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by Eric Palmer

This past weekend Jonkershoek hosted the first round of the South African National DH Cup Seriesfor 2013.

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I woke up on Sunday to a complete white out of mist and drizzle, which is rather common in the Jonkershoek valley, but not in the summer! The weather had done the same the morning before, but cleared to a nice cool summer day and I was hoping it would do the same for us on race day.

As I was getting ready to head across the valley, the light was looking too good and thought I'd leave my flashes at home for once. I brought along my 70-200mm and D800 to try get as much done as possible, not wasting time setting up lights in perfect light. My challenge for the day was one lens, one race run and no flash.

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I caught a shuttle up and made my way down the track scouting some spots. The top was really slippery and I could see riders were taking it a bit easy in the beginning. The track was the same as previous races, but I hadn't shot it since a lot of trees were thinned out. The lack of timber gave ita a very different feel.

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I just caught the last few qualifying runs, the last bit of rain was squeezed out of the clouds and it was race time!

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The usual dusty roost turned into mud layer over dry dirt. I think most riders had a controlled drift to the bottom, because I struggled to even walk on some sections. While the riding was challenging, the shooting was perfection. The air was so crisp from the rain and the light was so good through the clouds that I really wasn't missing my flashes at all. I had to make friends with the continuous focus mode on my camera. I never really used it before with DH because of my flash setups. As I was figuring it out, I got the odd, nice, sharp bush with blurry rider, but managed to get that under control fast enough. I just call those misfires "art."

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The first class was "Fun Men," but fun definitely doesn't mean that these riders aren't serious. There were a few taking it easy, but most were riding like they were wishing they were in a World Cup.

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The Sprogs (juniors) were up next and I hadn't seen some of them ride since last year. There has been a lot of growing up and I can see some serious potential in some of the young guys. The track was drying out a bit and there had been less rain lower down, so it was just getting faster & faster, but you could see the damage the water had done in a few corners.

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The chute was next and is the steepest drop-in on the course sending riders into a long, loose right-hander. With the trees gone, the cliff before the chute looks much more spectacular. The chute used to be buttery smooth and thought I was going to struggle getting down on my feet. With all the riding, however, there was almost a perfect staircase of braking bumps all the way down. Needless to say, from there on out, finding speed is not a problem.

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After the chute there is a small double into a steep slope with a few jumps, bumps and corners followed by the crowd favorite, the Road Gap. I normally steer clear of road gaps during races because that's where everybody with a camera or phone is and not much spectacular happens there during racing. I'm glad I did stop for one. I lucked out and my timing was perfect. I managed to catch Myles Kelsey throwing down some serious style. That was it for the gap. It wasn't going to get much better, so I made my way into the flatter Fynbos section for the last few riders.

As I looked up from the Fynbos, I saw Luke Le Roux flying down the mountain. He lost it in a corner before the road gap, got thrown onto his bars & bucked off into another berm. Medics quickly rushed to help him and it sounds like he broke his wrist quite badly and will need some surgery. We're all hoping for a quick recovery and to see him back on his bike soon! Luckily that was the only casualty of the day.

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The last section is super fast and any mistake can get you off course quite easily, but the top riders stuck to their lines and were looking quick as hell. In the end Andrew Neethling managed to kill the competition by 4.5 sec with a 02.17.82. Stay tuned for more coverage from the South African DH series.

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