You lucky blog readers.. Today you get a break from me and you get the one and only Keeny giving you all the DH blogging action you can handle. As you will read Keeny hasn't been too well but now he is getting back on the bike there will be more stories from the man himself.
As this is my first blog on here I think a bit of an intro is in order. I'm Alastair 'Keeny' keen and can normally be found behind the front desk at John Aktins Cycles or riding 4X for Wideopenmag.co.uk (plug!) but this year I'm adding another feather to my cap in the form of riding DH for John Atkins Cycles on the new team Trek Session DH bike!
I've not had the best start to the year so far with a mixture of illness and a recent fairly small crash leaving me with fairly major internal injuries keeping me off the bike and forcing me to miss the inaugural British 4x last weekend (1st national I've missed in 5 years). So despite some common sense and doctors orders I headed down to Taff Buggy in south Wales this weekend for my first major DH race in a 6 months and only 2nd time riding this bike but itching to be back on 2 wheels.
After a 6 am start to the day I arrived to a dry and overcast venue and headed straight down the hill to check out the track. Now the course at Taff is a bit of an odd one, it's made up of a series of pedally sections connected with chutes and drops interspersed with jumps and berms all scattered with rocks of varying sizes. That may not sound overly impressive and is a pain in the lungs but makes for a really fun course.
Course walk done and time to enter and get ready! Having got there silly early I had plenty time hanging round so went and found a couple familiar faces Seb Frost creator of the awesome rootsandrain.co.uk and fellow chicken lover Jess Greaves. Much tyre debate and faffing from Seb later we headed off for practice, a quick bit of complaining about helmet cams from the man from BC and Seb led us off:
As soon as I hit the first corner a winter of not having a DH bike and lack of recent riding caught up with me, I was all over the place and wasn't even going that fast! Rolling down, missing drops and hitting corners square on was really messing my head up even more than my lingering injuries. If you've ever ridden DH you know it's all in your head and the smallest lack of confidence really messes you up and it really was.
After a very slow start to the uplift we got another 2 runs in before the end of practice and I was feeling quicker (relatively) on the rough sections but the tail end of a chest infection was destroying me on the sprint sections. Now came the worse part of racing DH, the hanging around before your run! There never seems to be as much in 4x probably because there's more shorter races and no uplift which gives you minutes rather than hours of waiting around.
Race run 1 came round and despite the lack of a start gate I started as I meant to go on with a good sprint from the line, hitting the left right left right corners down the field all was going well, at least in term of me staying on the bike (I've got a habit of not doing this in race runs) 2:23 minutes of cautious riding and panting later and I was over the line. I'd like to say that was a good time but it really wasn't in anyones book!
Back to the top and more hanging around before run 2. After either me misreading or someone not posting the right start times I missed my start slot (1st time in 12 years racing) meaning I had to wait until the end and was last senior down. This time I went for it a bit harder and even did the wall drop that had been psyching me out all morning, but alas a stronger headwind and lack of confidence left me only 3 seconds quicker. All done and dusted I came 47th out of 49 in seniors which sounds bad (and it is) but still an improvement on this race last year where 2 crashes in both race runs and me giving up to do whips and manuals left me stone dead last haha.
Being a bank holiday weekend gave me an extra day to redeem my riding and I headed down to the Forest of Dean for some more time on a big bike. Conditions couldnt have been more different from Taff where there was a lack of grip due to the amount of dust now there was a major lack of visibility due to the overnight torrential rain turning the courses into puddles and streams. As I turned up just after lunch there happened to be a spare seat going on the regular local uplift from the flyupdownhill guys which made life a lot easier not pushing up in soaking kit!
Running a set of full mud spikes meant there was plenty grip until I hit a wet root or rock at the wrong angle which made it a much more fun day hoping and drifting my way down the hill. Personally I think riding in these conditions is WAAY more fun than the dry even if you can't see where you're going just because you can get a slide on at any point and any speed so even easy sections become a bit tricky and it's so satisfying blasting through puddles like a kid in wellies :)
Many runs and a lot of standing water later that was the end of the weekends riding and even with one of my worst ever results I was soo happy to be back on a bike and having fun!
Big thanks to the MIJ Racing guys for putting the race on, Simon from FlyUp for fitting me on and keeping going when I was the only person still riding, Wideopen mag and Drift Innovations for the helmet cam and of course John Atkins for the loan of the bike for the year as well as putting up with me only being half awake at work tomorrow!
and yes that is my finger in the top right corner of the picture...