Aston Hill Double Header Downhill Race

Race Report By Wight Mountain Team Rider James Windley

The Aston Hill Bike Park in Buckinghamshire usually plays host to two downhill events each year, one in winter and the other during the summer months. This year, the earlier race was cancelled due to heavy rain making the course of roots on top of chalk rock almost un-ridable, so it was decided to host both races together in a back-to-back race weekend when better weather and kinder conditions would provide a greater racing spectacle.
The two tracks chosen for the weekend were both equally technical but it was decided not to race on Aston Hill’s first all-weather and newest track, ‘Surface To Air’, due to it’s relative smoothness and freeride-style jump track. The famous ‘Black Run’ was chosen for Saturday’s event and the recently renamed ‘Root Canal’ (Formerly named ’421′) was used for Sunday’s race. The tracks were relatively short around 1:30 mins, but an excellent mix of fast, open berms and tighter, more technical root sections and drop offs kept riders’ busy on both courses.

The ‘Black Run’ track for Saturday’s race was the longer of the two tracks, and started out with a 30 second single track sprint before dropping down the hill into a newly-installed ‘Gnarnia’ rock garden. This first sprint was broken up by a couple of high speed bomb hole jumps which riders had to squash to avoid over-shooting, immediately followed by a left hand berm which claimed more than one rider over the course of the day.
Next, riders were sent riders through a couple of 180 degree berms, traversing the hill and gave everyone a quick breather before the final decent into more tight, root-littered switchbacks. These had wheel-sized root drops just before the corners more often that The recent weeks of hot weather meant the bike park trails were dry and dusty, and the chalky surface that covers the hill resulted in every turn being loose with powder – a riders’ dream or racers’ nightmare depending on your point of view! With the rain staying away, the numerous roots which make Aston Hill famous were not so daunting and the steep switchbacks of both tracks kept speeds down to a sensible level on the most technical parts of the course. The heat and high humidity during the day was almost too hot to ride in – so keeping the amount of full practice runs to a minimum yet still learning the track was just as important as saying hydrated and fuelled up.

(Photo) James Windley

Wight Mountain team riders James Windley and James Dunford (representing the seniors category) were joined by Deano Taylor (Masters), Dean Masterton (Verteran), Callum Morris (Youth) and finally Josh Corbett (Junior). The crew elected to camp for the whole duration of the race weekend, so as to make the most of the short morning practice sessions and be on top form for both races. Practice for both races ran from 8:30am until around 11:30 depending on entry numbers, with racing taking place the whole afternoon from 12:30pm onwards. This gave the riders chance to have an early morning ‘track walk’ to memorise the track and find some sneaky race lines – vital for shaving those all-important seconds come race run. The way the event is run at Aston means that all riders must complete 2 full runs of the race track before they’re allow to race – this makes sense as it ensures every competitor has a rough idea what to expect on the course for everyone’s safety. Each rider was allowed 2 race runs, and with both tracks being relatively short and times begin incredible close, everyone was chasing every that last tenth of a second.

Photo Josh Corbett

James Windley was on top form for the whole weekend – after arriving earlier on Friday afternoon, he managed to get some extra practice runs in and walk Saturday’s race track to help get dialled into the bike and get comfortable with the loose and drifty course conditions as this was his first time riding at the venue. A great performance on Saturday put him in 6th place in the competitive seniors’ category just 2.7 seconds off second place. The winner of the category was an Aston Hill-sponsored local rider, 6 seconds clear of the field highlighting the home advantage paying dividends. Another another strong performance by Windley on Sunday’s busier race put him in 9th position out of 43 riders and roughly 10% off the fastest pace once again set by local rider and Team Saracen racer, Glenroy Martin.

Photo Dean Masterton

Wight mountain employee James Dunford also had a great weekend, competing with Windley in the seniors category. Recent updates to his bike suited the track and conditions perfectly, where he made good use of these to finish 16th in Saturday’s race and 15th on Sunday’s. On both occasions he managed to knock over 4 seconds off his first race run times – showing great improvements and making the most of the extra race run when it counted.

Photo Callum Morris & James dunford

Deano Taylor and Dean Masterton both put in great shows too – although Taylor only competed on Saturday due to injury but with Masterton representing the Veterans on both occasions. Taylor was confident going into the race, building on his downhill experience after competing in this years’ Megavalanche endurance DH event in Alpe D’Huez, France, along with James Windley, Dean Masterton and Callum Morris.
The loose chalk was very similar to conditions on the island, as Masterton proved by finishing both races in 4th  position, just shy of the podium places in a stunning performance.
Josh Corbett and Callum Morris were the youngest riders of the team to enter the event. Corbett, riding in the juniors category, rode confidently and smoothly to 4th place on Saturday and 5th on Sunday, putting in the second-fastest time on both courses out of the crew except for Windley, showing huge potential and definitely a rider to keep an eye out for future years. Morris also did well, finishing in 6th place in both races and highlighting his potential too – building on his very impressive 6th place finish in the youth category at the Megavalanche.

Photo Dean Taylor

Overall it was a very successful weekend for all members of the team who raced, helped enormously by dry weather and camping overnight to save on travel times meant the riders could be up and on course early, getting the extra practise runs in which obviously helped come race time. The event was set up courtesy of long-term race organiser at Aston Hill Richard Abbott, which this was his last race to organise before moving on. Also a big thanks to ex-local rider and island resident Neil Cain for spectating and taking some cracking photos on Saturday, the gallery of which can be found here__.

Photo James Dunford

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