The first round of the 2012 Northern Downhill series was held at the now infamous Alwinton track. It's as steep and technical as they come, providing a challenge for all of the 99 riders who turned up to race it. In the weeks leading up to the event the weather was brilliant, and it was beginning to look like for the first time in the venues three year history we could have had a dry and dusty race. The snow and subsequent drizzle put a sudden halt to such thoughts and by the time the uplifts started on Good Friday, there was a thick layer of mud covering the track. The first part of Saturday practice saw a large amount of crashes on the steepest section of the course as riders tried to get to grips with it's challenging nature. Thankfully by the end of the day most of the racers had grown accustomed to it. The constant abuse from spiked tyres over the uplift day and practice caused the track to change considerably and parts of it got rougher as the rocks underneath were exposed. The extra grip provided by the rock was countered by the increasingly exposed slick roots.
From the start ramp the riders were on to the flat top section and were straight on the pedals to gain speed over the soft surface. As they passed the old start ramp the track dropped away over a stump and into another muddy section. Carrying speed around the right hander was essential as it spat the racers out onto a fairly flat straight covered in speed sapping mud. Crossing the fire road the track got interesting as it dived down the hill, this section was dark and threaded its way down through the trees.
Coming out of the trees into a clearing the racers were faced with two line choices for the first of the steep switchbacks, either take the high rutted line and sweep around the outside of the turn, or take the inside line and slam it round. This steep section consists of six switchbacks cutting down the hillside with a couple of steep chutes and a rock garden thrown in for good measure, in which a lot of riders came unstuck. After rounding the turn at the top, the riders were faced with a choice between taking the outside line, avoiding the hole, or dropping straight into it.
Into the trees again and the riders were greeted by slippery roots criss-crossing the track, more steep chutes and some muddy turns. As the weekend went on some of the sections down in the mid section of the track became rougher adding to the challenge.
As the riders descended off the log drop they were plunged into near darkness as the tree canopy above them grew thicker, the dull light hiding hundreds of small roots littered across the track. A couple of chutes later the riders were faced with the bridge. For the unlucky rider who get it wrong there was a drop down into a stream to worry about. After the short uphill from the bridge there was some respite with a short flat section before the final few turns and the chute over the line.
In Youth, new SPS recruit Bradley Swinbank came down in a time of 2.45 to win by a healthy margin over Andrew Dorritt on a 2.57 and Rowen Carpenter on a 3.02. Matty Leggett put in a 2.38 to secure his third category win at the track, Ruairidh Mcritchie came down in a 2.40 to claim second place and Jack Bell followed in third with a time of 2.44. James Purvis came down in 2.52 to win the Juvenile.
Senior was won by Michael Coupe with a time of 2.37, Lee Kermode was a close second on a 2.38.9 and Simon Gummer followed in third on a 2.41. Mark Weightman was the fastest Master down the hill, setting a time of 2.32.9 with Alastair Ward following only half a second behind with 2.33.4. Jason Cavill came in third with a 2.42. The Veteran win was taken by Shaun Kelly who put in a 2.56 winning by just over five seconds to second place Ian Horton who posted a 3.01 and Michael Hill in third. Grand Vet went to Alan Turnbull who came down the hill in 3.23. Melissa Pearson, in only her second race, came down in a 5.49 to take the honours in Womens. The win in Expert was taken by Calum Mcritchie who posted a 2.28, second place went to Peter Waldon with a 2.34 and third to the South African Brad Illingworth.
The final riders down the hill were the Elite riders, Adam Brayton posted a 2.13 in his first run down to set the fastest time of the day and take his third overall win at Alwinton. Jack Reading came down in second position with a 2.18 and Scott Mears posted a time of 2.24 to claim third.
As we've come to expect from Carl and the guys at Northern Downhill the event was run smoothly, with a healthy entry and great racing. If you fancy having a go, the next round sees the series heading back down to Yorkshire. The venue hasn't been confirmed yet, but if its anything like last year it will be a completely different set of challenges to the technical and steep first round. Head over to www.northerndownhill.co.uk or Northern Downhill on Facebook for more information.