Ben Thomas reports from the Southern Champs

Southern Champs was a big target of mine: last year I won the elite title.

Sunday morning my focus and determination was sky high, I wasn’t going to lose the title without a fight. A pre ride of the course revealed a familiar track through the bluebells of Wasing Estate.

On race day you know fairly quickly how your body is responding to the efforts, even during practise, on Sunday riding the track felt almost effortless.

You can see my video from practise here:

A strong field of elite riders had gathered including the regular Southern XC Series competitors plus a few additional extras like John Whittington and professional cyclo-cross star Ian Field. From the start gun I leapt into the lead along the first flat fireroad drag, I never looked behind but could still hear people on my wheel.

Taking the left hand turn into the first climb I accelerated again, hoping to cause my rivals some pain and knowing if I was first into the singletrack I could recover before the next climb. Out of the singletrack I put in another big effort.

During this race I could feel that my training was beginning to work, the pedals kept turning and as a result the gap to my rivals grew. Eventually I looked over my shoulder, Ben Sumner had joined me. Going into the second lap I let Ben take the lead, only for a short while though, I wanted to ride this race at my pace. Half way through this lap Ben Sumner crashed on one of the many tough rooty sections. It was a little too early to be leading this one out alone but I had no choice.

Onto the third lap and the red and yellow colours of Ian Field could be seen steadily closing the gap. A little mistake was enough for him to close up on me and take the lead. His 29er full suspension bike was making easy work of the rough trails but I was making back time on the open fireroads and climbs. Eventually on the fourth lap the elastic snapped, a 10 second gap grew and Ian could be seen ahead managing the gap.

With a big lead over third place I slowed the pace on the final lap beginning to think about the following weekend’s race. Crossing the finish line Ian had a 30 second lead, and I was a further 1 minute 30 up on Ade Lansley in 3rd. To lose the Southern Champs title was a disappointment but the form is good, the motivation is high, and this coming weekend there’s a National Marathon Championship title to fight for.

Here’s my post-race thoughts:

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