Bradford, specifically Peel Park, is steeped in cyclocross history, hosting the National Trophy every year, and also the National Championships more times than I can remember. The big news at Peel Park this year was the weather—the forecast was for snow and lots of it—the race was in danger of being cancelled if the forecast was correct. Luckily it wasn’t and the race went ahead, albeit very cold and with just a dusting of snow to add to a classic British cyclocross race with lots of tough mud and deep ruts to make it difficult.
The local area of Bradford is home to some of the best cyclocross riders in the country; Ian Field, Tom Pidcock, Amira Mellor and countless others from Yorkshire all view Bradford as their home race. The usual top British riders were on the start line, minus Tom Pidcock, who is apparently taking a break from racing to improve upon his fitness.
In addition, the National Trophy is UCI-sanctioned and attracts riders from all over Europe, most notably Belgian superstar Braam Merlier, who eventually took the win, leaving Ian Field to follow in fourth place.
Although the racing at the top end is on the up, with young talents such as Tom Pidcock taking the cyclocross scene by storm and other riders following in his wake, the also-rans are important too. If it wasn’t for the independent riders who make up the numbers, or the riders stepping up from the regional leagues to the National Trophy races, the cyclocross scene in the UK would struggle.
The popularity of cyclocross is increasing globally in general, and particularly in the UK. This is due to a few factors, with riders like Ian Field and Helen Wyman amongst others racing to success in Europe and in Belgium. This in turn has improved the racing back home in the UK and has increased participation. It’s not uncommon in the UK at regional races to see 120 riders lining up to race around the local park.
However, although there are lots of people racing cyclocross these days, there is still a massive gap between the elite and the top riders at a regional race, and at a National Trophy race there is a large divide between the top 20 riders and the rest of the field.
As well as being a photographer, I race cyclocross in the NWCCA league, generally finishing mid-table out of roughly 70 riders. Moving up another 10 or 15 places to me seems impossible, so what would it feel like to jump from regional to national racing?
While at Peel Park I spotted fellow NWCCA rider Gareth “Gaz” Brookes on the start line, who I have gotten to know over the past 18 months. We train on the same parks and trails and often discuss the race and how we got on at the finish line even though Gareth places a lot higher than I ever do.
He was at the back of the pack on the start line shivering in the snow. There are familiar faces at any given race, but it’s always good to see someone you know line up.
I had a chat with Gareth before and after the race:
I try and race every NWCCA race that I can. My aim every year is to try and get high average points in the league. I’m learning it’s a very difficult skill to be consistent throughout the season, rather than peak for one for two specific races.It requires a lot more planning, discipline, and the ability to run a mile from anyone you think may have a cold.
I also had a go at the Yorkshire summer league this year, which was a lot of fun. There is a high concentration of talent there so you can really learn a lot.
I have a Cannondale Super X and a barely legal Giant TCX. I’m not precious about my bikes—they all get ruined pretty quickly—but that doesn’t stop me dreaming of upgrades all the time.
I’ve done a lot more training this summer to see how much better I could get, but I know I’m still not bonafide national level. Bradford is near to my home in Manchester, so I thought it would be a good craic. It really was good fun and also eye-opening racing against people like Ian Field and Jeremy Durrin. They really are on another level.
I tried to do some more running as part of my training, as I was expecting it to be very boggy. I suck at running but mainly I had no aims for Bradford. I took it as a bit of fun on an amazing course.
I had tried desperately to get a pit crew together but I couldn’t find any takers. About 10 minutes before the race started, my girlfriend’s dad showed up, not knowing how to change gears or anything, and he worked together with some very kind folks from Port Sunlight Wheelers and Horwich CC to help me swap bikes. It made a massive difference.
For the first two minutes of the race I got to imagine I was a pro as we all stuck together. After those golden moments, though, the gaps got larger and larger until I was left not far from the back, battling with all the other chancers who had come to give it a go.
I only did three laps! I was gutted about that, as my aim was to do over half the race. Bradford is a very unforgiving course! My fitness is better than my technique—this was not the course for me. I did get some cheers when I was sliding down the hill like a kid in their socks on the dance floor.
Selfishly I would have loved to have done the whole race, but I also get that from a professional standpoint, it looks quite amateur if you have people wobbling all over the course, blocking off someone trying to pass you.
One issue that could be looked at is there is a massive gap between regional leagues and national. I’m not sure how to bridge that ability level.
I’ll be racing again, yeah, mainly for the experience. I love racing and I loved the atmosphere. I’ll aim to do one more lap every time until that yellow leader’s jersey finds its rightful place upon my shoulders.
Thanks for the chat, Gaz, and I’ll see you on a start line in the new year.