MTB Photography at Llangollen British Downhill Series

Last weekend I successfully managed to combine my interests in mountain biking and photography with a drive out in my MR2 – the third round of the 2022 British Downhill Series was in Llangollen and I drove over to spectate/photograph.

I started early, and rather than going straight to the race I drove past Llandegla and over the Horseshoe Pass to Llangollen, stopping for breakfast at the Ponderosa Cafe at the top of the pass. Most of the other customers were motorcyclists, but the breakfast was good (and sensibly priced) – somewhere I will be returning to! After breakfast I called in to the Oggie Shop in Llangollen to pick up some Oggies to take home. Oggies are like Cornish pasties, except the filling is organised in layers, rather than mixed together. For over twenty years I have associated Llangollen with Oggies, because of the Oggies Shop, so could not pass without stopping.

When I got to the race I did not know what to expect – would there be five spectators? Or five thousand? it seemed fairly busy, with spectators lining the whole track, but not such that it felt crowded. Spectators could walk up one side of the track, but it was steep and rough! Walking back down the hill at the end of the day, it was actually easier to walk down the track. Whilst the riders were doing their seeding runs, I walked the length of the track and scoped out a few viewpoints to shoot from. I settled on a series of tricky corners towards the top of the track to watch the race runs.

The timing of the race was such that the junior categories came down first, with each category getting faster and watching all of the race runs from the same allowed me to see just how much faster the elite men were. A lot of riders in the lower categories were struggling with the loose, blown-out corners, with some pretty spectacular crashes. However, the top elite riders made it look so easy, I was particularly impressed with Ethan Craik”s (no relation!) sneaky line down the grass, although he crashed later in his run, missing out on what was likely a podium spot.

For me, a real highlight was seeing Steve Peat, a true legend of the sport, returning to racing. He was in the “veterans” class but still put in a good time. It was a good day for his Santa Cruz Syndicate team, as Laurie Greenland won the elite class, setting the fastest time of the day.

Photography-wise, I loved being back out shooting sport, especially as access was much better than when I used to shoot motorsport. However, I did miss my old kit – the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2 and XF-55-200 lens, is no match for my old Canon 1Dmk2 and 70-200f2.8 lens, and I lost quite a few shots dues to them being out of focus. I also found out that one of my batteries has died. I think that there will be some changes in my camera bag in the coming months, as I definitely want to do more MTB race photography going forwards.