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British XC Series – Rd1

Pics: Joolze Dymond

As opening rounds go, the first British XC Series seemed to have it all; sunshine, 7 km of tight twisty dusty trails and races full to bursting with riders keen to get the 2009 season underway. Well over 600 riders, including masses of female riders converged on Sherwood Pines last weekend to take part in the UK’s premier XC race series across 11 categories.

Sherwood Pines is a firm favourite for many riders, awash with fast flowing trails, dry loamy berms but with no real hills to talk of it is one certainly not for the climber, instead more suited to the strong rider hopefully with a killer sprint. As the day unfolded it was soon apparent that each race was very nearly always going to be fought right down to the wire, which would provide a day full of thrilling action for spectators crowded into the arena.

The Elite women starting proceedings. This race had a true international flavour, with New Zealander Rosara Joseph, Australian Kate Potter and German Mel Spath alongside home grown talent and National XC Champion Jenny Copnall, plus Annie Last and Lilly Matthews. A slight tussle on the second row saw a few riders left behind as the fast train to victory left abruptly without them, headed by World Cup regular Joseph.

As the 5-lap race unfolded it was soon clear that this was not going to be a clear-cut race as everyone thought. While the front rider, Joseph, remained unchallenged, the race behind was a constant turmoil of chopping and changing as the women, fought their way through the course and the backmarkers, hunting for the sweet spot on Joseph’s wheel.

Following some frantic racing, involving a bizarre crash for Spath in the feed zone, Joseph smoothly accelerated to take the win from Jen O’Connor. Seconds later and three riders burst into the arena each one eager to pick up the remaining podium. It was Mel Spath who out sprinted Potter and Copnall for that honour.

Soon it was time for the big hitters of the men’s Elite race to get going, including Olympian Oli Beckingsale, Dave Fletcher, Jody Crawforth, 2008 series winner Gareth Montgomerie and Robin Seymour to name but a few. As the whistle blew the riders led, by Seymour, hurtled down the opening straight, clouds of dust billowing out behind as they disappeared on the first of a hard and fast 7 lap contest.

At the business end of the race, a huge group of 20 riders swooped in formation through the tightly packed trees, as the relentless pace pulsated on. Lap after lap the lead was constantly changing with rider after rider trying hard to make or break the group. Beckingsale dug a few times in the closing laps and saw the huge group whittled down to a manageable 5 riders. Despite his efforts he still couldn’t shake the remaining riders consisting of Crawforth, Paul Oldham, Adrian Lansley and Fletcher.

Fletcher was playing the waiting game, using his head as well as his legs to try and give him that all important advantage, however as the closing stages of the race unfolded it was Jody Crawforth who appeared first in the arena and with a handful of seconds and a furious group sprint behind cruised to the line for the first win of the season. The remaining podium spots were decided by a fierce sprint and Fletcher was the man that took second narrowly ahead of Beckingsale and Oldham whilst an exhausted Lansley came in seconds later to take fifth.

“That was a tough race,” Crawforth said, “with so many of us in contention. After the first lap there were about 20 of us battling it out, I felt comfortable out there but went to the front a few times just to keep the pace high. It was hard to get away it was pretty windy out there, so I just sat there, but towards the end I started getting cramp, but fortunately it went away and the last two laps I settled down and felt great. It was difficult to keep tabs on how many laps you’d done, but it was a good course, good race and of course happy to win! I’m pleased with my form, seeing how I haven’t done any top end training yet, so I’m surprised to win, but I’m happy to take it home.”

With round 1 a resounding success as hundreds of riders revelled in the challenging course and relentless pace I’m confident that the future of XC racing in the UK is once again on the up. 2009 is set to be a bumper year of thrills and spills as competitors duke it out over a series of challenging courses and rivals.

Round 2 heads for a new venue, one that is currently looking for World Cup status, so expect Dalby Forest to provide a real humdinger of a race. If you want to take part get your entry in early, as signs are that this series is gonna be a hot ticket of action.

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