We’re a bit starved of gravity style mountain bike racing down here in Cornwall unfortunately. Well, almost…the folks down at Falmouth Bike Park put on excellent nationally recognised 4X racing which is awesome and the folks at Dept. 26 put on a great local enduro race up at Bude, but that’s having a break this year. But for up and coming downhillers, a trip across the River Tamar to Gawton Gravity Hub and the Woodlands Winter DH Series is the nearest place to get a downhill race fix. Ok, so it’s only just the other side of the border, but still…that’s Devon.
After a test event a year ago, Edge Cycles nearby set up a three race grassroots Downhill series for 2018, aka Black Bee DH Series. Based in the grounds of Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, right on the south-east edge of the county, it’s only a stone’s throw from the busy Naval port of Devonport and the city of Plymouth on the other side of the Tamar. Ok so it’s only just this side of the border, but still…it’s ‘Kernow’.
I couldn’t make the first two races of the series earlier in the year and wasn’t originally going to be doing this one either, as Round 4 of the Welsh Gravity Enduro Series was the same day at Eastridge which i was going to do, but family commitments meant I couldn’t commit to it early enough. In fact, with family holidays and other stuff going on, I literally hadn’t touched my Rallon since the end of July. So getting a ‘free pass’ for the weekend on the Friday, I got myself entered into the final race of the Black Bee Series and was looking forward to not only racing at a new location, but just going to a location I’d not been to before and riding my bike.
Located on a south-facing grassy hillside overlooking the English Channel (do the French still call it the English Channel…or is it ‘Channel du Rosbif’ perhaps?!), the course was taped out with a couple of switchback turns near the top, followed by an off-camber downslope into a slightly awkward tight left hander which fired riders on to a double track sprint. Slamming on the brakes, it shot into the woods and a slow, tight slalom section through the trees, into possibly the trickiest feature of the course, a loose, blind off-camber left turn drop around a tree. Off the brakes and the track ended with a couple of fast wide open turns to the finish line. It took just over a minute to get down and although easy enough for beginners to ride, a couple of corners were tricky to get right at race speed, even for experienced racers.
A couple of hours of practice in the blazing late summer sunshine and then into race runs in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the turn-out was fairly low with 32 riders racing – the date clash with the Welsh Gravity Enduro Series kept a few local riders away, and the UCI DH World Champs on ‘TV’, might have had an effect also – but it did mean we got three race runs each to put in our fastest times, rather than the scheduled two. My first race run was a 1:10:533, with a near tank-slapper coming onto the fireroad sprint, putting me in third place in Master behind local ex-elite pinner, Ash Mullane and 4X racer Tristan Easterbrook on his new 29er Orbea Rallon from Unit Cycles. I knew after the first run that I wouldn’t be catching those two so hoped to maintain my third place. My second run was clean with a 1:08:052 and although having another moment in the tree slalom section on my third and final run, I still went quicker with a 1:07:579, meaning I kept the final podium spot just ahead of Cranked Bikes owner Steve Harris, who put down some fast runs to keep me on my toes.
So, yeah, finished with a rare podium which was awesome. The podium prizes consisted of bottles of ale (except for the under 18’s of course!), jars of honey and packets of pork scratchings – a little unusual but just the diet for grassroots downhillers maybe?! I’ve only podiumed twice previously and the prizes then, although gratefully received, were frankly useless for me personally (a mudguard that wouldn’t fit my bike and a chain cleaner when I already had one), so a bottle of IPA is actually something I will enjoy using!
A good day out with a hugely relaxed atmosphere and great to see racers of all abilities, just out having fun in the sun. It sounds like there will be more MTB races at the park next year although possibly not downhill, but it will depend on a good turnout. Perhaps the £30 entry fee might have put some off seeing as it’s a short track on a small hillside (Edit: it’s £25 entry via the British Cycling website beforehand though) but I think it’s important to remember that although it’s a short track, the race was a British Cycling DH event with commissionaires to ensure full rider safety which would have cost no doubt, and of course, it’s was the only official DH race series in Cornwall this year. It’s important us local riders support these grassroots events whenever possible to keep them going as they help new racers regardless of age and ability to get some race experience in…plus they’re just damn good fun anyway regardless!
So if you’re thinking of taking part in your first gravity race and you live in Cornwall or south Devon, it’s well worth giving them a go next time. Top work to Edge Cycles for putting on the event and hope to see more gravity racing next year. Cheers!