Race Report | Steve Peat’s Steel City Downhill
During the darkest depths of the UK winter, we took the trip over to Wharncliffe Woods for one of our ‘Scene Visit’ (read here – Scene Visit | Wharncliffe Woods) At that time we promised Peaty we would make our virgin visit to this year’s annual running of Steve Peat’s Steel City DH race, held in Grenoside Woods on the other side of the road to Wharnecliffe. It’s classed as a DH race, originally raced by all DH riders, but now as the track has got smoother and enduro bikes have got more capable, DH rigs were definitely not to be the weapon of choice.
Coop (Enduro Mag’s Elite bike tester) Vini (Steve Peat Syndicate rider) and myself made the trip over. We parked in Farmer Jack’s field at 8am and were immediately impressed with the amount of folk prepping bikes and queuing for sign-on. This was run fast and slick, we had a number board with our names printed on, a Steel City pint glass, pint of Steve Peat Ale, two free drink tokens along with other goodies all in the rider pack; given free after paying the bargain £30 (€27) entry fee. From the start this thing looked like it was going to be a blast. The track had had several videos up online in the week previous, one of which saw two local legends, Josh’s Lewis and Bryceland chasing each other down the freshly surfaced sub-1 ½ minute track. Peaty had got the track builders to make a few last minute changes the day before with a digger to keep things slightly fairer for non-locals!
Down in the finish area/pits the atmosphere was electric, there were hundreds of people from the word go, this turned into literally thousands as the day went on. I personally haven’t seen a local UK event with such an atmosphere (except Fort William WC) for ages, not since the old days of Chedder Challenge and Malvern Classic, it was just so refreshing. Dotted around the finish area were EZ-ups and stalls from the likes of Polaris, Flair Clothing, Loose Riders and many more, the highlight of which had to be the bar, which really did get busier as the day went on. The timing was as live as could be, with up-to-the-second commentary keeping the many spectators and riders interested all day.
We walked the short track, studying lines, as we knew we were allowed two practice runs only before our two timed race runs. The track itself consisted of a freshly laid surface of a sandy/clay mix packed rock hard and holding the odd rock in place here and there. It was downhill all the way, although pedaling definitely was needed to pick up speed. As the morning got underway we all hoped it would remain dry. Josh Bryceland had said in one of the week-prior’s videos “welcome to the UK’s longest BMX track” he wasn’t far off really, the only difference is he didn’t mention narrowest too! One false move on any of the small kickers, table-tops or larger doubles and there were tons of pine trees everywhere lining the great fun, fast track to crunch wayward victim’s shoulders.
Bang on 9am we were in the huge queue to practice, enduro bikes definitely had the majority over their heavy cumbersome looking DH cousins, which were far over biked for such a smooth tight track. We managed our two runs and maybe a bit of sneaky walking back up and sectioning in the allotted time, there really weren’t many lines, but the track was so much fun and the atmosphere (even in the morning) was electric, as spectators shouted, heckled and cheered all the way down.
The weather remained dry during the late morning, as the 300+ riders (of which there was an astonishing 70+ women!) had their runs, all starting off rolling in off the purpose built massive start ramp to get up to speed. I felt nervous on top of the ramp, it had been years since I had raced at an event where you had so many spectators, all thirsty for crash action. The beeps sounded and I pedaled my brand-new ‘Long Term Test’ Marin off the ramp to put in a really surprisingly relaxed and spot-on run, marred only by hitting a flat turn in way too high a gear. I felt good as I crossed the line, I’d managed fourth in class (just over a second down on 1st), not bad for my first DH race in 13 years!
The riders were coming through thick and fast and we were soon into the Elites, it was great to see these guys nail the track, as if on rails, especially Byceland who really was in a class of his own, taking the win by over three seconds, a lifetime on such a short track! Coop seemed more concerned about not getting last out of the very fast thirty or so elites, but he put in a bosting run, coming in eight (one second down on 2nd!) actually putting time into a couple of paid pro riders, WOW!
We had a good mingle about the pits during the day, where I caught up with Peaty (on crutches and not racing) and I got a few words off him on the day’s proceedings.
How’s the event looking for this year compared to last year mate?
Pretty good, it’s kicking, very busy in the bomb-hole with over 300 riders, with the massive crowds it’s turning out to be noisy and good fun.
You’ve made a few changes to the track this year, much different?
Yeh, the overall track has been resurfaced, so it’s a lot quicker and smoother. We snuck a couple of sneaky lines in last night just to mix it up a bit for people who’ve had lots of practice before hand.
How’s the knee at the moment?
I’ve had my ACL and a bit of a meniscus repaired, so six weeks on crutches and I’m 2 ½ weeks in. I’m being a super-fan today, unable to ride, so I may have a few drinks today!
Peaty and Bryceland were inundated with photo requests of their fans, especially with it being their local spot where they truly are heroes; it was great to see. Coop said hello to Bryceland, whose response was just classic. Bryceland said the usual hello then realized Coop was one of his old competitors and mates from back in the days of racing Youth DH. In his funny usual Mancunion accent he said “Fuckin hell (to Al Stock stood next to him) do you know who this is? It’s Andrew Cooper, back in the day I used to hate it when he turned up, he was loose as fuck on a bike, if he stayed on he used to beat me, it must be ten years!” Coop had told me he used to battle with the Rat, it seems unbelievable nowadays, coming from last year’s fastest DH rider on the planet!
We shot off in the gap between runs to have a play on some of the local trails, wanting to keep the legs warm. On our return route the rain came down, not enough to get a soaking, but enough to turn a grippy track into a slime-fest, resulting in no riders busting out faster times than their previous ones. The positions remained. It had been an amazing event, a showcase as to the great mountain bike prowess Sheffield possesses and testament to just how popular Peaty and this local event is. Shall we be making the pilgrimage back next year to do it all again? Hell yeh, I have a score to settle, I was sure I could knock a fair bit of my run 1 time off if it had stayed dry, and that is reason enough to return!
Category winners were | Youth Boys – Jordan Beighton, Juvenile Boys – Evan Davies, Ripper Boys – James Wilson, Junior Men – Bradley Swinbank, Senior Men- Ben Lord, Master Men – Jonny Mathews, Vets – Ben Jaggard-Smith, Senior Women – Rebecca Baraona, Senior Women – Joey Gough, Vets Women – Lindsay Hanley, Elite Males 1st Josh Brycelend, 2nd James Swinden, 3rd Craig Evans.
Full results here –Results
Big thanks to Steve Peat and all his crew for such an awesome event.
Words | Jim Buchanan
Pics | Mark Crawshaw