11.007 – “Faster than a Cheetah on Cocaine”

I watched in silence as the lad rolled up to the edge and flicked his back wheel round to set up for the drop, for what may have been the fifteenth time in a row. He breathed in deeply as he took a split second to look at it once more, gritted his teeth and plummeted into the cold, wet dark that waited on the other side of that 13 foot drop – it hadn’t been named “Worry Gill” without good reason.

After a some hard races recently and two punctures last time out I really wanted to get a good result in this weekend, especially as it involved an eleven hour round trip of about 600 miles to get there and back. I was apprehensive on the journey up and didn’t want to consider all of the ifs and maybes that were in my head…“That’s the way it goes sometimes, but don’t forget, it goes the other way too.”* Clarence was right, something about this weekend felt good.

Friday night was the first time I’d seen the massive block of sandstone that lipped the edge of Worry Gill and it was crucial for Sunday’s race for me to get my head around the trail as early as possible. Just one lap on the Friday evening stores the track in your head as you sleep – that way when it comes to Saturday practice you already feel like you know the place.

The cool grey sky of Friday was replaced by the warm blue shimmer of Saturday morning and a breakfast of pasta, followed by rice pudding and then the moment I’d been anticipating, excited about and slightly fearful of for the last week – as he strode up, with a big hand extended toward me “the man with the fastest sideburns in bike racing” truly lived up to his name. I’d heard that Geoff Kabush would be racing here in preparation for the World Cup round that will take place here in five weeks time, but I hadn’t dared to believe that he may accept my request for a practice lap interview for British Cycling.

Once I’d got my head around riding with a legend of the sport I put my Friday night lap into work as I desperately tried to hold Geoff’s wheel through the first rock garden. The pro’s fly through the whoops and as I hit the first one (completely out of control and way too far over the front), Geoff was already hooking his front wheel over the last and setting up for the next berm. It was clear that for this track you’d need world class 4X skills.

We did the first bit of the interview at the top of Worry Gill and Geoff talked us through which line would be fastest – I couldn’t stop thinking quietly to myself about which line may be less likely to help me stay clear of A&E rather than which may be fastest, but I nodded along with what he said! Last night, the guy I’d watched eventually struggle over the sharp lip and down into the murky boulder strewn chasm below had impressed me with his sheer tenacity as well as his skill. Today, Geoff grinned at me, clipped in to his pedals and soared into the abyss as I and several others looked on in complete wonderment – you’ll need some world class DH skills then as well!

We scurried to the bottom of the gill that the previous section gets its name from and on to the other make or break section. Medusa’s Drop was as twisted as the snake like roots that litter it and had cast my bike into a million confused shapes the night before. I’d barely had time to get the camera out by the time Kabush was gracefully sliding over the roots and troughs with pin point accuracy. It was not easy to ride through Medusa’s and even less so to do it with as much style as the pro’s but the chicken run would cost you about ten seconds per lap and when it came to the race I worked hard to employ the final piece of the jigsaw – Mr.Kabush’s world class XC skills.

And so onto the race itself – I’d gone back over the lines that Geoff had shown me several times the day before with several different set-ups and was finally happy with what I had. With half an hour to go I swapped my number back onto my Kona full suspension chassis that I’d be using along with fairly hard Fox suspension, but a lot less air in my Schwalbe tyres than usual (about 15psi less). By this point there’s not much left to do but get warmed up. Your legs are either good or not good enough, along with your bike set-up and your mood, but I had a good feeling about today and was oddly relaxed.

Down the first straight we went and I got my customary awful start, having chosen the inside line I was completely boxed in and then everyone seemed to hit the brakes and sit up! I had nowhere to go and to make matters worse I could sense a ton of riders getting round the outside before we finally hit the first rocky section, which turned out to be a procession with a lot of the slower riders now in front. But no bother I sprinted past three or four on the next straight and nailed the whoops to make up another place. Unfortunately this was when someone decided to crash at the next bottleneck and a whole group of us had nothing to do but stop and then clamber round. This would insure that my first lap was the slowest by half a minute!

The second and third laps were a different story and I was making both time and places back at a fair old lick before the chaos of the pro’s lapping us began. I was descending well and I had been worried about the full suspension frame on the climbs, but each time I hit the “pro pedal” setting and seemed to just breeze up. Medusa’s didn’t seem to faze me and the chicken route around Worry Gill was working because it actually didn’t lose you any time and was a lot safer.

At the end of the third lap I’d been fighting with three other riders for two laps and I knew now was the time to fire it up. I gave it my all into the arena and didn’t look back. At the first feed zone on the last lap I looked round and all I could see was Geoff Kabush heading toward me like a rocket ship and with a grin he and Oli Beckinsale came through. This was perfect, I had the gap I needed over my closest rivals and two killer wheels to follow, so again I pushed hard to stay with them for the next kilometre, blasting past two more sport racers in the process! When I finally throttled back a bit, a swarm of elite riders came through and spurred me on.

The final climb into the arena was agony – my legs, heavy with lactic acid after working so hard in the heat had had enough and my brain was equally sizzled. I didn’t know it at the time but I was only about fifteen seconds off 19th place which would have been good, but 20th place in a national would be my best result for a long time at that level so I was very satisfied. Chatting afterwards to a couple of the guys, confirmed how fast the pace had been and how brutal the course was – we were in agreement with the UCI about Dalby being the number one race course in the world and I found another track that I love. “Yup, nice day for a bike race”, see you in five weeks for the World Cup Yorkshire!

Enjoi.

G x

(Footnote 1; All views and opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Cotswold Outdoor or any other associated body.)

(Footnote 2; *Quote comes from True Romance, courtesy of Morgan Creek Productions 1993)

(Footnote 3; My thanks go out to Geoff Kabush and Rocky Mountain Bicycles for being so generous with the time they gave me and four others on Saturday morning – Geoff is not only a legend of the sport, but a genuinely brilliant bloke and it was a pleasure to learn from the best. He summed it up perfectly after winning the elite race on Sunday when he smiled, shook my hand and said “Yup, nice day for a bike race”!)

(Footnote 4; …and finally thank-you to TORQ Performance for their continued support of TheÆightBicycleCømpany as well as Cotswold Outdoor, Kona Bikes, Schwalbe Tyres, Fox Suspension, Rohloff Transmission, Adidas Outdoor and Adidas Eyewear for their valued backing. 

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