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Manon Carpenter: Pump track antics & inspiration at the London Bike Show

Saracen rider Manon Carpenter spent last weekend racing against the boys at the London Bike Show – and thrashing most of them.

Getting up at five in the morning and riding to the nearest train station in the cold, dark and snow to get a 6 o’clock train for a 4 and a half hour journey to London might seem like hell to most people; but as soon as I got out of the house and started riding down the icy hill to the station Mega-avalanche style it felt more like an adventure than a drag. It’s definitely a good way to wake up in the morning anyway.

I’m on the Tube. On the poster, not just travelling…

Getting the tube across London with my bike was actually a bit of a mission and I was pretty relieved when I finally made it to the ExCeL where the Bike Show was taking place. If I’d seen this poster on the underground (spotted later on by Jacob Gibbins) it might have made my journey a bit more interesting!

London Bike Show Day 1

I turned up late so by the time I found the pumptrack area (after a few accidental detours through the Boat and Travel Shows) people were already riding. The pumptrack was made up of wooden segments, designed really well with smooth rollers and curved berms so riders were absolutely flying round. First few laps of practice felt as crazy as the last race laps. All it took was a couple of good pumps over the rollers and you were straight up to speed. The near-vertical berms spat you out at all angles so if you didn’t react quick enough you were sent careering off the track!

Straightening up out of a corner with my go faster reflector tyres… Figured if we were racing against the boys I may as well come prepared!

After practice we went for an explore round the show. It was fun to catch up with everyone from Madison Saracen and riders who were there chatting up sponsors with their CV’s (ahem, Jono Jones 😉 ) and Katy made the most of the free sweets being given out on most stands! The Saracen Bikes stand looked amazing and I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on the new team bikes which are going to look just as good:

‘My’ bikes – I’ve gotta sneak a photo of these lovelies in.

Saturday was definitely the busiest day for the pumptrack challenge and soon there were so many quick riders signed up the competition was getting tough! Only the top 10 from the qualifying round would go through to the final round and we only got one run so everyone was pretty nervous. I wasn’t expecting to get into the top 10 at all that day but I had made a few bets with other riders who I wanted to beat and there were so many people watching so the pressure was still on!

Setting off for a lap in front of the crowd… Concentration face

Qualifying got pretty tense for me. Amazingly after everyone had done a lap I was still in ninth position with a decent time of 8.40 seconds, but a couple of people had to have re runs after they got spat out of the last corner off balance and missed the timing beams completely.

Actually, tense is an understatement – I wanted to qualify with the boys so badly! Slowly I got pushed down to tenth position with one rider to go. As Christian was coming round the last two corners I couldn’t look at the clock until it stopped… at 8.48 seconds. I was so excited to have qualified overall and shown some of the lads up, I couldn’t help making the most of it and dishing out some abuse. I thought it was pretty funny when Scott Beaumont said I liked battering guys’ egos. It’s all friendly banter… kind of 😉

That night Chris Roberts very kindly sorted us out a hotel room which involved kicking Olly Wilkins and his girlfriend out of the room they had stayed in the night before. They’d obviously had a heavy night so Olly left us a lovely message apologising for the state of the room…

As soon as we saw the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the floor outside the door we knew we were in for trouble. From the design of the shower I’m sure (well, I hope) Olly hadn’t pooed in it but I was still pretty nervous getting in and gave it a good rinse out first just in case!! It’s also not the first time I’ve had to use a T-Shirt for a towel but it definitely doesn’t get any better the more you do it…

London Bike Show Day 2

By Sunday it was snowing again but that didn’t stop more people turning up to the show. I think that was one of the things that made the show so much fun.

The Animal Bike Tour was next door to the pump track and before qualifying and finals on the pumptrack they would have a display with Blake Samson and Martyn Ashton getting rad, then everyone would head straight over to us and watch the fun!

Blake spinning his Saracen ALX…
And Martyn just being ridiculous!

At first we thought there weren’t going to be many people racing on Sunday but by afternoon there were plenty of quick 4x racers and Brendan Fairclough turned up again for a second round with his brother Christian and the S4P gang, so again there was plenty of competition.

At dinner the night before I’d been set a goal of getting under 8 seconds which I thought I could get with a good lap, it was just a matter of staying in a straight line which is easier said than done on that track. During practice I was feeling quick and putting the effort in but I wasn’t expecting to do quite as well as I did…

This made me very happy!

This time we didn’t have qualifying, we just went straight through to the final where we had three laps to set our best time. Yet again, everyone was feeling the pressure. It’s crazy how nerve-wracking a pumptrack race can be and every time I finished a lap my hands were shaking and my legs felt like jelly.

I beat my goal of a sub-8 second lap on my first attempt, beating the first few riders that had already gone and shocking myself as well as a few others. After the first round I was in third position behind Brendan and Tom Dowie and I was hungry… I wanted a podium.

However a few people hadn’t placed times in the first round so by the end of the second round I’d been pushed down to fifth by Scott Beaumont and Arthur Cotterell. I’ve got to say here that Brendan was looking ridiculously fast, like in a totally different league. It’s mad how someone riding around in circles on a wooden track can look so impressive!

Brendan ripping around the track with Dan Jarvis on the mic

The problem with beating my goal for that day in the first round meant that I wasn’t happy with it anymore. Top three had been dangled in front of my face and I wanted it. I wasn’t too far behind Scott but I’d have to find 0.2 to beat Arthur which is hard on such a short track. Third round came around and I was sat on the start. After a warm up lap I got up to speed and went through the beams to start the clock… 7.769 seconds later it stopped when I crossed the line.

It wasn’t enough to put me on the podium but it just about beat Boom Boom’s fastest time, which was pretty crazy in itself. I hadn’t even thought that that might happen, and I’d beaten some other really good riders as well so yet again I was over the moon.

I don’t know what it is that makes beating guys so good; probably the look on their and everyone else’s faces when they realise what’s just happened.

The best part of the day though came just as I was leaving the pumptrack area and a little girl came over to say how fast I’d been that day. I mentioned this to Katy to which she replied, ‘That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?’, which is so right.

I loved the idea that we might have inspired that girl and others to pick up a bike, have a go and see how much fun it is. I love riding bikes; they can give you so much confidence, take you to so many places, and you get to meet all the other lovely people who ride bikes too.

The snow had started falling again so it was time to leave and 36 hours after I left Caerphilly at 6 in the morning I was back on the train home with my steed… I was still really excited from the day’s events, running on a similar high to doing well at a World Cup if I’m honest.

All in all it had been a really good weekend and I’m so glad I decided last minute on Friday night to go. Thanks to Chris Roberts for organising the Pumptrack Challenge and letting me steal some of his photos, Olly for giving up his hotel room for us, Katy and Jake for breakfast Sunday morning and everyone for making it so much fun!

A really good weekend with really good people!

All the best,
Manon

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