Downhill at dusk

Downhill at dusk (pic courtesy of Fat Face)

Scotland's capital city faced an adventure race with a difference, a competition which claimed the honour of being the world's first urban downhill race to take place at night.

On the night of Saturday 6 October, a field of more than 250 mountain bikers competed against the clock, racing through the streets, down the city's steep stairs and through its vennels.

The sponsors of the race gathered a field of world class mountain bike riders to race in the darkness of an October night.

Chris Roberts, director of the night ride, said all 250 competitor slots had been taken within two days of opening registration.

World champions

Ruaridh Cunningham downhill bike (Pic courtesy of Bike Love)

The field was impressive, and included Scotland's Ruaridh Cunningham, freshly crowned Junior World Champion at the World Championships in Fort William in September. The 18-year-old raced to victory in front of almost 10,000 spectators in Fort William.

World Silver medallist Rachel Atherton raced alongside her brothers Gee and Dan Atherton, and mountain bike legend Tracey Mosley had also signed up to compete.

Gee Atherton had won a bronze in the Elite Men category in last month's World Championships.

Carl Lottering-Geeson, bike shop owner and current sponsor of Ruaridh Cunningham, explained that the course only took a minute or two to run. He said the spectacle of bringing downhill racing into the city centre had given people a rare chance to witness the skills of the riders.

A former Londoner, Carl said the race was an opportunity to highlight Scotland as a venue for all kinds of biking. He said: "Scotland is about the only place in the UK where you can ride any form of bike to all levels."

According to Carl, the urban course offered its own challenges to the riders, with concrete and tarmac presenting a harder surface than the usual downhill courses.

Some riders chose not to use typical downhill bikes, selecting instead the strong hard tail or freeride bikes.

Top secret course

To keep up suspense, the organisers kept the official course "top secret". This also served to prevent any pre-race practising. However, they let it be know in advance that the course was going to be extremely challenging, taking in steps, jumps and a bridge.

Before the event, Mr Lottering-Geeson said: "Every rider has their own personal taste, and no-one yet knows what the course is like. We don't know if there are any wooden drops or ramps built in to the city streets. The winner of a similar Paris event didn't use a downhill bike at all."

Britain's Steve Peat won the urban downhill race in Lisbon, Portugal for the sixth consecutive time in May.

Historical landmarks

Thousands of spectators travelled to Edinburgh for the event, which had a prize pot totalling £3,000 for the professional riders as well as thousands more for winners of the competition's age categories.

Organisers planned the focal point for the day to be the finish line in the Cattle and Grassmarket, so spectators could get close to the top riders as they raced through the city.

The Grassmarket has a mix of housing, shops, restaurants and bars, and is a landmark in Edinburgh city centre.

Downhill cyclist in city (Pic courtesy of Fat Face)

Locating the finish line and prize giving in this area raised some concerns as the area is currently under renovation, with the fitting of CCTV cameras and re-laying traditional cobbled road surfaces as part of a £5.1m programme.

However, according to the City of Edinburgh Council, the work site areas were made safe to accommodate the race.

A spokeswoman for the council said preparations for the event had begun months before with the setting up of an Events Planning and Operations Group (Epog).

The Epog included emergency services and the event's organisers as well as other agencies affected by the event.

The race organisers were obliged to meet the conditions set by the Epog, and also had to create safety and contingency plans.

The council's spokeswoman said: "Edinburgh is popular venue for different types of events, and the council is keen to actively work to make sure the events can go ahead."

Race organisers

Ian Williams, events manager for Fat Face, said the race had been a fitting finale for the company's series of night events in 2007, bringing "all the elements of the off-road sport to the centre of one of the most iconic cities of the UK."

He added: "It has been a pleasure working with the very proactive team at the Edinburgh Council to pull this off."

Page first published on Tuesday 2nd October 2007
Page last updated on Tuesday 17th June 2008

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