Hamsterley 1-2-1 - Racing the way it should be

September 14 2011

If you went down to the woods in Hamsterley a weekend or two ago you wouldn’t have stumbled upon a hoard of teddy bears laying out jam sandwiches, instead, the long trek down the dark and shady approach road led to a little bit of mountain bike heaven. 

The Hamsterley Trailblazers’ innovative ’1-2-1’ event pits rider and bike against two disciplines which are often seen as MTB polar opposites. A combined XC and DH race run in two stages XC on day one and DH on, you guessed it, day two. The problem is this; do you race a heavy DH rig on the XC day and blitz the win on DH day? Or shed the pounds to win big in the XC and race for damage limitation in the DH hoping your XC chops will carry you through. Think about it...  What would you do?

Seemed only right to find out. So Ben Chennells and I had made the jaunt from the way-down-south Orange design office, to the furthest reaches of England’s North East to hook up with factory paint guru Vaughan Evans and his buddy Tom Gooch to make up the official Orange Bikes team for the weekend.  As we rolled down the dark approach road beneath the overhanging trees late in the on friday night, watching the service bars drop away one by one from the dim glow of the mobile’s screen, it felt more like the opening of a classic modern horror movie. “Don’t go down there after dark!” croaked Ben. “Stay on the road, don’t wander into the woods!” I mimicked back. We were kidding, of course, weren’t we.

Ben at the movies

No slashers or axe-murderers to be found

We needn't have worried, after a while we found a well sign-posted campsite, parking and a hub-bub of Friday arrivals getting in the mood for the weekend.

The Orange make shift pits

Orange Bikes' makeshift pits. Essential anti midge hoodies up!

With the team assembled on Saturday morning the makeshift Orange pits were assembled under a leaden sky, using the leftovers that hadn’t been trucked to the Eurobike show. Riders Vaughan and Tom prepped bikes while hangers on Ben and me, checked out the charge in the flash batteries and the bacon butties.

Tom and Vaughan

Tom Gooch, Vaughan Evans, VW Transporter.

The appeal of this event, first run last year, is wide ranging. From first time racers to experienced Megavalanche competitors such as Orange rider James Shirley, who’d brought a posse down from Scotland. The vibe is relaxed but there’s a good natured competitive edge bubbling just beneath the calm surface.

With some changes to the race course from last year, notably some additions funded by last years 1-2-1 race, the XC element set off in staggered class starts, up a deceptively grinding fire-road climb, which in turn became a rooty sandy climb before rewarding racers with a descent full of whoops, hollers, berms, doubles and er... some mud before circuiting back through race village. Something for eveyone and the serious competitors no longer hiding behind modest smiles. 

And they're off

James Shirley, showing off? Time will tell.

Sleeveless hard man Ewan Thorburn from the Scots brigade showed no mercy hammering out the climbs and losing nothing on the downs. A merciless five minute demolition over second place James Shirley who was closely followed by brother Gavin, showed that the gloves were off. In the Team Orange camp, Vaughan who is our in house downhiller showed that there’s more to those skinny thighs than you might think. 2nd place in Masters behind rival Hamish Irwin. While Tom took 7th in Senior Men, leaving him in pretty good shape for the DH. In the senior women’s race, Helen Gaskell and Sarah Newman battled it out wheel to wheel with Helen taking the XC honours on the first day.

Ewan Thorburn stomps in out.

Field demolition expert. Ewan Thorburn

Go Pro handover

Vaughan didn't need the weight of the GoPro for the whole race. Flash man to the rescue.

As the last riders came into the village the rain decided it had held off long enough and steadily poured down for the rest of the afternoon. But fire up a couple of big BBQs and you’ll soon have smiles all round, which is exactly what happened. ‘Spikes’ seemed to be a trending word in lots of conversations.
Sunday, as everyone knows, is Downhill day. Once you’ve made your choice of bike, the rules are pretty strict on what you can and cannot do once the competition has begun. The only tools floating round the paddock on DH day were tyre levers and pedal spanners as people gambled on whether wet and slippy would become dry and loamy and fitted flat pedals just in case it didn’t.

As with any DH race, track walks had been walked, secret lines kept secret and practice runs were in progress. The track seemed to be running pretty well. There were two timed runs on the day, the fastest of the two being your result. Second run was seeded so the faster guys didn’t get held up.

Tom Gooch

Tom Gooch. Dialled.

With on/off sunshine and the dark tree cover, my job of taking pictures for the day was going to require some thought. I came up with a mobile flash on a stick system - otherwise known as a ‘Ben’. It seemed to be working pretty well, but with a steep hill and a narrow track full of flying bikes keeping it all right side up was proving interesting. However, we didn’t get run down and as far as I am aware no one was ‘stun gunned’ by a lad with a flash gun on a pole.

By the time the seeded runs were on track you could clearly see which riders had the track dialled. Even though the track was narrow, there were always several line choices, often only inches apart, to ensure that riders were paying attention.

Notably fast, to mention a few, were James Risker, head to toe and bike to boot in black. Stealthy. David Armstrong, the Men’s Masters winner rocking a camelbak on his race runs. You never know. James Shirley who shot past me on his seeded run while I was looking at a mushroom. Alway happens. And in the women’s race, world cup racer Helen Gaskell showed her class with race times that would have had her in the top ten of the men’s race.

The official Orange bikes riders, Tom and Vaughan flew high, ripped it up and both placed 6th in their DH categories.

After the dust had settled, the tension rose as Oraganiser Dave Nicholsoon and his team sorted out the combined scores. On the the top of the men's podium came James Shirley and Helen Gaskell was the womens' winner. Vaughan claimed second spot for the second year in masters, behind David Armstrong. Tom was just of the podium with a 4th in the senior men.

A big thanks to Dave Nicholson of Hamsterley Trailblazers for putting on a great, friendly and fun event. We're already looking forward to next year

Results in Brief

Senior Men Top 5
pos. Bib FirstName LastName Sat Sun Overall
1 128 James Shirley 27 25 52
2 127 James Risker 20 27 47
3 133 Ewan Thorburn 28 17 45
4 117 Tom Gooch 22 22 44
5 126 James Ramsay 17 26 43
Masters Men Top 5
Pos. Bib FirstName LastName Sat Sun Overall
1 204 David Armstrong 28 31 59
2 214 Vaughan Evans 31 26 57
3 220 Hamish Irwin 32 25 57
4 218 Zac Hubery 26 29 55
5 219 Andy Hyam 22 30 52
Senior Women Top 5
Pos. Bib FirstName LastName Sat Sun Overall
1 101 Helen Gaskell 5.5 5 10.5
2 105 Sarah Newman 5.5 4 9.5
3 100 Angela Coates 3 3 6
4 102 Emma Holgate 4 2 6
5 104 Rowan Matthews 2 1 3

For full results and lots more images please check out:
Hamsterley 1-2-1 Racing Facebook page

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