Due to this race being just after the Easter Holidays, I was able to arrange a little practice at the venue in advance. So, the Monday before the race I headed up to Dunkeld. The weather was glorious – sunny, no wind and 16 degrees. The course conditions were ideal with dry dust and grip galour. I was feeling super confident and hitting all of the lines I’d considered treacherous last year with no hesitation.
Nics does not like Dunkeld. We rode it last year for the Scottish Champs and she was pushed beyond her risk comfort limits by its consistently steep gradient and its many, many smashy face rocks.
The SDA put in a lot of work on the course to try to make it more approachable for various levels of ability and the course was meeting their goal by the bucket load, in the dry. So under that guise, Nics was convinced to enter on Monday, and admittedly, I backed up the assertion that the course was sound.
Typically, this is Scotland and ideal conditions never last for long. The rain set in for the rest of the week and the course that was being touted as ‘improved and easier’ when dry was transformed into the regular beast of Dunkeld from downhill mountain biking lore.
Our practice day didn’t start well, with the both of us acting more amateur than we actually are. I was trying to ride completely disfunctional shoes (broken laces all over the place) which required one of Nic’s fabulous modifications to actually stay on my feet and Nics was all set to roll with the front wheel of her bike in the wrong way – thank heavens she noticed straight away and rectified it! To make matters worse, the rain was on L
Our practice runs confirmed all of the possible nightmares about the course. All of the very steep bits were still present. All of the smashy face rocks were still present. The only notable additions to the course was foot deep mud for ¾ of the track which was getting thicker and deeper with each set of tyre tracks.
After a few practice runs, Nics confirmed that she still did not like Dunkeld and would not be racing. She wasn’t the only one. Men, women and kids from all categories were calling it a write off due to the brutal nature of the course.
The course got worse over night with more rain coming down before race day.
I got there early and my friend Debs, who proved at the last round to be quite speedy, was keen to meet up for a practice run. She hadn’t managed to find a way down parts of the hill and was looking to practice some lines together. We went up for our first practice run, and sat there for over an hour due to a red flag. We barely had time to put in a practice run, having to rush down the hill. When trying to get through one of the trickiest sections, Debs had an off. It was the final straw and she decided that her health was more important than racing this course. The women’s field was getting smaller and smaller as the time went on.
I fired back up the hill for my first race run and got there just in time. I was super smooth but felt horribly slow down this run but managed to lace together my first and only clean run of the hill for the whole weekend. The course was getting worse, the weather was dry so the course was getting sticky, huge sloughs of deep mud glooping and sticking to everything. It was very physically punishing.
By the time we got on the cattle truck for the 2nd race runs, there were only 6 women left and of those 6, only 5 would complete the final run.
My 2nd race run was better to start, I was flying down the steep top section and carried far more speed in the super sludgy drop/corner of doom. However, I didn’t carry any speed through the next section, went over the bars from a complete stop (which is pretty embarrassing – there are surely photos of this somewhere as well L ). I got over taken by Jess Stone, the super fast elite rider but even the elites weren’t protected from the crazy nature of the course. As I went over the next drop, I came across Jess on the ground, just starting to get back up – I managed to ride around her and continue down the course. It was still a slow rubbish run and I was smeared with mud but totally delighted to have made it down the course twice safely.
Knowing the two extremes of what the Dunkeld race course is like, I now know that I would happily race it in either, although I much prefer the dry.
The official times have finally been posted and I placed 2nd in Senior Women (my first podium of the year J) and am now sitting in 2nd for the series. Unfortunately, the podium photos will need to wait until the next round as due to timing problems, they were postponed. Here’s looking forward to the next adventure which will be my first stab at a British Downhill Series event.
Well done to the organisers and volunteers of the SDA who kept the race going despite the weather playing mayhem with everything from the buses to the timers and thanks to Grease Monkey Cycles for fixing my bike up so it can hit Fort William in two weeks! – Sandy