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20 MIN READ TIME

IN THE BEGINNING

OLLY TOWNSEND

Even though this photo was taken nearly 30 years ago, the emotion conveyed in my facial expression seems to have burned its way indelibly into my soul. That heady mix of excitement, adrenaline and full-on fear is one that most mountain bikers get to experience on a pretty regular basis – it’s part of what makes mountain biking so addictive after all.Just out of shot to the right is quite a steep descent. I suspect now in the era of decent suspension, dropper posts, disc brakes, low-pressure tubeless tyres (and sensible handlebars), no one would bat an eyelid at the severity of the gradient. But as I approached the drop for the first time, midway around lap one of my first exposure to cross-country racing, the drop looked like I was about to ride of the end of the world.

With hindsight, I suspect that trying to emulate my hero John Tomac circa 1988, by fitting dropped handlebars to my beloved Ridgeback 603GS, probably hampered my progression into the higher echelons of our sport. I’m not sure that the dark ski goggles, grey woollen gardening gloves that I’d borrowed from my mum’s potting shed or the poorly fitted polystyrene helmet (complete with stretchy pink cover), did me many favours either.

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