one word describes him pretty well - style - pre- or post-crash.
Vaughan faired incredibly well, getting down the hill with consistent times and complete control, he was well ahead. But with the pressure came the crashes, as he chased a rival down to the finish he lost a pedal and spun impressively into the finish area, the crowd were quick to cheer his success as unbelievably he stayed upright. Despite this episode and another minor tumble he was on the attack and looking good for the Orange win, but a mechanical thwarted his efforts leaving him to limp on as I got that extra lap. Some may say he was robbed, but in the Orange fight, I prefer to tell him he should have been smoother, you don't see Andy Schlek harping on about his chain...
My race? Well, it started with disappointment, with a 140mm trail bike I was convinced the Five would see me to the top of the climb ahead of the masses – it was meant to be the easy bit. Amidst the run from the start I lost lots of places, then with a pretty pathetic climbing effort I was already well behind my arch nemesis, Vaughan ‘big guns’ Evans. The Five then shone on the downhill, barrelling down the rough top section to claw back the time I'd lost. A couple of sketchy moments and lots of marshal encouragement saw me eventually catch the polished wonder machine on the gondola, Vaughan’s face was a picture, there is nothing quite like colleague rivalry to spice up an event. From then on things turned out pretty well, fluking my way to thirteen laps and a pretty reasonable14th place. Despite my goading Vaughan's mechanical was a real disappointment, next year we'll be back, all or nothing, the Vaughan-Dave decider.
And what of the Five? Well, after some reservations in using a trail bike as a full on downhill monster, I was blown away. The Fox 36 jacks things up giving an approximate 66.5 degree headangle, not downhill bike territory but slack enough to let it deal with everything on track. The Cane Creek shock also did an amazing job of using the travel to the very limit of its capabilities. Without even a ding in the wheel, it’s getting bagged up for a week in the Alps, an Alpine 160 would definitely be better, but this is the summer of the Five for me, we're getting on well.
What of our other comrades? Well, Tim put together ten solid runs taking him to 79th, he had time to take another lap, but like so many, a tumble left him smarting and ready for the end. He had so much fun he took his loan 224 home with him and booked an uplift for the following weekend. DH bug officially caught.
Guy Martin completed twelve runs, with some impressive times amongst them. 37th in an event like this is pretty impressive coming back from this. Check the interview in the official video at the end, he seems to have enjoyed himself, although the lump in his ankle is dubious…
Amateur racing out of the way, the main man at this event is James Shirley, last year’s winner and Fort William local, he was here to defend his title. He might look like a nice guy, but behind his amiable exterior rests a killer, an assassin, a pimp who cashes in from the obliteration of rocks, well, he's pretty handy on a bike however you want the hyperbole.
Watching James was incredible, fresh from the Mega-Avalanche he was on the pace and refused to slow down over the six hour stint. His 224-evolution flew down the track consistently pinning it at race pace, seemingly without a hint of a dodgy moment. Rifling through John and Michael's photos is hilarious, James is in full on race pose all the time, low and loose as the dudes would call it, but almost aerodynamic in his attack of Anarch Moor. The result? A win won on consistency, reliability and a massive dose of talent.
But where did the success truly lie, watch the ‘Amateur edit’ below for tips on how James tackled the climb. The 224 lock-out, now available from all good hardware stores.
In the women's race Naomi Williamson won for the second time with a staggering 12 runs on her Alpine 160. Never underestimate the power of a pink bike, in the hands of a top rider. Husband Stephen also rode well, taking his Alpine 160 to ninth in the vets.
So what of the Hope Endurance Downhill? Quite simply it’s the most fun DH event you will ever enter, it’s also the best value with more time spent riding than any other race weekend. So thank you to No Fuss for making it all happen, and massive adulation to all marshals and medics involved, people like Liam Moynihan, Hannah Barnes, Jenny Roy, Alastair McLennan, basically anyone stood on that great big hill in the pouring rain for six hours – they’re the real endurance superstars. Like all No Fuss events, the staff are fundamental to the vibe, everyone is there to have a good time, and it's these guys that make it possible, good work folks.
For a non-Orangecentric perspective, read the official report here. Despite the rain, and not wanting to get off his bike, Stu Thomson of MTBcut put this together, the full Endurance Downhill story in one tidy video.
A story by pictures: