MTB Events

My first downhill race: Pagers, mince pies & bricking it

Kath Ronchetti works in a hospital and loves riding bikes, but she’d never actually raced against the clock, on a track with tape, with marshals blowing whistles and a machine that goes beep at the start.

Kath, all smiles after her first ever downhill race. Image: Billy Trailmix

Looking for new challenges Kath decided to take the plunge and race the first round of the 661 Mini Downhill Series at the Forest of Dean.

Did she like it? Did she hate it?

Here’s her story of the emotional roller coaster that was her first ever downhill race.

“Shit! My pager hasn’t gone off!” was my initial thought when I woke up on the morning of my first ever downhill race. I was on call the night before and if I’d been called out in the middle of the night I would have had a perfectly good excuse for not turning up.

For the first time in my working life I was actually a little disappointed that my bleep hadn’t gone off. Oh crap. That means that I’m going to have to do this thing.

As I was lying in bed with my alarm on infinite snoozes I was thinking to myself:

“Why? Why do I want to do this race? Why do I need to race? I’m perfectly happy with my pedalling, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. What does it mean to win or lose? It’ll probably make me feel bad that I’m not as speedy as I thought I was. I don’t ride to win or be the best, I ride because I simply love it.”

Then the “oh shit I’m going to hurt myself” thoughts add weight to the stay in bed argument. This race atmosphere may push me out of my limits causing a massive crash. I’m sooo going to end up in A&E! So why am I bloody going to drag my arse out of bed on this Sunday morning especially when it’s pissing it down outside?

If I had a speech bubble above my head it would have said “Mmm a cup of tea and a blast round some local tracks, yes that would be nice.”

A good turn out from the girls for the first round of the Mini Downhill series at the Forest of Dean. Image: Billy Trailmix

Then the speech bubble burst, so Kath, you’ve had all these negative thoughts telling you a big fat “I said NO”, so let’s just see if I can prove my brain wrong, let’s go and see what happens. As my mother used to tell me ‘you might even enjoy it’.

So up I leapt. This race is ON, let’s do this! Well, after a cup of tea, porridge, eggs benedict, bacon, another cup of tea… and a bit more faffing.

Bricking it

On arrival I was bricking it; the whole noise and atmosphere of the place was doing nothing to calm me.

First run, line choice chit chat. Image: Billy Trailmix

Don’t get me wrong, there was also a part of me that was enjoying the buzz of it too; it’s a fine line between fear and excitement. I signed in, picked up my number plate and mince pie and up I went for the practice runs.

“Just relax and enjoy it,” I was telling myself, “no pressure.”

That day there was a good turnout for the girls, 18 of us, partly due to Diva Descent organising coaching for the girls from pro rider Katy Curd which was fab to see.

Chatting to quite a few of the girls it was their first race too and they were also feeling the nerves. It was a super friendly atmosphere though with a lot of encouragement between us, which made the whole experience less intimidating.

Kath’s first race number. Image: Billy Trailmix

However, to add to the buttock clenching feeling I was also the first rider down of the day. First ever race and first rider down. As a race virgin all my senses were on overdrive and were picking up on every noise, sight and smell.

When most of us go riding we seek solace and calm in the woods with only the chit chatter of our mates, the sound of cranks and chains to accompany us. To be on my bike surrounded by a mix of loud music, whistles, shouting and beeps was alien to me, but it ruffled my feathers, psyched me up and it brought out the racer in me. Grrrr… she was in there somewhere.

Going down

My number was called out. “Oh good god I’m actually doing this.” Goggles down.

“And here comes Kath Ronchetti looking super smooth.” Nuff said! Image: Billy Trailmix

The race starter’s walkie-talkie crackled. “Marshal 1 ready. Marshal 2 ready. Paramedics ready. Ted put the kettle on. OK first rider down. “

Oh crikey that’s me! “Go on the next set of beeps.”

Beep Beep Beep… “GO!”

I’m off! Pedal! Keep calm and smooth, I told myself. Then people cheering, for me! Marshals blowing their whistles, for me! Right, I’m doing this! Left, right, roots, drop, rocks, jump.

“And here comes Kath Ronchetti looking super smooth,” over the Tannoy. What? That’s me!

Cross the line, and I’ve done it! I’m down in one piece!

Women’s winner Katy Curd. Image: Billy Trailmix

Right what’s my time? Am I winning? Well for a few mins at least. (Bearing in mind I wasn’t being competitive about this at all, eh um…)

The buzz of getting down in the electric race atmosphere was amazing and I loved it. Yep I had proved myself wrong. It also pushed my riding too as I’m sure I went faster than I’d ever been down that track and to be among other girls who were so friendly and encouraging was great.

After another equally exciting run I ended up with a respectable eighth, and I can honestly say despite my negative thoughts that morning, I had an ace time and I would definitely enter another one of these mini-downhill races.

They’re great fun, non-intimidating and a fab way of dipping your toes into the racing world. I still love the pure act of pedalling and shredding without all the racing baggage and I’m certainly not aspiring to be the next Tracy Moseley or Rachel Atherton, but having said that it was bloody good fun.

Bring on the next race!

The top three, Katy Curd, Jo Page and Jennifer Wilson. Image: Billy Trailmix

This article originally appeared on Dirt


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