Sunshine and Suicide in Silksworth

Snowsport England Grand Prix Series
Race 3 - NESA Grand Prix
Sunderland
Sunday 21st June, 2009

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Half of the girl’s field sat out of it, having no alternative, following a communal first run suicide.

Oh, the irony of it. Like lemmings perishing from a cliff top, one by one the female field left the start gate and less than half a dozen turns later found that, on this the longest day of 2009, their day was over before it had barely begun.

Granted Lee Bennett’s first run eliminator was a bit of a tester and the killer gate on Silksworth’s second ridge in particular didn’t exactly offer either time or room for any activation of a Plan B, but to see the mass elimination of single and low double pointed female racers was both bizarre and somewhat disappointing.

Disappointing isn’t an adjective that could be used to describe the efforts of Abby Clifford however. A start number of 2 provided Clifford with the ideal opportunity to watch her contemporaries deal (or fail to deal) with the challenge ahead and then use her vast experience to learn from their efforts and mistakes. This she did quite magnificently, negotiating every single gate on the course with a fantastic display of precision touch, timing and technique to cross the line almost a full second in front of her closest rival.. Any debate surrounding the suitability of the Bennett’s course was rightly concluded there and then. Reliance on a ceramic hooked edge and a hefty push out of the start gate was simply never going to be enough. Good course inspection, sound technique and the combination of feet and brains was the only answer to the questions raised by course 1. And with regard to the ladies field, only Abby Clifford ticked every one of those boxes.

To be fair to the ladies their compatriots in the men’s field faired little better. With 8 out of the top 20 racers making their way off the hill without troubling the timing beam it could be argued that they were equally culpable. However, there appeared to be a touch more conviction with the boys and they at least mainly negotiated the killer turn only to perish in the tight verticali that followed.

In addition, the greater experience of those who competed at the top end of the male section told a little more of the story. With the exception of home slope starlet Daniel Evans, every other male in the overall top 10 came from the senior or junior 2 category. Experience clearly plays a part in the ability to read a course, quickly digest that information and reproduce it at racing speed. No-one did that better than Pendle’s Dan Wyatt who, in producing the fastest run of the day not only on course one but also on Pierre Mahon’s second run, double matter stamped an impressive authority on the day’s proceedings. Team mate Bradley Morgan matched Wyatt diamond for diamond on run 1, separated by the small matter of 0.01 seconds, but a slower second run left Morgan disappointed in 3rd place overall and allowed the 2008 GP champion and tight course specialist Andrew Crawford to leapfrog him into a well deserved overall runners up spot.

In the categories Alice Thelwell’s 3rd overall was enough to win the senior category, one place in front of Ravens Lesley Mearns with co-Gloucester racer Emily Goddard in 3rd. Pendle’s Lauren Elliot and Sharks Melanie Wilcockson followed Abby Clifford in the Junior 2 category whilst overall runner up Caroline Powell did more than enough to claim the honours in Junior 1 ahead of Gloucester racer Natassja Linley in 2nd and Southampton’s Emma Stafford in 3rd. Telford’s Kelly Greenbank took the win in Children 2 with Pendle racer Victoria-Lynn Orrell in 2nd whilst Beth Widdup's first round hike was justified with a 3rd place finish that provided an invaluable 3 point haul towards the overall GP series. In the youngest category Megan Jenkins provided the latest confirmation of her undoubted talent with a 6th place overall finish for the category win with Hemel’s Yasmin Cooper 2nd and Ravens Emma Peters in 3rd.

With experience dominating the males field it was no surprise that Colin Armstrong’s 4th overall was required to guarantee 3rd in the senior category behind Wyatt & Crawford and 5th & 6th respectively were needed to see Michael Thelwell and Harry Hornsby onto the podium in Jun 2. In Jun 1 Daniel Evans claimed the victory with Pendle duo Richard Leeson and Kaigan Witts in 2nd & 3rd. In the Children’s category Telford racer Ashley Breese proved too sharp for the chi 2 field though 2nd placed Jake Morgan and 3rd placed Graham Dickson pushed him close. In chi 1 Telford’s Jordan Fellows overturned a 1st run deficit to win the youngest category ahead of Gloucester’s Matthew Davis and Muckhart’s Fraser Buchan in 3rd.

The day belonged to Abby Clifford however. 365 days after leaving Sunderland with her hand in plaster the Telford warhorse returned somewhat gingerly to the slope where that injury happened. Little more than 36 hours later she’d added the NESA GP to the previous afternoon’s Sunderland Club National title and proved to be very much the class act of the weekend.