Hannah Collingridge and Joolze Dymond are this year’s commentators for the British Cycling National XC Series. They’re also bringing us a race report from each round, with a bit more colour than the official British Cycling version. Expect to hear about a little more than just who won a medal, and if you’re racing and they spot you, expect to get heckled.
Photography by Joolze Dymond
Racing returned to Newcastleton for 2022 but with a completely different course from last year after storm Arwen demolished great chunks of the forest. The course builders got creative though and chucked in some new technical features including the quarry drop and the walled garden. And with only a week since the previous round it was always going to be interesting to see riders fared on a very different feeling course.
This was going to have to be a tactical game. If you were going to be at the pointy end this week there were several key sections of the course where being at the front of your group was going to be vital. One of those was at the start: a short flat grassy section led to a short sharp climb with the best line definitely on the left. You could ride up the right, but there was a rut so it wasn’t the greatest option. Then you were straight into a moderately techy singletrack section so ground lost on the hill might be hard to win back. Now, an observation about the short sharp climb: in most of the men’s races there was a pile up. A wheel would slip, elbows would get a bit sticky out, and then a group would be unclipping and walking. The exception was the Male Super Vets who are all gentlemen, of course, and treated each other with dignity and respect. Most of the women’s races did not involve a pile up. Now, we could make observations here about the relative sizes of the women’s fields or perhaps that sometimes the boys get a bit giddy and competitive. Maybe a little of both.
On the newer parts of the course it was also going to be a case of watching how the trail bedded in. When the quarry drop was first ridden it was loose and gravelly, and was being monitored by the commissaires and trail crew to see how it bedded in. Thankfully there were no problems with it and by the time the men’s elite rode, it was possible to send it from the top, land half way down and still have enough firm ground to brake on. Apparently. Rooty Goodness continued to catch people out as it did last year – a beautiful singletrack line along a beech avenue with an off-putting ditch to one side and roots of all shapes and sizes to delight and entertain both rider and watching hecklers. In the wooded section cut last year there was a new wall drop/roll which let’s just say caught out even some of the best riders in the country. It proved to be a firm favourite for audience participation as well. So very different to Tong. Who was going to do well?
Jack from Crank It! ran another of the under 12 skills sessions before their ride round part of the course, and again that went down well. It was a bit cruel sending them up the start hill but there was a steady stream of parents and helpers to lend a hand when things got tough for little legs.
Racing on the full course got underway on Saturday afternoon. It was another closely fought race in the Sport Male category this week with Tom and Sam Stephenson (both Lakes RC) battling all the way round, Tom just breaking away on the final lap to win. Marco Ruggeri (Rapha CC) had another great ride to take third. The Male Open race got nicknamed ‘Beginners and those who didn’t get organised enough to enter the appropriate race for them’ – realistically it is a race aimed at beginners and those who haven’t committed to buying a race licence and you can enter on the day. This also means there are no points given for the series. However, if you’ve not got organised enough to enter whatever category you should be racing, it’s also for you. In Male Open it was Richard Tarling (Fishface Cycles) who led pretty much from the line, chased by Stephen Wallis (Rugby Velo) who held off Bruce ‘I haven’t done much mountain biking this year’ Dalton (Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus). Also making an appearance in the race were Richard Jackson of the Jackson Five and Mark ‘Sliding’ Dawes who also responds to ‘Bernard’. It’s amazing what people’s wives will tell you.
In the Women’s Open Adele McAleer (Velo Culture) in her first MTB race took the win from Emily Wilkinson (West Lothian Clarion CC) and Luselle Davies (Coalville Wheelers). Adele claimed she was going to celebrate with a cup of tea and a bit of cake so she has clearly got post-race nutrition sorted early in her race career.
In the evening sunshine there was the short track event. Sam Howes (Sleaford Wheelers) took the ‘win’, but of far more importance was the annual Rock UK staff race and the bragging rights for the year ahead. Staff at Rock UK take this very seriously indeed as can be seen by their fancy dress costumes and monster mascots tied to bikes. Josh Smith took the win again, keeping last year’s title, but it was such a mellow spring evening for riding bikes, frankly everyone was a winner. Thanks to the generosity of Schwalbe, Crank It! and Vertebrate Publishing everyone who took part got a prize. Robin Atkinson, who had raced the open as well, took the Vertebrate Publishing spot prize for travelling the furthest to race. He was on holiday when he’d seen the race was local so thought he’d try his hand at a bit of MTB racing. He had a pretty good day out and was delighted to get a copy of the brand new Gravel Rides Scotland for further adventures.
Sunday morning was bright and dry although a heavy dew made the early practice session slippy in places. In the Juvenile Female races Aelwen Davies (RR23) took her first national win on her brand new bike after her frame had been cracked last week at Tong. She and Zoe Roche (WXC Racing) traded places for the first lap and a half before Aelwen got away on the climb. Mazie Harper took third, bettering her position by one place this week.
Leon Atkins (Welwyn Wheelers CC) won the Juvenile Male category with Curtis McKee (Scott Quanta) in second, continuing his good run. After being outsprinted to the line last week, Gus Lawson (Edinburgh RC) came a solid third.
