Some time ago I rode my first downhill race. I don’t consider myself a competitive cyclist. In the past I have been though, racing everything from sprints on the velodrome to 12 hour mountain bike endurance races. In general, I don’t bother with racing now, but Peaty’s Steel City is a pretty special race, and worth an exception.
Peaty’s Steel City DH is a Downhill race held in Greno Woods, Sheffield. Championed by the mountain bike legend that is Steve Peat himself, and organised by a dedicated team of volunteers, I had heard great things from previous years of this event. You have to be on the ball to get a space. With only 300 entries available overall, the Senior Mens’ category is usually filled within an hour or so, and none of the other cats take much longer to reach full capacity. But this indiscriminate exclusivity is a key ingredient for the super cool feel of this event. In common with many other of the best UK bike races, it is a collective event, with all profits from entry and sales being put back into the local trail scene.
I turned up at practice with just enough time to fit in my obligatory two runs before seeding. The weather was good, and the groundwork done in the preceding weeks by the volunteer trail builders was evident. The track rode really nicely, it wasn’t an all-out downhill track, with steep corners and massive senders and drops, instead the course rewarded a smooth rider who can corner and pump well, and who picks clean lines.
The top section through the most dense part of forest consisted of a scaffold constructed roll in, then some flat out pedalling. Into a few switchbacks littered with rocks, then a rocky approach to a double, with the notorious cheering crowd, in a constant frenzy and howling for every single rider as if each were Steve Peat himself. After the double comes a rocky open section requiring a careful line selection. A few more tables follow, with precariously positioned photographers angling expensive lenses from frighteningly close proximity, then a tight, flowy switchback section; off the brakes and pumping all the way, then out into the finishing arena. From here is a step down (and an alternative line for less confident riders) which sees the fastest riders drop about 15 feet and crank it to the line.
My race runs were fairly consistent, and a very different experience to anything I’ve had before. Not wanting to be late as is a habit for me, I arrived at the top of the course about half an hour before my start time. Unconvincingly I overcame a few pre race nerves, which lasted right up until I was halfway down the start ramp, but from then on in, I was loving every second and finding out for myself just what Steel City DH is all about.
I hit the double for the first time in my seeding run, having been unable to have a clean run at it in practice and I felt the seeding run was going well. As I had been advised by everyone at the top of the course, I was stamping on the pedals at every opportunity I had, trying to stay in race mode, and out of my sometimes distractable trail riding mindset. After the double, I took a timely deviation from my planned line through the rock garden, but before I had time to dwell on it, I was being red flagged, indicating someone ahead of me on the course had taken a spill and I had to stop.
Being relatively well versed in first and trauma, I probably shouldn’t admit that my first thoughts on hearing this news were not of concern for the fallen rider, but instead concern for myself, and how I was ever to overcome those start-ramp nerves another two times over. With assurance that the fallen rider was indeed fine and in good hands, I returned to the start, and within 45 minutes had laid down a seeding time pretty much half way through the field.
My second run- the “race” run, went well; the start line nerves were no less pronounced third time round, but again I still had fun, and by the finish, had managed to take a couple of places. From then on in I could relax with a beer, and my poor girlfriend, Frances, who had enthusiastically come along as support crew, but up until now hadn’t managed to get much in the way of meaningful conversation from me. We got some good seats in the arena, overlooking the step-down, and sat to watch the pros send it off the top, most landing to flat, much faster than I’d happily go.
A real mix of riders attended the event; many had no affiliation or sponsor, others came representing the Northern bike companies of Cotic and On One, and of course Santa Cruz Syndicate themselves too. Watching Peaty ride made it easy to see why this living legend is still riding Downhill at the highest level; dwarfing most other riders with his stature, he dominated the bike over the toughest parts of the course and, just as he has done every year so far, stormed to victory in the pro category.
The prize presentation was just what I imagined, a podium constructed from chopped tree trunks, everyone stayed for the whole presentation, and gave every rider the applause they deserved, although the loudest ovation went to the man everyone had turned out to see, and Peaty accepted gracefully, just minutes after presenting a podium prize to his wife Adele Peat in the Pro Women’s category. After the presentation, Peaty stayed about, chatting with riders and volunteers alike. Meanwhile, many riders and spectators jumped in to help clear the race tape and collect rubbish.
The day was simply fantastic; I loved every minute, made my DH race debut, and got to meet an idol whose prominence in our sport backdates my extensive collection of MBUK and Dirt magazines; beginning in 2004, when I was 11 years old. Overall, I think that like so many other events and races open to mountain bikers in Britain, Steel City was a credit to our sport, every supporter and all the fans. The whole course was lined top to bottom with fans, cheering every rider as if they were about to become World Champion. Many riders got dressed up to the theme of Sheffield Legends, sporting outfits including a pot of Yorkshire Tea, and a tin of Heinz Beanz. Most notably, an army of dedicated volunteers gave up their time to craft a course, tape it, and clear up afterwards, all for the love of the sport. It’s just another event that makes this sport of ours so unique and inspiring.
See you next year, Steel City Downhill.