What a brilliant way to start December. A downhill race at the Forest of Dean, with a sweet track, dry conditions and 27 girls entered!
Mini Downhill is a scaled down version of the epic races that some of the big names in MTB ride in the UCI DH World Cup Series. Shorter, and less technical, they are accessible to riders with a range of abilities and the marked-out courses are a mixture of rock, rooty sections and flowing corners. They’re all designed to be a lot of fun to ride!
The Mini Downhill Series is organised by Chris Roberts of Naked Racing. If the name’s familiar, that’s because he’s the guy that also sets up Mini Enduro, British 4X and many other races. The events are well organised and run smoothly, always keeping the 300 odd competitors happy.
Mini DH events usually take place over a Saturday and Sunday, with an open practice on the course on Saturday, and bit more practice on Sunday morning and the races themselves kicking off around midday. In some big races you might have a qualifying or seeding run, but in all others you just have two timed race runs.
Each rider is given a start time for their first race run. Once these are all completed, riders are usually re-organised from slowest to fastest, with the quickest rider going last, for the final race run.
You will complete the two race runs, with your slowest time disregarded so it’s simply your fastest time that counts. The fastest person over all wins the event.
One of the great things about the Mini DH events is that the practice on the Saturday often includes a track walk just for the girls, led by 4X world champion Katy Curd.
Sadly, due to work commitments I wasn’t able to get to the Forest of Dean for the Saturday practice session, but by all accounts it was a great day. Katy would have picked out some great alternative lines, which really get you thinking outside the box when it comes to riding the track.
I travelled up on Sunday and seeing as we hadn’t seen the track yet let alone practice, my boyfriend and I wanted to be there nice and early. This meant leaving from Dorset at 4.30am! As the day dawned it turned out to be overcast and chilly, but thankfully dry.
We arrived, collected our race numbers, and headed straight up the hill for a first look at the track.
One of the great things about this race was the sheer number of women taking part; 27!
This is great news for the sport, and made for a brilliant atmosphere. There were so many girls, and such a vast array of abilities, that the organisers split the women into two categories; Pro-Am for the sponsored riders, and Open for everyone else. I raced in the open category.
‘Ski Run’ was to be the track for this race, and I think it was a great choice – absolutely perfect for this event. It has enough tricky stuff to get you thinking, but every feature on the course was rollable – there was nothing you had to jump off or over. This means it was good fun for all the riders taking part, whatever their level.
It took about a minute and a half to get down the course, with the top section requiring a good few pedal strokes to get you going as it was quite flat. Next up was a small, shallow berm, followed by a right-hander turn that presented a few line options. Some slower but less risky, some required significant guts to go for! After that came a load of roots, a roll-off onto the fire road and another technical section. Finally, a series of berms, tabletops and an optional road gap before two final flowy berms took you over the finish line.
Line choice is critical with downhill racing; some lines – the route you take through a technical section - will be trickier than others, some lines will suit some racers more than others, and some lines are hard to spot without a little guidance. This is why track walks before the race are so useful, and guided ones like Katy leads are brilliant.
Lining up at the top at 11am it was great to see all 27 of us together! I did feel sorry for the poor marshal as she attempted to line us all up in number order.
Some of the girls had other ideas and wanted to go at the back for various reasons, for example so they wouldn’t hold people up. The marshal gave up in the end with an exasperated “Oh, do what you want!"
So we lined ourselves up, and I went in the first few riders, as I wanted to get going. My first run was a disaster; I didn’t concentrate properly and missed a few of my lines. I also washed out and had an ‘off’ coming out of a corner which put me in 9th place. That run was definitely a write off!
After all the other male categories had their first run, it was time for the girls to get to the top again.
We again disrupted the marshal’s plans! Usually racing runs with slowest going down first, and the fastest last - but we decided that didn’t make sense for us so we reversed it; fastest to slowest!
Big thanks to the organisers for that - it made everyone feel much more comfortable knowing that they didn’t have a faster rider breathing down their neck!
I was properly nervous at the top of my second run, as I knew it all counted on this one! I had a good word with myself to calm down and managed to put in a steady and consistent run hitting all the fast lines, including one pointed out to me by pro-rider and coach Ben Deakin; one which I don’t think I would have seen on my own. I put in a good time, and got up into 5th place.
With the women split into two different categories, the top three girls who were all experienced sponsored riders went into the Pro-Am category, so the final results looked like this;
Women’s Pro-Am Category
1st place – Louise Williams – 1:15:23
2nd place – Suzanne Lacey – 1:15:89
3rd place – Hazel Wakefield – 1:19:72
Women’s Open Category
1st place – Louise Davies – 1:25:40
2nd place – Rachael Gurney – 1:25:48
3rd place – Ami Grindley – 1:25:49
Who says women’s racing can’t be close! I have never seen times this close together at this level of event. It’s brilliant, and it makes for great racing for the rest of the season. I was so please with my 2nd place (5th overall) – I really want to be able to catch those Pro-Am girls now!
The Mini Downhill was a great race and is perfect for any first timer or seasoned rider. This was my first proper DH race and the first one on my new Rose Beefcake and I loved every minute of it. All of the girls are all really supportive, chatty and friendly. I had fun catching up with girls I have met previously and I also met some mega cool lady riders for the first time, one of which being Kelli Salone of Dame Cycling.
So girls, the next Mini Downhill race at the Forest of Dean is on the 26th January 2014. How about we aim for 30 girls next time?
...And the best way to find out what it's like? (Other than riding it of course, which we totally recommend!) A video!
This awesome edit, 'Diversity', will give you a taste of the riding, the course, and above all the amazing atmosphere and fun to be had. Get riding, everyone!