Steel City Mini Downhill, April 21st 2012

There are days when a tribe comes together and something special happens. The Sheffield mountain bike tribe is big, noisy, friendly and doing some great things. Put all that together in Greno Woods, stir in a bit of competition, a great trail and a dash of Peaty magic, and something very special happens. The buzz was immense. Everyone had a grin on their face, bikes were buffed to a blinding shine, the sun had got its hat on and all was well with the world. Practice passed in a blur, the queue to mount the start ramp was, officially, the friendliest place on earth. I know lots of Sheffield mountain bikers, but I made a dozen instant new friends standing, nervously, awaiting my turn.

The course had suffered a deluge in the previous few days but was still pretty quick initially. I made the usual mistake of subjecting my old legs to one too many practice runs and had to have a lie down in the sun to recover. Around me, the hum of conversation was constant, the click of passing freewheels, the bellow as Jody Vallance urged another competitor on yet another practice run and, bizarrely, a melodic background of birds apparently unconcerned that several hundred hairy-arsed downhillers were taking over their woods.

The race itself started loud and got louder. The whole thing had a rhythm all its own, a crescendo of noise as competitors pedalled furiously off the start ramp, the whistles of the marshals, Rob Jolley’s now infamous dog bowl being thrashed mercilessly as riders approached the coffin jump, spectators urging riders on through the sticky middle section, “Pedal! Pedal!!”, me shouting back, “This is me pedalling!” and then the roar as you neared the famous bomb-hole, heart in mouth, don’t blow it, not in front of two hundred people.

It was simply one of the best mountain bike experiences I’ve ever had. If you could have bottled the enthusiasm, we could have sorted out the mess the country’s in overnight. And the man himself, Steve Peat? Well, I think the word hero is over-used in sport. The best sports people are just ordinary decent folk who just happen to be brilliant at what they do. That’s Steve Peat in a nutshell. His grin was one of my abiding memories of the day – the man was obviously having a ball, at home amongst the Sheffield scene, of which he is such a part.

For the record, I didn’t win, not even the vets. I didn’t even come in the top half of the vets, but it didn’t matter because hanging with such a positive bunch of people charges your batteries for a month. The Steel City DH is what all mountain bike competitions should be.


Words - John Horscroft