It’s just possible that the Big Dog down here has a direct line to the BIg Man upstairs because, once again, the Steel City Downhill was blessed with superb weather.Three days prior to the race, parts of the track were still like blancmange and the organisers sported worried frowns and shook their fists at the weather gods.
In the end, the sun shone, the wind blew and the track was in pristine condition, ever so slightly tacky and guaranteed to encourage the fastest times ever.
What is it that makes this race so special? From the moment you park in Farmer Jack’s field, it’s difficult to wipe the smile off your face. The organisation is slick and unobtrusive. Registering is a delight, with free gifts for every racer. The ride to the start is usually punctuated by numerous stops as you greet friends and marvel at the weather and the crowds.
The buzz around the start is electric as 10 year old rippers rub shoulders with gnarled veterans and World Cup racers. The track, buffed to perfection by the combined efforts of Bike Track and Ride Sheffield volunteers is perfect for the wide spread of ability, rideable by most and a real treat for the experienced rider hurtling down it at speed.
Then there’s Jolley’s Gap Jump, heckle central. Good natured but increasingly loud as the day goes on, master of ceremonies Rob Jolley makes sure that the atmosphere is encouraging rather than intimidating.
The bomb hole finish has to be one of the best conclusions to a British downhill race. Racers arrive at the lip to be greeted by hundreds of spectators yelling encouragement, a real cauldron of noise. It’s perhaps here that the Sheffield-centric nature of the event is most evident with local brewers Bradfield serving the ale, local bike manufacturers Cotic and On-One showing their latest goodies, food from local suppliers, the Mountain Rescue providing first aid cover and Kevin Radical providing the choons.
Which would all add up to a great race for sure, but not the exceptional one enjoyed year after year by those lucky enough to attend. The really special ingredients include the sheer diversity of the entrants, including Rippers riding their first ever race, the next generation of national champs cutting their teeth in the Youth category and riders of all ages from ten to seventy. It truly is grass-roots racing at its very best.
Then there’s the incredible marshals who give up their day for free and keep us all safe, the organisers who make it all happen with a minimum of fuss and the crowds who make it all worthwhile by shouting themselves horse.
Then there’s the man himself, Steve Peat. Still racing hard, chatting to everyone and destroying the opposition by 4 seconds. Peaty mate, we salute you.
For a ful list of the generous sponsors who make the Steel City Downhill such a great success, check out the website HERE