Over the winter I decided it would be fun to have a little go at Downhill racing. I get so nervous before race runs I thought, the more I do the better. Taking part in a grass roots, off season series that weren’t in the discipline I normally do would hopefully mean I would put less pressure on myself. Frankly, I’m just not into beasting myself uphills enough for Cross Country, so Downhill was the only option.
The Woodland riders series is run by Chaz Lamley and his team of helpers at either Gawton Gravity hub or Tavi Woodlands alternating years, this year it’s at Gawton. They start the series on the easier runs then progress to the more difficult tracks building up to the season starting.
The first round was on the 13th October using a track called HSD, which is their only red graded run. It is a fun, pedally singletrack descent, that takes a meandering route down the hill. It has a few kickers and drops but nothing worrying. Chaz clearly thought this was far too easy so he added in a couple of ‘bus stops’ ie random deviations from the normal path, off camber up the bank. This of course caused carnage! The first few times I just couldn’t get up it. Getting ever more frustrated I went for more speed and hit a tree. After a bit of watching and noting the pros jumping up the bank technique was not going to be an option for me, I realised all the other clever riders were taking a much wider and earlier entry, aha lightbulb moment! In the format for these races you get 2 practice runs and 2 race runs from which your fastest race run counts. In my first race run I played it a bit safe just trying to be smooth and get in a complete run as the track was pretty greasy and on my old Stumpjumper with a worn out front tyre I felt like I was sliding everywhere. The second run I tried really hard, pedalling everywhere I could but this in fact just made me ride more raggedly, making silly mistakes and gave a slower time. There were 16 girls at this race (a great number for a winter DH series!) I came 7th.
The second round on the 15th January was on Proper Job, a 1 dot black graded trail. This is considerably harder than HSD though still has no serious features. The drops can’t be rolled but the challenge lies in the steep, tight, switchback corners and the roughness of the track in places. I had my new Rallon at this point and was feeling really happy and confident on it as this was a track I had previously struggled to get down and was now enjoying riding as fast as I could. My biggest mistake of the day was missing a much quicker line option through a corner. A friend pointed it out after practice but it was quite sketchy so without practice I didn’t feel I could take it on in the race. I came 5th out of 10 girls.
I had planned to do the next round on Super Tavi but crashed trying to learn how to ride it a couple of weeks beforehand and didn’t heal in time so had to withdraw. This was disappointing but in retrospect probably a blessing in disguise as I need to learn to ride the track more competently and confidently before racing it. Maybe next year!
The best thing about the races was the fantastic atmosphere and supportiveness of the group of girls racing. We were all a total mix of speeds, confidence and experience but everyone tried to help, advise and encourage each other where they could. Naturally it just happened that we all waited for the last girl down at the bottom, cheering each other off the start line then down to the finishing point. After a lot of chatter while we got our breaths back we would all push up together. This made for such a fun day with loads of laughter and new friendships made. I know I wasn’t alone in having an awesome day out both times!
Many Thanks to all the people that work so hard to put on this series, for more info check out their website Woodland Riders racing.