Adventures of the Cotic - A Quick Release holidays mountain bike race team

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Dabbling in other disciplines - part 1

In January 2014 I took my first tentative steps into the world of downhill; ok so it was MiniDH but I did say tentative! Here's a round up of how the three 661 mini's I've done have gone.

January was round 2 of the 661 MiniDH Series at the Forest of Dean (FOD) and I managed to scrape an entry, just, as it sold out. I was seriously nervous but I was helped enormously that weekend by strangers at the time Rachael Gurney and Adam Wight. They took me in under their wings all weekend and made me feel right at home; to be honest I wouldn’t have found the start of the run without their help.

I practised on Saturday and was plunged into a whole new riding experience. The run for the weekend was Sheepskull. Riding my Cotic BFe Hardtail and trying to follow Rach on her Rose DH rig was challenging to say the least. I very quickly learnt however that 160mm of travel at the front means you can ride rocky sections more easily compared to trying it with 100mm XC forks. The biggest challenge on the track was a big rooty nest just before a small drop to the fireroad. I should also add it was wet, and only got wetter, and that just made it even more interesting. I think I cleared the roots about three times in the entire weekend!

Come Sunday and it was chucking it down but surprisingly the rain was actually helping with grip. I got a complete Run 1 in so was very chuffed. Back up to the top for Run 2 but by now I was getting really tired and was struggling to hang on to the bike in the bottom section, in the end being 2 secs slower. I was really chuffed though coming 20th overall and 5th in Master Women. I was now entirely hooked and took away a load of learning points too. I felt bad for Rach though as after all the help she gave me,  a racer in front on run 1 caused her to crash and taco a wheel, then after borrowing another wheel had another off during run 2; not a reflection of her true ability.

Round 3 of the 661 MiniDH was entered nice and early this time and I was chuffed to be joined, in support, by AQR team mate Kathy. Just to make things more challenging we did an XC ride of the Verderer’s and Freeminers trails first before I cracked out the BFe and the armour, headed up the hill and tried to find Rach and Adam again. This time we were using part of Corkscrew and it was so much fun! The BFe was loving the top section, which was quite pedally and jumpy before crossing the fireroad when the roots well and truly made themselves known. There were some steepish rooty steps which I was little worried about but on my first time down I was straight down them and more than happy with those; it was the rest of the roots I had to watch out for. As ever in winter in the UK it was wet, but thankfully not raining during the time on the course!

As ever, steeper than it looks! - photo credit: Craig Hichliffe
On race day I got a good run 1 in and unlike last time made sure to eat something in between race runs to help with energy levels. I was hyped for run 2, and since I was more confident on the top section planned to do that section as hard as possible and then just ride as smoothly as possible on the rooty bottom section. The first part of the plan worked really well. As I dropped onto the fireroad and then into the next section I got a little off line and ended up heading off-piste however. I managed to pull up just before a tree, but my momentum was gone. I got going again but was 9 secs slower then run 1. I’m pretty sure I lost more than that whilst trying to sort myself out and get back up to speed so was a little annoyed. This time though I was 10th overall and 2nd Master Woman. Rach stepped up and raced in the Pro-Am category coming 5th with tough competition in Tracy Mosely and Forest of Dean local Katy Curd. Team mate Kathy was a star all weekend making sure I was eating/drinking/had everything I needed and she even cleaned my bikes all whilst fitting her own training in; top team mate!

Roll on 10 months (10 months??!); the XC season was well and truly over, I’d had two weeks riding with AQR in the Pyrenees during late September, followed by an enforced two months off the bike due to work being silly crazy and hoorah, the 2014/15 661 MiniDH series was back on.

