We delve into the world of downhill mountain biking with Alpine sponsored rider Neil Wilson. He rides the first SDA event of the season at Ae Forest.
Last weekend (19 - 20 March) it was the first round of the Scottish Downhill Association (SDA) Series at Ae Forest near Dumfries.
With the arrival of my new Trek Session 9.9 the weekend before I couldn’t wait to get out on it and although I hadn’t had nearly as much time to set up the bike as I‘d have liked, it was time to get back to racing.
I love the buzz of racing – hearing the beeps as the clock starts ticking and knowing you have to put everything into trying to get the hill as quickly as possible... but I think it’s the catching up with friends and fellow racers that I enjoy the best. When I arrived to see dust as well as some familiar faces, I knew it was going to be a fun weekend.
The hill at Ae isnt the longest, but there are some big features on it and it usually produces a fun and fast track. As I walked the track early in the morning before practice, I could see that this would be no different – the track was taped quite wide, although there were a few tricky corners and off camber sections... so it wasn’t totally straightforward. A lot of work had been done on the lower section – the infamous step down was bigger than ever and the berms below had been built up to make them even faster. This would also help carry speed into a new set of doubles before the big 'elevator' drop (so-called because it's so steep, it's like riding down a lift shaft) into the finish.
One of the many positives about the SDA series is the friendliness of the organisers and competitors. The SDA are all volunteers and tend to be parents of riders or even parents of ex-riders but who still enjoy putting on a great event . Riders are all there to compete but also to have fun as well. It was great to see a big entry of top Elite riders and also an 'open category' for riders on trail bikes. There was the usual friendly but well-organised vibe that is typical of an SDA event.
Saturday is practice day where it's time to get a feel for the track, test any different line options, set up your bike and try to get up to race speed. I spent a fair bit of time in the afternoon looking at line options as I thought times would be very close, so any little possible advantages had to be explored.
On a Sunday, there’s usually time for a couple of final practice runs but I only managed one due to a delay where one of the uplift trucks punctured. I knew my lines, and with two race runs to come in the afternoon, I wasn’t too worried.
With two race runs at an SDA event (best time counts) its usually a little more relaxed than events where there’s only one 'shot at glory'. However, I think I was just a bit too relaxed. Although I had a relatively trouble-free run, I was a bit off the pace. On my second attempt later in the afternoon, I felt like I was carrying more speed through all the sections and pedalling harder where I could. I was really disappointed and frustrated that I had only improved my time by a fraction of a second.
I had a fun weekend and it was great to be back racing. Thanks must go to the organisers and marshals and to all at Alpine Bikes for supporting me this season.