As the clocks wind back and the trails begin turning into mushy mud fests, the south west’s Soggy Bottom XC race series returns. There’s no excuse to pack the bike away until the spring now. Some good socks, a waterproof jacket and perhaps a change of tyres is all you need to carry on riding through winter. And for the usual problem of lacking motivation, well the chance to beat your mates in a race should surely be enough.
Putting to rest the common notion that XC racing is dead, 200 people turned out to compete, spread evenly across all categories. The biggest turnout was for the Youth and Juvenile categories. With over 40 riders compared to a dismal six this time last year, the future of the sport looks healthy. And it wasn’t just competitors who turned up – there were a great number of spectators cheering on all the racers.
The major change for this new series is that Ashcombe has been dropped, leaving Newnham Park to host all five rounds. This is no bad thing if you love technical trails and are addicted to singletrack.
The course used was pretty similar to past courses – lots of pedally bits, some sublime and swoopy singletrack through Bluebell Woods, a rhythm section through the famous Bombholes and one lung killer of a climb. Unfortunately no river crossings (something of a trademark for Newnham races) but there will be plenty of opportunities to get wet at the following rounds.
Talking of getting wet, the one ingredient that puts the soggy into Soggy Bottom was the lack of rain, evident in the nearly clean bikes crossing the finish line; not sparkling, but not caked from handlebar to skewer in mud. This lack of rain and the missing river crossings meant the course was mostly dry and very firm, leading to some very fast lap times by the fast guys. Overall the pace was high across all categories, and many obviously suffered under the relentless pace, myself included.
Jules Birks (Alcan-Bianchi) claimed the Experts top spot after a gruelling six laps. A strong start put him 30 seconds ahead after lap one, but a puncture cost lost him the lead, allowing Peter Hawkins (Bigpeaks.com) to take over at the front. Despite this setback, Jules rode brilliantly to reclaim the lead, and took the win by a mere ten seconds, with Llewellyn Holmes filling third spot 38 seconds behind the two leaders.
A huge increase on numbers from the previous series saw the Youth and Juvenile classes packed with keen riders, proving that there is still a lot of interest in XC mountain bike racing. From the huge Bikinmotion pool of riders, Dan Frost led the Youth category home, with Hamilton Lacey and James Hooper taking second and third places.
In the 50 strong Juvenile categories, Bow-Jango Cann (CF3 Team) and Zak Warwick (Bikinmotion) rode shoulder to shoulder for the entire race, but Bow-Jango inched out a 5/100th second lead to take the win. In third was James Schofield (Bikinmotion), along with 12 other Bikinmotion riders, ensuring they will be a force to contend with.
Blasting away the competition from the other Sport riders, James Spragg for EMBC led from the start and was never troubled by Robert Smail and Chris Cowling (AC Cowling Repairs) in second and third, trailing four and five minutes behind.
In a more hotly contested battle, Pete Dawe was the only rider in the Masters category to complete his four laps in less than 60 minutes. Martin Stephens (RN/RM) and Andy Carnell (Shred/Cove) weren’t far behind in the next two places, but Pete’s laps were consistently fast enough to hold off any challenges for his lead.
In the aptly named Wonder Women category, Jodi Vickery (Don’t Push It) easily took the win from Louise Burton and Lin Francis.
A major change for this new series is the addition of the Open category, which is great for first time racers or those who want to ride but not race, like an extended Fun race really. No series points and a cheaper entry price should help attract more riders. Gary Jennings for team JustRide easily took the victory, while in the Open Women category Kim Durand had little competition for first place.
In the new Chain Gang team competition, the current standings look bad for team JustRide, but I can see some big battles forming for some of the teams.
TeamBest 3 resultsRound 1 total
|2||Mid Devon CC||40+28+16||84|
|6||Don’t Push It||40+22||62|
|8||AC Cowling Repairs||34+25||59|
The next round on 5th December promises to be muddier, according to the JustRide weather forecaster 😉
Full results and entry forms (download and online): www.inevent.co.uk/soggybottom.htm
400 plus photos by Simon Kirk: www.pbase.com/simonkirk/soggy_bottom