How things have changed over these past few years..
Since This Is Sheffield began, just a handful of us with a camera in some nearby woods on mediocre trails, we within this sport have seen one hell of rise through the ranks.
Me & my good pal Joe have come from dicking about together, to traveling the world, documenting & competing at the highest level in just a few short years.. And its great fun!!
For the last 2 years I have been chasing a bit of a childhood dream, to compete at a World Cup event (and to also catch up with the Steel City media team who have somewhat moved on from humble beginnings to world stardom!) I was given a brief glance at this dream in 2012 when I was called up to the British Cycling team to compete at the final round of the year in Norway, only for the harsh reality of riding a ‘proper race track’ taking its toll on my bike & body. Unprepared? Lack of resources? inexperienced? Naive? All of these & more are a good way to describe how I approached that race.. But this year things are different.
Since that race right at the back end of the year, with a glimpse at that dream, I realised what was possible, And I was going to make that dream happen…
Val Di Sole
Since seeing the coverage of the Worlds 2008, I have longed for this track. After the disappointment of having to miss Fort William World Cup, I was keen to make this event work for me. A real track. Long, physical, demanding, battering, all of which we don’t really have in the surrounding hills of Sheffield.
The opportunity has finally come around, I have worked hard for this moment. With an in-consistent start to my year, I was looking forward to going fast again.
Traveling with the PA & Steel City Media dream team along with Gee Milner, It was good to catch up with everyone & endure a proper Yorkshire trip! Sarcasm & laughs all the way.
On sign on, I was lumbered with the 153 plate. Top 150 racers were in A practice, the rest, B practice. So that instantly ruled out doing laps with the Syndicate boys then!
That decided it then, I was pretty much on my own for this one so that’s how I approached track walk. I have to start making my own mind up about tracks & lines & be able to see what I can ride within my abilities, not just nodding & agreeing with those around me.
Heading up in the lift there isn’t too much to see of the track, just the odd glimpse of sections through the deep trees, then before you know it, the top has arrived & its a little walk down to the start hut.
The track is just how it looks in the videos, brutal rocky with tree roots everywhere, deep loam & dust on some crazy steep gradients. Looks rad! I was enjoying this track walk & eventually caught up with Duncan & Sven as they were snapping away & even got myself a little interview & feature in VitalMTB’s track walk slide-show, which was cool.
Photo: Sven Martin pinched from Vital Slideshow
This track needed time & care in its assessment, to learn & figure out where your coming from to where you want to be, its great seeing a track wider than the usual 1 line we seem a little used to in the UK. I must have been 3 hours on this one without even realising it!
Day 1 done, back to the hotel for an awesome three course meal with buffet appetizer & salad bar.. So much food eaten.
The heat was blistering all week, struggling to sleep at night followed constant sweating in the day, definitely not used to this!
Practice finally came around & my excitement was brimming! First time down the start ramp & I was thoroughly enjoying being apart of the World Cup scene.
A steady first run, the track seemed to run on forever!
Come second run, a little bit more speed. I heard Sven shout out “take it easy”, but I was enjoying that first testing section too much, it was easier, plus more fun, to go faster and skim the rocks & roots than try & go slow & burying wheels into the holes appearing.
A couple more lengthier runs later & I was starting to feel the effects of the long harsh track. Small mistakes with an unknowingly tired body made it much harder to ride the line in front of you. Only done 4 runs! How can I be tired?! But this track is harsh & could catch you out at any time, as many other riders found out.
Another mornings of practice before qualifying. A long wait from my last run at 10:00 until my qualifying run at 16:00! So a snooze & a little unwind back at the hotel before heading down to ask Greg how the track was running.
The whole Syndicate outfit were so helpful towards me all weekend, Steve, Gregg, Josh. Marshy, Dougie, Tom. Kathy. Rhino & Lars too! cheers guys, really appreciate the help & input!!
Off I went, up for qualifying.
Strangely, no nerves what so every in the start gate. I had headed up early to have a glimpse of a few other riders & how they approached the first section, which gave me confidence as knew I could ride that section strongly.
Things started well, fast through the first 2 tech sections before a stall in an awkward flat left before pressing on through the next rocks & across the bridge.
I backed off through the next section as a few tight flat steep corners had exposed some deep roots & I wasn’t sure of the conditions so was playing it a little safe before opening up again & into the final section.
That braking may have turned out to be my downfall, this track is harsh & soon realised I couldn’t actually tell weather I was braking or not.. Turns out I was, perhaps too harshly as a slow tight right caught me out & over the bars I went. Lodged behind a tree I struggled to get going again before finishing off the run.
What an experience! despite the crash I thoroughly enjoyed that! It was so cool to hear my name being shouted a couple of times down the track as well as learning I was within throwing distance of qualifying for my first major finals. 39th at the first split, 50th at the second, 109th the final result, 5 seconds off that elusive top 80 place.
Such a shame but what fun. Yeah im pissed off, but not going to let it dampen the experience. I have rode a World Cup track, raced & was competitive (for the most part!) That’s more than I could have asked for merely a year ago.
So missing out on finals was a bummer yeah, but I enjoyed being their & watching too, plus we had a good laugh with Gregg & the marshals post race (hitting the big time! Now I know how Joe must feel!?)
Time to head home & prep for the next Nationals before Andorra World Cup. Not done yet!!