At last year’s HellRider Adventure Duathlon, Nikalas Cook took second spot in the solo race. Here he talks to TrailPlus course designer Ian Atkinson about constructing the perfect race course, the race’s move to a new venue in Henley and hopefully getting some heads-up knowledge that might help him move up one spot on the podium.
Nikalas Cook: How did you get involved with TrailPlus and course designing?
Ian Atkinson: I was involved with TrailPlus almost from day one. The company started out doing Adventure Racing training camps in the Lakes and I went along to one for a laugh. I obviously rode alright, ended up teaching at subsequent camps and that then led to me designing the race courses.
NC: What do you look for in a bike course for an event like HellRider or the Adventure Challenge Series?
IA: Variety more than anything else. There are usually big numbers at the events so I always try and have an open flowing start. I’ll then always try and include sections of singletrack but I also like to throw in areas where people have to choose their own lines and give racers something that they haven’t done before.
NC: It must be a big challenge making a course that’s interesting for more experienced riders but not intimidating for novices. How do you do that?
IA: My golden rule is that it has to be rideable across the field. If they out in a bit of effort, they can do it. I might include some rollers and doubles that novices can just roll over but which the faster guys will be able to gap. It’s about hitting that middle ground and setting a trail that becomes more interesting and challenging the faster you ride it. I know what works, it’s just sometimes a challenge finding it.
NC: You’re a mountain biker yourself, where are your favourite trails and where’s your favourite race location?
IA: When I’ve got time to ride, I don’t really care as long as I’m riding. I’m from the Lakes though so I guess that’d be my personal choice. It’s a really hard area for races though as it’s tough on novices. My favourite for races has to be Hawley in Surrey. It’s not massively hilly but the terrain is really varied and there are always lots of nice little bits to discover.
NC: The venue for HellRider is changing to the Hambleden Estate near Henley. Have you had a chance to have a look yet and any thoughts what the course will be like?
IA: We’ve done a few running events from there so I’ve got a good idea. There are some very hard hills, so finding the right balance to keep all abilities happy will be a challenge. There’s no real singletrack at the moment so I’m going to have to create some.
NC: From racing last year, the course was bang on. I found something new or a better line on each of my eight bike laps, you had a nice descent into transition to catch your breath and a slow grind out which let you take food onboard. How will this year’s compare?
IA: I’m really hoping it’ll be similar. It’s only just down the road so the terrain isn’t wildly different. I’ll definitely give it the same feel early on the lap to break the field up a bit but this year there’s going to be a technical section near the finish that’ll add another dimension.
NC: Well, from my point of view coming from the Peak District, the hillier and more technical the better!
IA: (laughing) I’ll bear that in mind but I’m not sure everyone will feel like that!
NC: Last year’s race was on the last day of the summer, the day before the Jubilee and on bone-dry fast trails. When I used to live in London I used to ride a fair bit in the area and it can get claggy and slippery in the wet. Do you think it’ll be okay if it’s a wet one?
IA: The steepness of the hills means it’ll be well drained and I always give myself room to tweak the course to the weather conditions. If I have to ease a corner on a descent, I will, I always build options in. We had to completely re-hash the course at the recent Grizedale race because of the snow and that still went ahead and people enjoyed themselves.
This year’s HellRider Adventure Challenge Duathlon takes place on Saturday 11th May at the Hambledon Estate Nr Henley on Thames. There’s camping and showers onsite as well as live music, food and a bar. You can enter as a solo racer or in teams of three or five people. If you don’t fancy the running, for the first time this year there’s a bike only race, which would be ideal preparation if you’re thinking of one of the 12 or 24 hour MTB races later in the year.
For details go to www.hellrider.co.uk