9 months of physio and rehabilitation had led me to the point of no return. I received the invite to round 4 of the city downhill world tour; this was my chance to prove my racing status. After the awful crash and drama in Mexico a year before, Spain contained all the pressure and was the tipping point of my career. What happened next..?
Teaming up with local Campervan dealership KPC Leisure, Directors Kris and Paul were keen to help me get to Spain on board one of their vans. This was an absolute god send as the shear amount of gear I would need to take could fit in nicely with no squeezing!
My good friend and previous photographer Xander Ettling managed to take some time out of his university photography course to join me on the trip. We set off from Dorset on the Wednesday morning heading for the port of Portsmouth. I was also incredibly lucky to have Michael and his team on board from Brittany Ferries. Michael planned the boat trips for us so we had one less thing to worry about.
Upon arriving in the center of Bilbao, we parked the campervan up and headed straight to the race course. It was still under construction but some of the features such as the start ramp were there for all to see.
On Friday I joined pro riders Felip Polc and Matt Walker at the press conference in the Bilbao Renault showroom. We were asked to ride a few parts of the course for the press reports; we happily obliged!
Saturday morning was official practice and on my first run my rear mech hanger snapped causing chaos in the paddock. The hunt was on for a spare.
Luckily fellow Spanish competitor Ivan Blanco rode the same bike as me and had the spare part I needed. He wouldn’t even take any money off me for having his spare part, he just wanted to help me race. This sums up ‘Mountain Bike racing’ in my eyes; we are all competitors battling it out to show who is best and yet everyone helps everyone in hard circumstances like this. Cheers Ivan.
The bike was fixed after the mad panic and I managed to complete 2 full practice runs. I was happy with the way the bike was riding and the set up I had chosen. Some people questioned my soft compound tyre choice but I felt it would be an advantage on the tight corners and reduce ‘drifting’.
My qualification run went very well and I finished in 12th position. Only the top 25 riders make it to the finals which were streamed live on the internet so my aim was to break into these which I did comfortably.
On the race run I knew I had a chance of taking home a fantastic result but with this ‘chance’ was also huge risk. I could not afford to crash out so my strategy was to race at 80% and put a clean run in the get to the next race unharmed! The plan worked and I finished 4 seconds off the winning time putting me into 13th place. Needless to say, I was a very happy man!
Monday was a bank holiday for Spain and the final round of their national championships was being held in Bermeo (around 1 hour drive from Bilbao) I decided to enter for fun…
The weather on the day was horrendous and wet. The course was a tight short course through the town center on cobbles and shiny concrete. The was a recipe for disaster! I qualified 8th overall and there were questions from race officials whether or not to cancel finals but the decision was overturned due to the huge numbers of fans that came to watch. The finals were even worse, even the viability was bad. The grip levels were non existent and many riders crashed out resulting in 10 DNF. I held good composure and a smooth ish run! Aiming to get back to the UK in one piece. In finished in 12th position overall. A successful trip of racing!
I would like to make a special thank you to the race organizers for putting on such an awesome weekend. Also a special thanks to the guys at Brittany Ferries for getting me to Spain in comfort. Brittany Ferries offers up to 7 weekly return crossings from the UK to Spain. Depart from Portsmouth or Plymouth, and travel to Santander or Bilbao in around 24 hours. For more information call 0330 159 7000 Another special thanks is due for Kris and Paul at KPC Leisure for their priceless support to get to Spain. Check out their website to see what latest models they have in stock.