I rocked up to FOD for the December round and once again did some XC training in the morning on the Saturday before checking out the trail; ski run. Walking up, the run didn’t look too bad. It deviated slightly from the main run in places to mix things up a bit, including an off-camber root section which would offer the quickest line. As I started on my first practice run I instantly knew something was wrong by way of the lack of speed control I had. I managed to get through the top section just and onto the fireroad. Thinking I just needed to get the pads worn in a bit more after a few months of non-use I tried some bedding in techniques and another run on the top section but still the same. As I tried to make my way down the rest of the run it was dreadful, my arms were cramping up trying to control the speed and I had to stop twice just to make it down in one piece. After asking a bit of advice it  was suggested a rear pad change may solve the problem. I did this, so glad I had spares, then headed back up, aware by this time that it was getting later and I still hadn’t really got to grips with the course. Once I’d bedded the new pads in I did the top section again and it was a whole different kettle of fish; speed control at last! With confidence back I decided to do more of the course. The second time over the roots weren’t as good however when I touched the brakes and went down. After a chat with one of the girls, my new mantra for two parts of the course was ‘stay off the brakes’, and it worked.   

Made it through the off camber roots in one piece - photo credit: SC Ross Media
Sunday started wet, but on getting to the forest the rain had stopped and it was also warmer than it had been the day before. The course was running really well and I was feeling calm, which is odd. The women had been split into senior (29 and under) and masters, which I was racing in. There were six of us in the category, so I thought there might be a slim chance of getting a podium if I was really lucky. We went off in reverse number order for run 1. I went ok I thought, stayed off the brakes where needed and went into the bottom table top with decent but not too much speed. I definitely had an incentive to get down though as I had Lindsay behind me who I thought would be odds on favourite to take the category win. I finished, out of breath, but beaming as I’d had such a good, fun run. I’d also managed to avoid being caught my Lindsay. After a bit of a wait I then discovered I was second too!

2/3 of the way down - photo credit: Craig Hinchliffe
There’s about 2.5hrs between both runs, so there was a bit of waiting around, during which the heavens opened once again for a brief period, and some warming up done in the Pedalabikeaway cafe. Then it was back up the hill for run 2. In the past I have really struggled with my second run. Whilst trying to go harder and faster I’ve invariably gone off line or crashed, so I really wanted to put that to rights. I was the third to last off as we were now seeded with fastest last; except Gayle who prefers to not have the pressure on her and is always last rider down in the category (the beauty of a friendly race series where chopping and changing is accepted). Once again I had Lindsay behind me which put some good pressure on. I felt good on the top section, took the roots really well, but had ‘a moment’ on the small ridge, managed to hold it together and just went as hard as I could, taking more speed into the table top and feeling a better jump as a result. I crossed the line once again hugely out of breath but with an even more massive grin. To top it off, it not only felt good, I’d gone about a second faster and by doing so retained 2nd place by about a second, as Han in 3rd had put in solid run 2 to beat my run 1 time. I couldn't believe that I’d come 2nd it was such a good feeling. I really do reckon my two weeks riding in the mountains with AQR helped a lot, even though it was back in September. Out there was plenty of steep, rocky terrain so in comparison FOD is relatively ‘flat’. It was near darkness during the podiums but it still allowed us all to have a good catch up and laugh whilst waiting around.

Not bad but could still get higher! - Photo credit: djd-photo
661 MiniDH is a really friendly race series. All the courses are rollable or have alternative easier lines as the idea is to introduce beginners into the sport. You get a complete spectrum of racers at the events, with Tracy Moseley and Danny Hart having raced at the start of the year. One thing you can almost be sure of is 4X World Champion Katy Curd will usually be found racing since it is her local patch and she’s always willing to share knowledge and guidance on lines etc (well for  the girls at least ;)).

Roll on 2015 and many more 661 MiniDH’s as I’m well and truly hooked. Massive thanks to: Chris Roberts and the team for making an amazing series; to Cotic for making the BFe such a great bike to race the mini's on; Rob my other half for maintaining said bike; and finally to Kate and Ian Potter of AQR Coaching for the time and patience required to hammer the necessary skills into my arsenal.

Podium in the near dark! - Photo courtesy of Chris Roberts

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