This is a story that should have been told long ago. The images have languished on my hard drive, with one particular one escaping and doing the rounds of various media. It's now Pinkbike POD so this is the story of the gap, the 'talent' - two young pinners from the UK race scene - and how I got the photo in the bag.
Many of you have seen what has now become known as "The Atherton Gap". You'll have seen it on the telly on Earthed, perhaps in a mag or on a certain calendar produced by Future Publishing. Not many will have seen the actual gap with their own eyes. And even fewer of you will have seen it jumped. Two guys that can safely call this one are Sam Dale and James Stock.
On a chilled Saturday evening of the Pearce DH race at Bala last year, everyone was kicking back and chillaxing. Everyone, that is, apart from two super fast riders who were nowhere to be seen. Then the rumour started to rumble round the pits that they were up in the quarry, about to hit the gap. Sam and Jim made it back and a quick chat later and they were up for hitting it again after the race, this time for the camera.
Check out the shot of the lip to downslope in the photo below. Sam's team boss is stood on the lip, looking right to the landing. You can just see the tyre marks where the lads were putting it down - that light stripe between the gorse, far right.
There's folk sat behind a keyboard saying it's nowt, Photoshop or lens trickery. Well check this. I broke out my awesome Photoshop skills and used Colin Williams from FLi to measure the gap.
Gap - 8 Cols wide by 2.5 high
One standard "Col" is around 6 feet. The gap weighs in at around 8 "Cols" wide. At the peak, riders hover somewhere about 2.5 "Cols" above the quarry track below. I make that somewhere in the region of 50 feet wide, lip to landing, by 16 feet up at mid flight. This is one intimidating gap.
To give an idea on how much speed is needed to make it clean, the small white dot top left of the shale slope is Sam Dale, high up the hillside and still pushing!
In the blink of an eye, Sam topped out on his pushup, slung a leg over his Solid and started pedalling. I'm teetering on my vantage point, camera lens zoomed about right but I had no chance of a test shot to get the lighting on the rider correct. I had to get this shot in the bag - I wasn't going to be the one to ask him to do it again! As Sam gathered speed, I dialled down the exposure compensation, zoomed in the flash head and popped some extra power to hit him with some light, freeze the action and lift him off the background. I'm not sure how nervous he was but I know myself and Colin and Wayne from FLi Distribution (he was on one of their Solid Mission 9's) were bricking it!
No need to sweat, he hit is about 40mph, sailed the gap for what seemed like forever and stuck the downslope. He appeared to hang in the air, then all of a sudden was back on terra firma and that's when you realised how damn fast he was moving. The run out was a loose quarry track with a right hand bend. The wall and telegraph poles on the left meant drifting wide was not an option.
As soon as Sam stuck it, Jim Stock was piloting the GT i-drive flat out down the scree. Smooth as anything, there was plenty of time for Jim to make the shape in the air before sticking it and locking into the frightening exit drift, threading the bike past the dry stone wall and telegraph pole, flat out, racer style.
The (ropey) sequence above shows a bit of the run out, the landing slope and the loose quarry track. Bear in mind this was shot at 5.2 frames per second, check the gap between frames and you'll see how fast Sam was moving!
Just goes to show, racers can still huck it good and stick the landings with style!