Elena Melton has been going from strength to strength this season: Winning at the first round of the Scottish Enduro Series; competing in the Enduro World Series; coming second to former world champion Manon Carpenter at the BUCS Downhill Race; and competing in the elite women category in the British Downhill Series.
Now she has another achievement to add to her list: Coming fourth in the National Downhill Championships in Wales – beaten only by one world champion, one world cup winner and a former world champion.
The Stirling University student was racing in the national champs in Rhyd-y-Felin, a track which Melton described as having “everything on it: Wide fast sections, tight technical sections in the woods, big muddy ruts, drops and jumps, and minefields of roots and tree stumps”.
It was Elena’s second time racing in the elite women’s category, having competed with the UK’s best racers for the first time in Fort William as part of the HCBC British Downhill Series.
The race in Rhyd-y-Felin was to determine the UK’s next national champion, and contained an extremely high calibre field; in the women’s elite alone, current downhill world champion Rachel Atherton was racing, alongside former rainbow jersey wearer Manon Carpenter and Tanhée Seagrave, who just won the world cup race in Leogang, Austria.
On the race, Elena said: “I hadn’t been on my downhill bike in about a month, since the Scottish Downhill race at Aberfeldy, so the first run on Saturday was just for getting used to the bike again and checking out the track. But I was surprised how quickly I got back into the big bike and pretty much immediately loved the track.”
Elena finished second in the fourth round of the Scottish Downhill Association series in Aberfeldy, squeezed out of the top spot by just 0.649s. She also finished fourth in the U21 category at the fifth round of the Enduro World Series in France at the start of the month.
Riding for a relatively small team, Elena admits she had nothing to lose, and was relieved to only have her own expectation to put pressure on her. Outside of the top three female riders on the course, there were many others on bigger teams who are top level athletes.
Despite starting out in the mud on the first day, the track dried for the main event over the weekend, with Elena seeding high in qualifying, meaning her expectations turned to coming in the top four.
She said of her race run: “I was pushing it in my race run, and as soon I got into the slippy woods sections and slippy rocks sections I began to get very sketchy, having quite a few near crashes and a few moments where both feet were off the pedals and I was riding the top tube.
“When I was somehow still on my bike and I passed a marshal who shouted ‘You’re catching her’, I told myself to reign it in a bit and get to the bottom in one piece. After a good bottom half of the track and a leg burning sprint to the finish line I crossed the line into hot seat.”
With Atherton, Seagrave and Carpenter all to complete their race runs, Elena was pushed into fourth, but admits having fourth in that sort of field was more than what she had hoped for.
“I was still five seconds ahead of fifth place”, she said, “and had improved on my qualifying run time by seven seconds.
“It felt weird having fourth place as a goal for a race but it definitely left me hungry for more – maybe one day I’ll be able to aim for that top step and the champs title.”
Rachel Atherton was crowned the women’s UK national champion, with Greg Williamson retaining his Union Jack sleeve as the men’s national champion.
Asking Elena how she had got to this point, she indicated her recent racing ventures in some of the toughest races in the calendar, competing at the EWS, Mega Avalanche, plus riding a lot in France.
Mega Avalanche sees riders zoom down the side of Alpe d’Huez in a mass start event that usually commences in the snow. Elena came fourth in the 19-29 women and eighth overall.
She said: “There was a bit of fighting for positions in the first few sections of single-track, but after that it was pretty spread out and I was riding by myself for most of the rest of the race.
“After an hour of descending and sprinting up climbs, I crossed the finish line and was pretty surprised to see not many girls had finished already. I didn’t really have much idea of my position as I was riding down after a crazy start in the snow but I was really happy to find out I’d come eighth place.”
Elena will be racing in the EWS at Whistler in Canada in August, and soon after competing in the Scottish Downhill Association’s biggest race in Fort William.