Monday, October 10, 2011

Redbull Weekend Warriors (Personal Blog)

I never win anything. Fact. So most of the time I don't even bother. Not the case when I saw the promotional video for RedBull Weekend Warriors though, in fact I think I would have been the first applicant had I not watched it about 6 times over in awe. A month later, chilling in my room, my phone rings and my crappy summer is instantly improved. "Hey my names Deano, I work for Redbull." I distinctly remember being completely underwhelmed with the whole thing at the time, my mind trying to compute how it could have been a scam. I got pretty stoked pretty soon after that though!  Calling the other members of my team Matt (who picked up his phone in front of a customer and got extremely stoked behind the bar of a posh hotel, Olly who was equally as surprised and Bill who was on holiday in America at the time (I facebooked him, I'm not made of money). A lot of hurried bike fixing and putting in some runs since the alps followed.

A fortnight later we were leaving my house in Devon at 1 o'clock, aiming for Llangynog by 6ish. Psyched off our faces we arrived at Olly's house in Taunton in seemingly no time at all. After the obligatory embarrassment by his parents and some quality sister-based banter we were on our way again. Traffic put a massive downer on our spirits until we hit Shrewsbury from which point the roads cleared. Driving into what is basically your hero's back garden in pitch black in the middle of Wales is a weird experience. Nothing could have prepared any of us for what was coming. All of our expectations were instantly exceeded as we pulled into the last complex of fields, greeted by walls of light and with the smell of bonfire in the air. Grabbing a few bags and following a marshal we became more dumbstruck, the Athertons RV and pit set up, two large tepees covering seating areas, a bar and DJ booth and a ring of smaller tepees with bike stands holding thousands of pounds worth of metal. After introducing himself a few times (few too many free beers) Deano showed us to our tent, a warm tepee with complementary airbeds (already inflated), red bulls and schedules inside. With that we threw our stuff down and went to soak up the atmosphere around a massive campfire with the help of some tokens for free drinks from the bar. A lot of "What the fuck dude" followed as we saw Affy, Gee and Rachel were chilling round the campfire, Rob Warner was getting big on the free bar and various other favourites from the Atherton Project such as Polish Pete, Browny and Stevie Bell were all there. I'm not sure what we were expecting, I mean, obviously they were going to be there but it still took us  the night to get adjusted.

The next morning we were in the breakfast queue next to Rob Warner, who was saying that he'd gotten too drunk and eaten 18 raw eggs for a bet last night, 10 of which he reckoned he managed to keep down. How often is that going to happen in life? Breakfast banter with a legend! Before long we were at the top of a very big hill, right were every downhill rider loves to be, and beginning our first chilled session of the new track which Gee was still out fine tuning with a hatchet the morning of our arrival. The track began with the same fireroad sprint used in the Rhyd Y Felin nationals track but then split off into a fast flat section with a few large doubles and a moderately sized road gap (which no competitor hit due to the 90 degree right hander on landing for which being a pro was a prerequisite for not ending up in the Christmas trees). As we were the first group on the track with Dan and Rachel the next section was beautiful. Loam, loam and more loam down a fresh section equalled a lot of fun, slamming into corners and dropping onto a fire road with a decent drop into the next section with a chicken line on the right. There's an interview of me on the Atherton racing website describing this next section as the best section I've ever ridden. I wasn't lying. It had everything you could want a section of trail to give you and flowed so well, slamming into berms and drifting round moto turns behind an Atherton is one of the greatest feelings and it felt so fast, giving you confidence and opportunities to turn small step downs into full blown senders. There wasn't so much tuition by Dan and Gee, more "watch out for this section" style track introduction, but they seemed to give off smoothness and you instantly found yourself more confident and faster in their company. The new track joined up the old one again for the finish section, a series of off camber roots and turns before a tiny drop into an off camber field (which when it rained became like riding on slicks on off camber sheet ice) a small drop which could be turned into a large sender to flat with the simple application of balls (Dan did it every time, I did it once, cleared about 10 metres to flat, shat myself and decided to squash it from here on in) before a rock garden and the finish line. 3 or 4 runs on this track, a bit of rain and it was obvious the middle and end section would become slip n slides, especially the middle which lost all the flow of the first run down as it began to get extremely cut up.

Lunch time was when the media side of the event became more obvious to me when I got a camera shoved in my face and extensively quizzed about my application, why I was changing my tires (£120 worth of Continental Mud Kings gifted to riders struggling with grip by Polish Pete and Stevie Bell), what I thought of the track and my thoughts about the Athertons. And when I say shoved, seriously that thing is so close, you have no idea whether to look in the lens or at the guy asking you the questions behind it and all the time your thinking "don't fuck up, don't make yourself look like a retard, think of something funny, that didn't make sense, oh fuck OH FUCK!" The next track session of the nationals track was described by Gee and Warner as complete carnage! The track had become so greasy with the beginnings of rain really screwing a lot up and creating more challenging conditions. Because of the traffic on track me and Olly found ourselves relaxing at the back of the pack with Polish Pete and Browny, both great laughs. To look at them you wouldn't expect them to be fast but riding in front of them I can assure you they are great riders. Another 3 or 4 runs on this track and the hill was closed down for the day. Dinner bought with it loads more banter, some great music, relaxing by the campfire with lots of red bull and free beers and a Mexican showdown between Bill and another guy sharing birthdays and beating (or attempting to beat) the crap out of two pinatas. Everyone was pretty drunk and knackered so as soon as the annoying gits with the ukuleles shut up (The Grand Old Ukes of Yorkshire, available to fuck up your wedding or any other social gathering should you wish to pay them to do so (the weren't actually that bad, I just have a special hatred reserved for people who are too happy and enthusiastic about everything, and one of those guys, jeeeessus christ)) we went to bed.

