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Matt Walker: British Downhill Series, Round 4, Llangollen

01 July 2014

Last month we interviewed Matt Walker, one of the most exciting young Downhill MTB riders in the UK. In this latest feature he reports back on his Youth category race at Round 4 of the British Downhill Series in Llangollen.

The Welsh course is one of the most technically challenging in the UK, and on the day several riders decided not to race once they’d taken a careful look at it.

Downhill MTB’ers at this level are as courageous as they are skillful, so that tells you just how difficult it was. So let’s leave it to Matt to tell us how he faced it down and how he got on…

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We rolled into the Llangollen race venue on a misty Friday afternoon. I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get on course! Once the team had arrived I walked the track with Manon Carpenter. As we walked into the first shoot – to find lines – my feelings were mixed, knowing it was going to be a difficult weekend racing. Nevertheless, I was still buzzing come Saturday morning.

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The track started off in the infamous woods section, arguably the steepest race track in Britain. It is just as steep as everyone makes it out to be – once you battle your way through the vertical drops, straight shoots and tree roots, you burst out of the woods onto a long traverse with fast hip jumps and tricky chicanes, then you rocket your way down the steep, shale’y open turns and into the last few drops and a fast sprint to the line. Obviously a lot of work had been done to prepare the venue for the race, and Martin the landowner had worked tirelessly digging on the track to get it ready in time.

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So I went up for my first run around 10 o’clock. I wanted to let riders rut the track out so it would be easier to ride. I dropped into the first steep shoot and nearly sent myself straight into the crash netting! I then wobbled myself down the woods sending the bike over the wooden drop halfway through which was my only aim for the first run, and that put me in good spirits for the day ahead.

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I had a punch-up with one of the trees later that day and smashed my hand pretty badly. It was causing me some pain so I decided to sit out for a few hours and get some ice on it. I got the all clear from the medics and I put down another couple of runs later on. The pain in my now badly bruised and very swollen hand was now making it difficult to hold on and control the bike – I didn’t know how I could race if it didn’t improve overnight!

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Sunday morning. The sun was out but my hand was no better. I went up for a run in practice that morning nevertheless and strapped it up ready for seeding.

At the top before seeding I felt pretty nervous: more about my hand than anything else, not knowing how it was going to hold up. Just gripping the bar caused a wave of intense pain, enough to easily take my mind off my riding, so I was scared to do more damage by having a lapse of concentration. Anyway, my racing instincts kicked in and I couldn’t really feel it too badly during seeding, so I managed to just get down without having a fall – a real safe and steady run.

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I was surprised and very chuffed to have put in a solid run, enough to be fastest in category and maximum points. It gave me great confidence for race runs later that day.

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I warmed up on my turbo trainer bike whilst waiting for my category race to get underway. Being fastest in seeding runs meant I was last to start in my category. Off the line I sprinted hard along the short traverse and dropped into the woods – I rode it really well, feet up and shredding the turns well.

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The crowd were unreal, there were hundreds of people watching in the wooded section, all keen to watch the most technical section in the British Downhill Series. I could hear them screaming my name, and it gave me a boost of adrenaline to really spur me on. I was pumped to put in a good run and they pushed me on well, so “cheers!” Unfortunately though, I went down in the open section: the bike got caught in a rut, while I tried to hop to an inside line the bike continued to travel the rut. I got up as quickly as I could and swung my leg back over the bike and sprinted into the next turn after being on the ground. I pushed really hard in the bottom but it wasn’t enough to grab the win – I had lost too much time on the floor, but I managed to hold onto second place which I was really impressed with, especially after a crash.

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A huge thanks to all the guys at Madison Saracen Development team and my friends and family for really supporting me this season. I believe I’ll be going into the last round of the BDS at Bike Park Wales in September leading the overall title chase. Cheers guys!

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Our thanks to Matt, the Madison Saracen team, and to Laurence Crossman-Emms for permission to use his photos.

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All photos copyright of Laurence Crossman-Emms.

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Matt Walker: British Downhill Series, Round 4, Llangollen

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