Rachael Gurney, who has been reporting back from MTB races over the winter, decided to try and deal with her pre-race jitters by taking on a relaxed and fun local Downhill MTB race – round 1 of the Tavi Woodlands DH series in Tavistock.
“A last minute decision took me and my boyfriend to round one of the Tavi Woodlands DH winter series near Tavistock, Devon.
Organised by Chaz of Woodland Riders Racing, a friend recommended this to us as another relaxed DH race that would be lots of fun. It was both of those things! This race comprised of one day only, Sunday holding both practice and the race. The race format was the same as the Mini DH series events, with practice Sunday morning and then two timed runs in the afternoon. The fastest run is the run that counts.
The course was about 1 minute 30 seconds in riding time, again similar to the Mini DH. Having never ridden in this location before I wasn’t sure what I could expect of the track…roots, roots and more roots was what I found! The ground was also a lot wetter and muddier than I had envisioned it would be after all the dry weather we have had lately.
We walked the track on arrival, something I didn’t do at the Forest of Dean Mini DH event I rode recently. Walking the course at a DH race is invaluable; it gives you time to really study the track, imprint it to your memory and start to make a plan for when you first ride down. I saw the lines I wanted to take and picked out entry and exit points for the corners.
The following elements are the things I looked out for on the track walk, noted down, and worked out how to ride. When you do a track walk, you need to try and remember the main features you’re going to encounter, what lines to take, what kind of speed to approach things at, etc., and have this all in your head so when you race down you know what’s coming and you’re prepared.
The course began on a small start ramp, into two pedally corners which were very squidgy. In fact, the second corner got rutted out so much that by the end of the day the rut people were riding in had been pushed outside the tape! The track then flowed over some roots (this would be the theme of the day!) into another corner with a very small berm to push into. The trick here was to do all your turning in this berm and pop out to ride straight across the roots. This took a bit of practice to get entry and exit speeds right and not slide out.
The track then ran straight down towards the first fire road crossing via a small drop-off, but this could be avoided by taking an alternative longer route to the right of it. Riding the drop-off meant aiming to travel far and fast enough that you landed past the short flat bit and on the downslope to the fire road in order to maintain speed.
Across the fire road and back into the woods, a right hand berm caught you nicely. Then come two sets of closely set trees to navigate over some gnarly roots. This part of the track was the trickiest in my opinion. The trees were so close together – not even a bars width apart! This meant I needed to enter on the right and zigzag through them.
Out into the open again, the next test was a tricky, narrow roller over a drop. It’s hard to describe but this is basically a 5-foot drop off with an alternative line built into the right hand side, which you could roll down instead of dropping off. This line was less than a foot wide however and you couldn’t see it until you were about to ride over the edge, so it was a real test of willpower, trusting you’d sighted the line correctly in order to ride it quickly.
The second half of the track became increasingly rocky rather than rooty, which was a welcome change. Riding across another fire road, two steps took you down into right hand berm, which then pointed you towards a loose left hander over a lot of shale which then quickly dropped away in a step built by, you guessed it, more roots!
Nearly at the finish line now the track crossed the fire road for the third time delving back into the trees with a log roller followed by a short berm spitting you out onto a criss-cross lattice of roots. In practice I couldn’t make head nor tail of this section so I just decided to let go of the brakes, see what the bike did and ride it out; it seemed to work!
Time to race!
By 1230hrs it was race time, with the Female category the fifth category to race. Before us ran the Rippers, Female Under 14, Juvenile and those riding hardtail rather than full suspension MTBs.
Speaking of the Female Under 14’s – their class was bigger than the Female category, with five in that category vs. three in ours!
My first run down was, as if increasingly normal for me, abysmal. I hit my handlebars on those tight trees in the middle section of the course and went down!
Heather Kay, riding a hardtail, made it down in 1:18:449, which turned out to be her winning run for the day. My second race run was slightly improved giving me 2nd place with a 1:25:221. I was still cautious through those nasty trees though, which undoubtedly slowed me up. I have to hand it to Heather though, she had a fantastic ride and it appears riding a hardtail suits her!
The female under 14’s was a tight competition, the eventual winner was Madison Burley followed closely by Megan Wherry (Katy Curd Racing / Thirty7even) and then in third place Maya Atkinson. If all these girls continue riding as they are they are surely going to be the new stars of DH racing. I wish I were doing what they are doing when I was their age!
To finish the day off, some of the guys put on a small scale ‘whip off’. This basically consists of riders riding one after another over the same jump and showing off their skills. A small plateau on the side of the hill, part of the old quarry was the perfect site for this with plenty of spectator space. A perfect end to a brilliant day, capturing the spirit of the race.
All in all, this was a relaxed and fun event. It had plenty of locals racing which made for a good atmosphere with cheers echoing around the woods all day. This location has a lot to offer in terms of downhill riding and would be excellent for a day out in order to session bits and improve your riding.