Fort William once again delivered a memorable weekend for me. This was my 11th World Cup race on the slopes of Ben Nevis and over the years I have had some of the best moments of my career (winning my first ever WC in 2002) and some of the most disappointing moments (Worlds 2007) and this year, even though I have decided to take a step back from downhill racing I could not resist the draw of another World Cup race in front of the best crowd of the year at Fort William.
It was good to be back on the downhill circuit and nice to catch up with all the faces you see every year at the races and in some ways I didn’t feel as though I had stopped DH racing, it just felt as though I had just had a longer winter break from racing. However I soon realised that it wasn’t just a long winter break. I felt pretty good on my bike but after 3 runs of practice on Friday my hands had already had enough. I was missing the specific time on the bike and the specific strength that it brings with it.
Alongside the world cup race I had also been asked to do another very exciting task, to carry the Olympic Torch down part of the downhill track! I was very honoured to have been asked and what an experience it turned out to be. I had not been told that much about it and as far as I knew I was not going to be an official torch bearer, it was just going to be a mini version of the torch that was coming to Nevis Range.
I sorted out all the non branded kit I needed to satisfy the stringent rules of the IOC thanks to my clothing sponsor Endura making some plain kit, so I thought I was all set. I stepped out of the gondola at the top of the mountain and was quickly surrounded by the London 2012 grey and white track suited people. Straight away I realised that this was more than just a mini torch relay. I was ushered down to a section of the track where the photographers had chosen for the view and I was followed by a huge crowd of Fort William WC fans.
They obviously knew more than I did as when I got down to the track I was asked to put on the official top and asked if I would like to keep/buy the torch. It really was going to the be the real thing as out of a bag came the Olympic torch… wow, I would not only get the opportunity to ride with the torch but also the opportunity to keep one.
It all happened pretty quickly as once the torch is lit it only burns for 8 minutes but for those 8 minutes I held the Olympic flame very proudly high up on the Fort William downhill track. An amazing moment in a great location and I hope a small opportunity for our sport to be seen and get some recognition across the globe. It made it to the national news so that was a start.
I had to quickly switch kit and mind set to racing as qualifying was about to start and not having raced any world cups this year I was not inside the top 10 and therefore not guaranteed a place in the final, I had to qualify. It was a long time since I had the pressure of having to make the final so I approached qualifying with a small sense of caution, just to get down the hill without any incidents crossing the line into 7th place. I was happy with that and could now concentrate on Sunday’s race.
After such a long dry spell and a dry track on Saturday night the rain started and the fog came down! The rain definitely made some of the course a lot better and grippier, but other sections became pretty tough. I think for most people the visibility was the hardest thing to cope with and I got through a large amount of tear offs in my race run, just trying to keep my vision clear. I was really pleased with how I rode the top section of the track, 3rd at split one, but I started to make mistakes and lose my focus as the race went on. Getting into last new section of track I thought I had a puncture and really backed off but I now realise that it was just the new section of track that was so soft it felt like you had punctured.
I ended up in 5th place, a result I was very satisfied with. Getting the chance to stand on the World Cup podium at Fort William after very little preparation was a good achievement.
From Fort William it was time to head to Ireland for the start of my summer of international enduro racing. On the way to the ferry I found time to do some filming for Endura and also ride at a couple of the 7 Stanes trail centres. Kirroughtree I have to stay is still my favourite trail, so much flowing fast singletrack it almost feels natural.
Enduro racing really is appealing to the masses as thanks to Niall Davis with the support of Trek in Ireland the Gravity Enduro Ireland series started this year. Before arriving I was really impressed with the series, the website and Niall’s organisation was also impressive and the reports from Round 1 back in April were all good.
This was the second round of the series and took place in the Dublin Mountains overlooking the city of Dublin. A stunning location you would think but sadly with the rain and cloud set in for most of the weekend we could have been anywhere. It was only on Sunday morning that I finally caught a glimpse of Dublin and the sea.
The trails at Ticknock Forest have been used for mountain biking for years and it seems many of Ireland’s successful racers have all raced and ridden at this forest at some point. There were trails everywhere and the race provided a good mix of manmade and natural terrain. The wet June weather that most of Europe seems to have been having certainly didn’t miss Ireland as there were waterfalls just appearing out of the banks at regular intervals. A lap of the course was nothing other than survival.
I have not ridden in such wet, muddy and tricky conditions for a long time. Just keeping speed and keeping both feet on the pedals was the key to putting in a good time. As soon as you made a mistake it was so hard to get going again. After 350 riders had all done a practice lap the condition of the trails by Sunday certainly deteriorated a little and with the rain finally stopping for race day the mud started to thicken up and slow you down a little more.
I started out early and with no stage start times you could take as long as you liked to get around the loop, but I chose to keep moving as once I was wet and muddy I wanted to keep moving and stay warm. I got better as the day progressed I think getting used to the conditions a little and I managed to stay upright all day however I never really felt as though I was racing, it felt a little more like just riding the trails. I think that feeling was the same for everyone and I was happy to finish up in one piece with decent time, good enough to win the women’s category and 16th overall.
Massive thanks to Niall and all the Gravity Enduro Ireland crew for a great weekend. To put on such a slick event in conditions like this is testament to a very well run event. The timing system was impressive as an instant print out of your times popped out as soon as you handed in your chip. A great event and hopefully I will not take so long to make my second trip over the water for another round later in the year.