Daisy Taylor (Royal Albert CC) had another convincing win in Youth Female with Bethany-Ann Jackson (WXC) in second and Florence Greenhalgh (Pine Sport) taking third just ahead of Lucy Allsop (Welwyn Wheelers CC). In Youth Males Ewan Dix had an absolute stonker of a race to just take the win ahead of Alfie Amey (GKR Racing) in the sprint. Alfie Davies (The Bulls) took third place again. This was also the race of many sprint finishes with several extremely close battles taking place a bit further down the field. Great to see everyone giving everything they’ve got right to the line.
By this stage of the morning it was becoming obvious that although the course was very different from that at Tong it was still taking its toll on bikes. The section through the wood with the gap jump at the top and the wall jump at the bottom seemed to be particularly destructive on rear tyres and chains. It’s part of the challenge of racing: lightweight, low profile tyres run with lower pressures are exactly what’s needed for XC racing but they will also burp more easily on a squirrelly landing, and the sidewalls are not particularly indestructible so you have to ride within the limits of the tyres. I can understand how tyres were suffering in that section but not chains. There were quite a few broken chains. Innes McDonald deserves a special mention for quite how much he managed to wrap his chain round most of the rear of the bike. Just glad I wasn’t his pit helper. They got him back out again but that’s how easy it is to go from fifth to 24th in a very competitive field.
It was another switch round in the results for the male Vet category. Chris Buchan (Pentland Racers) stormed to the win with Marc Chamberlain (Hunt Bike Wheels) in second, and Alan Gunner (Verulam CC) getting home ahead of Tony Fawcett (Scott Racing) who seemed to have a day of close encounters with trees. Nick Craig (Scott Racing) again won the Grand Vets but this week did take a couple of laps to shake off the shadow of Ian Taylor (Shibden) who took second. Paul Nutton (Shibden) took third. In the Super Vets Grant Johnson had another cracking race to win, with Pete Harris (Pearce Cycles) in second and Bruce Rollinson (All Terrain Cycles Ride) picking up third. Bruce also had a close encounter or two with a tree.
Annie Last, fresh back from Brazil, had a convincing win in the women’s Elite race. Anna Flynn (Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus) and Elena McGorum (Peebles CC) continued their battle from last week. Anna took advantage of a puncture on Elena’s bike to take the second place this week. Elena fought her way back to third ahead of Jo Thom (Torq), fourth and Jane Barr (Velocity 44 RT) fifth. Amy Henchoz (with her silent z) took sixth in her first race in the elite class showing exactly why she’s moved up from Expert.
In the Female Juniors Emily Carrick-Anderson (T-Mo Racing) continued her form of last week with another clear win. But behind her this week it was Phoebe Roche (WXC) who claimed the second place, Kacey Eyeington (Derwentside CC) third, with Christina McGorum (Peebles CC) and Beatrix Kiehlmann (Royal Albert CC) taking the other podium spots. This is going to be an exciting category to keep an eye on this year.
In Expert/Sport Christina Wiejak (Saint Piran) took this week’s win convincingly with Grace Inglis (Muckle Cycle Club) second and Amy Drysdale (Army Cycling Union) in third. In the female Vets Emily Smith was flying until a tree root caught her out, so Mel Paddington took the win this week. She stopped to see if Emily was OK and asked what she should do. Apparently Emily answered she should carry on and win. Great advice. Verity ‘Blast from the Past’ Appleyard took second and Karen Heppenstall was third. Virginia Roberts (Albion Cycling Co) won the Grand Vets with Clare Hoskins (Cardiff JIF) second and Caroline Harvey (Peebles CC) in third. In Super Vets Carolyn Spiers (Kendal) continued her form of thriving on technical sections of track.
In Elite Men Cameron Orr (Team Inspired) took the win after his impressive display in Brazil last week. It took him quite a few of the seven laps to shake off Charlie Aldridge (Scott Racing) though. Behind them Corran Carrick-Anderson (T-Mo Racing) and Cam Mason (TRINITY Road Racing) had also been battling for several laps. Corran managed to get away slightly to take the third spot, and Cam Mason just pipped Joseph Blackmore (Team Inspired) for fourth after Joe had rather impressively caught that group back up on the last lap. Exciting racing from all concerned although it did appear at one point that the men’s elite field were riding round in pairs. Kind of like going for a ride with a friend but much faster.
There was also exciting racing in the Junior Men’s race. Huw Buck-Jones (Backstedt Bike Performance) took the win from Max Greensill (Hope) after a sprint on the final field. Bjoern Koerdt (Shibden) went one better this week to pick up third, Nathan Smith (Hope) was fourth and Oliver Akers (Scott Racing) picking up fifth.
In the Expert Men, Lewis Martin dominated the field, leading from start to finish. Sam Howes (Sleaford Wheelers) had a great race to pick up second and Flynn Gregory (Derby Mercury RC) got another third place.
So another cracking week of racing. Off to the Kingdom of Fife for the next round but at least there’s a three week gap between races this time. If any of this has whetted your appetite for XC racing then there’s more info about the next round here:
- Thanks to the Rock UK team who helped the Mayer Active team put on the event. If you aren’t familiar with the Rock UK site at Newcastleton have a look at the range of activities they offer. They also do accommodation if you just want a break in the area.
- Thanks to all who volunteered and those who helped in any and all ways.
- Thanks to support from Schwalbe Tyres and Vertebrate Publishing for the series support.
- Full results on Smartiming
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