I don’t know about you but for me, when it comes to riding bikes, there isn’t much to look forward to as winter creeps in. It’s cold (but never cold enough for snow these days), grey, damp and the days are too damn short. Some riders love autumn as a season to ride in, some even think it’s the best…but I don’t.

That said, there is one thing to look forward to if you’re a gravity racer in the Southwest, and that’s the start of the Woodlands Racing Winter DH series at Gawton. Getting together with 170 other riders to race bikes down greasy, leaf covered downhill trails, is definitely a good way of getting you through the winter and gives you something to look forward to for sure until the sun returns.

I raced the first two rounds of the series last year, and was stoked to grab a 5th place in Masters at the first round on ‘HSD’ so with the first round being on the same track this year, I was hoping for another good result this time around. With an hour and a half drive to Gawton from home and track walk open from 8am, it was going to be an early start for me, but fortunately, time was on my side with British Summer Time buggering off on holiday for six months that morning, leaving unloved GMT hanging around, so the early start wasn’t quite as early as it could have been.

As last time, I turned up, got myself registered and walked the track. It was 99% the same as last year with the only real difference being the option of a small stump jumper (hold up…that would make a great name for a bike!…write that down) near the top. The trickiest section of the course was still the off-camber, rooty ‘bus stop’ section half way down, otherwise it was largely HSD hardpack all the way.

Grease lightening

With practice open from 9.30am, I did a couple of runs down to start with. As usual, the first run felt crap due to not being warmed up or in a racey frame of mind yet but keeping to my ‘enduro’ background, pedalling back to the top in between soon got the body and mind a bit more in tune with the conditions. As for the bike, a drop in front tyre pressure, a couple of clicks less of low speed compression on the fork and a couple of clicks slower on the shock rebound and the Rallon was sliding a lot less through the greasy corners and feeling planted off the drops. Hooking up with Southwest Syndicate team mate, Lawrence, we then smashed out another 4 winch & plummet practice runs with me trying to focus on keeping the speed and flow going in the top half, and then trying to get the bus stop right as I kept paying too much attention to hitting the narrow entry and not so much to the best line over the roots.

The ‘bus stop’. Looks easy…

Into the race run and it wasn’t a good start. Out of the gate, I struggled to clip my left foot into the pedal for the first 10 metres or so for some reason so it was a slow get away. The rest of the run went well and I got myself through the bus stop with no issues but then as I got to the end of the run, I made the dumbass mistake of thinking I knew where the finish line was (before the final berm, where it was last year), rather than where the fecking thing actually was (after the berm). As a result, I lost a few seconds as I backed off and cruised around the corner like a pensioner out for a Sunday drive and dropped in a time of 2 mins, putting me in 15th. Frustrating but I knew a clean 2nd run would be much quicker.

Photo: Chris Davison Photography

A much better start for the second run and I felt quick through the first half…all was going well. Until that bloody bus stop. As I hooked up into it, the front wheel slid on a root and then the bike stopped dead with me close to being thrown out the front quicker than Jazzy Jeff in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In general life, bus stops are good places to get off and continue your journey with a nice walk, you know – to the shops, to work, to stagger in the vague direction of home after a night out on the Jagerbombs, but in the middle of a downhill race after a poor first run…not quite so good. So an attempt followed to tripod the rest of the section with Usain Bolt-like speed (I did say attempt) and then back on the pedals to salvage something of the run…at least this time I remembered to keep going until the actual finish line. Six seconds slower on that run was no surprise, so my first run time put me in 19th overall in the end and way down on where I wanted.

So race-wise, a disappointing one for me but the Yin and Yang effect saw Lawrence take 2nd place in Seniors, smashing 3 seconds off his first run time so a great result for the team there.

Big thanks to Chaz Lamley for the great organisation as usual. Round 2 is in a month’s time but switching over from Gawton to the Woodlands site, which I haven’t ridden for years. A potentially expensive month coming up for me but hopefully there’ll be some dolla bills left over to get in for some more winter craic…and to get me through that GMT – ‘Grim Meteorological Time’.

Velo-Smith | RSF Suspension Specialists | Southwest Syndicate

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2 thoughts on “Race report: Woodlands Winter Downhill Series 2017 – Round 1

    1. Cheers Phil. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this time of year…I’m just MUCH prefer it when the sun is out and warm. My other half is the opposite, she loves autumn/winter!

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