Race day. Excitement was in the air, which soon got pissed all over when Olly started singing Superstition by Stevie Wonder along with my alarm. Only joking, it was a lovely rendition. The format was 1 practice run and then however many timed runs you could fit in on the first and second tracks before and after lunch respectively. Our Southwest Shredders group practice run of the first track proved very useful. The new rubber was giving amazing amounts of grip over the slippery slate as long as you kept it pinned and a line which I had considered out of my league earlier in the day was suddenly accessible by all of us, saving the team valuable seconds. Bill Bye line guy was also unleashed upon a wide taped section where the main line was a slow off camber sticky mud and roots which could only really be rolled. Going into the first berm a little hotter and flicking off the tree opened up an amazing option about 5 feet higher than the main line, pretty much straightlining across a section of forest, destroying small bushes and dropping onto the fire road a few feet up from the main line. To an onlooker it would have been a bit of a "where the hell is he going" moment but it was a great spot which quickly bedded in to save each member of the team more and more time. Queuing up for our first timed run with everyone shouting people out of the gates reminds me why I love racing despite maybe not being particularly good at it. It seemed roughly a 4:30 was a good time for the track but I heard over the radio before I left the gate the Gee posted a sub 3, what a confidence booster, I reckon I could have him. 4:40. Clean, safe, not particularly pushing too hard but a respectable time nonetheless. Bill and Matt put in awesome times on there first runs, Bill placing 10th and Matt 15th. After our second timed run we called it a day for that track in order to grab a quick lunch and get the first uplifts for the afternoon session. Bill clocked the fastest time of any unsponsored rider, pretty impressive considering there were some Steve Peat Syndicate and a few names from nationals only a few seconds faster, at a storming 11th place. Matt ended up roughly 12 seconds back off Bill in 19th place where the field began to tighten up. A 4:17 on a bit of a looser ballsy run bought me home in 22nd and pretty happy with my performance, with only a few places where I could have gained time playing on my mind. A quality performance from Olly bought him in at 5:08, pretty damn good, less than 10 places off the top half with 2 offs in the same run, the field on the home straight turning out to be Olly and many other rider's nemesis.

Lunch came with Redbull photographers swarming around us as we were packing in the necessary red bull to psych us up for the swamp we new we were about to face. With time, track condition and weather putting pressure on the runs, practice was ignored for the second track, going straight to timed runs. Riders were held at the gate for minute intervals, with 5 out of the start gate a worried voice came over the radio saying that a rider was yet to pass the first split. The only obvious place for the split to be placed was on the fire road after what soon became known as "the clunge." The rain had really taken its toll on more exposed track, hardly any of the doubles were jump-able due to a thin sloshy layer of surface mud which is the type you hit and get a squirl on, not what you want before a massive double, and not what you want to land in. The clunge pit followed. I fell straight off and got caught in a tree and lost considerable amounts of time, when exiting the section I could hear Olly, released a minute after me not far behind. On the fireroad I had to stop and punch a hole in the back end of my bike which had become more clogged than I ever thought possible, I couldn't even revolve my cranks until I took large handfuls of clunge off and slammed the bike down especially hard off the drop to help clear the drive a bit. Luckily the next part ran dreamy as ever, amazingly fluid even in the damp conditions and some surprise spectators with cow bells to cheer you into getting loose. I'm not even going to tell you the first time. It was terrible, but gave me the knowledge of how to deal with the clunge the second time around, ride it suicide grip, foot dabs all over the place and try and keep the cranks turning. Second runs were much more successful. Matt who had clocked a quicker time than Bill on the first run fell victim to clunge and came 16th with a 5:35, 5 places and 25 seconds behind Bill. I managed a 6:39, definitely not clean, and not happy but good enough for 25th, 15 seconds ahead of Olly who came in 31st.

Whenever I go racing I always aim for top half. Partially because I believe it to be an accurate reflection of my abilities, but partially so as not to get dissapointed when I don't podium and because sometime with a good field of riders that in itself is a challenge. There was absolutely no pressure on the race event, an amazingly little amount, no one even mentioned wanting to win at all. Obviously we all had aims, because of our consistency I knew that we could be in with a very good chance of coming in the top half of the teams that were entered. Rachel announced 3rd place and ManManManWoman went up to take their trophy. Laughing at Dan accidently calling the woman a man took away any obvious signs of dissappointment from everyone. Not that it mattered but we thought 5th, maybe 4th? 3rd if we were extremely lucky? We were so dumbstruck when Rachel announced we'd come in second place that none of us made a move to approach the line of Athertons waiting to shake our hands. Being called a dude by Gee Atherton is a mental feeling. I don't think I've ever been so surprised and stoked at the same time. It was one of those results where you wanted to ask if they'd made a mistake but at the same time wanted to jump in the van and bugger off before they could take back their trophy. But no, Team score sheets put us 2 minutes ahead of 3rd place and 2 minutes behind 1st!

So to sum up this essay (sorry about that) it was the weekend of my life and probably was for Matt, Olly and Bill aswell. We met some awesome people and had an amazing weekend doing some chilled riding on some great tracks with some World Champions who are probably some of the most genuinely sound people out there. My life is a bit emptier knowing I'm probably not going to get the chance to do something that awesome again. We're small time celebrities aswell. If you haven't already seen it check out the links on Atherton Racing and Red Bull UK websites, I've got an interview and my GoPro on board footage is used, Bill cleans his teeth and flails wildly at a pinata, Matt wears a university of Plymouth jersey and Olly does his camera face all over the place. Nice one Red Bull. You outdid yourself.

Write up by Tom Bower, with some proof reading by Wizard.

Video for the weekend here;

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