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Race Report - James Gould, Fort William BDS

Race Report - James Gould, Fort William BDS

After racing my first ever BDS at Fort William, I can tell you that the track lives up to and exceeds it?s reputation. With an average gradient of 20%, the track covers almost 2 miles of Scotland?s finest mountain side. Not a single World Cup replay, GoPro run or YouTube video can prepare you for just how tough this track is? Once you reach the end of the boardwalks, it?s rocks, blinds drops, roots, holes and massive jumps all the way to the finish. Practically every corner, every rock garden? every inch of the track gives you something to concentrate on. This only really became apparent during the track walk, looking at the 'sniper rocks' that looking to catch you out if you stray from the rideable lines, the length of the track, the technical and blind drops gave me an insight in just what I?d let myself in for. Putting any run together would be challenging enough, never mind a full race run.

Practice on Saturday went fairly well, with only a single ?incident? coming over a blind drop with the wheel exactly in the middle of the only two rideable lines, that left me rolling around in just a few of the thousands of rocks that make up the track. A splash of luck and years of practice at crashing, falling off, going over the handlebars, sliding out, taking a tumble, impromptu track inspections and eating dirt meant that I walked away from ?the incident? with only a slight scratch to my helmet along with some minor cuts and bruises. Not only did this drive home how difficult it is to even learn the twists and turns of the track, but also delivered a significant blow to my confidence. Following this run, Windley and I went back to the TMC pit to discuss the track and work out how we were going to leave the race venue under our own power, rather than with assistance from the NHS! We gathered ourselves and went up for another couple of practice runs. We stopped near the top to get a good look at the blind drop that caused the incident and pick up some visual queues leading into it to ensure I could remember where I was going and manhandle the bike onto a line where the ground stays below the bike, the bike stays below me and the only thing I?m below is the sky? Well maybe a few birds and clouds, but you get the point. From this point on, maybe 10-15% of the way down, we dropped in and rode to the finish. Putting a full run together was one of Windley?s big concerns, so I helped him pace a run that would be achievable to the bottom? and by pace I mean held him up. Although Windley was stuck behind me for the entire run, we both made it to the bottom, both on the bikes and without stopping!

Sunday practice rolled around we both went up for a single run, which we deemed to be enough as the brutal track wasn?t doing anything to ease our already aching muscles. As qualifying came around we had some good banter with the other guys in our category and I had a discussion with the guy dropping in behind me, in case he caught me on track! Qualifying went down without incident, the guy behind me did catch me just after the deer gate, so about half way down the track; luckily it was a wide part of the track, as I heard him catching, I managed to pull to the left, a quick of shout of ?passing on your right? and he got past without costing either of us more than a couple of seconds. I cheekily pulled over onto some of his lines, which got me round the next few corners and probably made up those seconds I had dropped! I remember feeling knackered in the middle of my qualifying run, much more tired than previous practice runs. I put this down to extra fatigue - however I crossed the line to find that I?d taken almost 40 seconds out of my best practice run which retrospectively explained the tiredness!

After helping Windley with some niggling issues with his bike, a short wait in the pits, a gondola ride back to the top and 2 or 3 impromptu trips to the toilet to ease the nerves, I found myself back in the start hut staring down the track. The top 1/2 of my race run was oddly calm, eery silence only broken by a whistle each time I passed a marshal and the sound of my Schwalbe Magic Marys fighting for grip every time I touched the brakes. I could hear the bike performing flawlessly giving me everything it had to offer. I thought back to our discussion in the gondola that I was slowing the bike down too much and it would get into a much more natural rhythm if I could keep the speed up a bit more? Of course I knew this before the gondola ride but it?s easy to overlook just how much braking I was doing on such a long and intense track. Determined to break the 7 minute mark, which for me would be an achievement, I concentrated on this through every corner and down every straight - as soon as I put the theory into practice, it worked! It just goes to show how many of the challenges slowing you down only exist in your head! I not only managed to hold it together, but rode every part of the track faster? Bringing it home about 15 seconds quicker than my qualifying run in 31st place.

It would be easy to see the negatives of a relatively slow time and coming in outside the top 30, my aim for the weekend was top 30! However, you should never be disappointed when your race run is the fastest run of the weekend! Additionally, with 7 British Cycling points in the bag, only one race in and it?s already my most successful race season ever; onwards and upwards? I might even hit double figures this year!

I feel like I had more to give but confidence issues held me back for most of the weekend. I clearly started to break through those on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn?t quite enough. I learnt a lot for next time and I think I?ll be taking an extra couple of days of work so I can spend a bit more time learning the track. With a bit of luck next year, I can talk some more TMC riders into attending as while the track was long, intimidating and brutal; it?s easily one of the best tracks I?ve ever ridden. Also, it would mean I could put my bike in one of their vans and drive something a little more sporty up the A82!

Finally I would like to do a shout out to everyone involved in the BDS from the organisers to the other participants for running such an awesome event - smiles, jokes and friendly attitudes across the board all weekend - 10/10 would race again! Thanks for Stephens Racing for the line advice on line choice and race craft and most importantly those pasties! Thanks to my sponsors: Reborn Clothing, Schwalbe and TMC - especially Team Manager & Mechanic Dave? The fact I even made it down the first practice run is a testament to the care and attention he puts into keeping my bike running to the absolute highest levels, no matter what abuse I throw at it. The biggest thanks have to go to my parents, despite the fact I?m 27 still agreed to drive all the way to Scotland in their motorhome, fed me every day, provided ad hoc medical advice, joined us on the track walk and, most symbolically, stood near the bottom of the track during my race run so I knew I had to give more than I?d got left to get over that finish line!

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