Despite a plethora of mountain bike events springing up all round the UK, the third round of the Southern XC sponsored by Pedal On and SRAM, attracted a comprehensive turnout of riders from both near and far keen to tackle the popular undulating circuit at Crow Hill, with ages ranging from the very young up to the very young at heart.
Racing throughout the day was incredible tight as category after category fought for that elusive top spot, providing intense action to delight the supporters. For those lacking that competitive edge, Scott were on hand providing a great selection of demo bikes for riders to test on a specifically created demo course and for the spectators Quaver Catering made sure all their day out was a well fed and watered one, while the ice cream van was a yet another welcome addition to the whole day.
Despite it’s seemingly ‘flat’ nature this 4.5 mile course is in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing, offering as it does a classic assortment of fast flowing singletrack, weaving effortlessly through dense woods, with a range of undulating drags that leaving you begging for the finish, it hasn’t gained the tag ‘the most gruelling course in the UK’ for no reason: it’s a real power course that takes no prisoners and requires an unrelenting surge of pedalling at all times.
Add to this a hot cloud free day, plus the sapping dusty nature of the course had you had a day of epic battles with riders fighting hard to get to the finish to grab a well earned ice cream.
The racing got underway in earnest with the future stars of our sport getting stuck into a shortened version of the circuit, providing an insight into the racing to come. Then it was onto the full circuit, with Thomas Butler scoring the first victory of the day in the juvenile race, followed by Ffion James taking victory in the juvenile women’s category.
In the two lap youth race Martin Turton had Harry Franklin tussling with him all the way round, with Turton grabbing the victory with just a handful of seconds. Emily Barnes rode a strong race against the boys to take her own victory and was rewarded with a trip to the top step alongside the boys.
By 11 o’clock the trails were awash with Open and fun riders. Ian Bamber got the best start over the first lap leading the race through closely followed by Jason Huggett, however by the end of the race it was Peter Sykes who blasted through to take the win in the 2 lap fun race.
In the Open race a select group of 5 riders paced themselves through the first lap, leaving the comprehensive field in chase mode. By lap 2 the cracks began to show with eventual winner Tom Kenworthy easing himself into the hot seat, which he capitalised on to take the win with over 70 secs advantage over runner-up Franck Lebon.
The ultra competitive women’s open race was secured by Hannah Minter who just managed to hold off a fast finishing Vicky Munro.
Next up were the juniors followed by the young at heart vets. Hugo Humphreys took swift control of the junior race taking the win with a 2 minute cushion. Ruby Baker rode a lonely furrow in her race with no competition she dug deep and rode hard to take her category. In the vets, birthday boy Paul Hopkins was hoping to celebrate his day in style adding another win to his tally this year. However Mark Chadborne and Darren Shepherd had other ideas and despite the fast start Hopkins had a real battle on his hands. However after 3 long laps Hopkins held off the ensuing threat posed by Chadborne taking the win by just 19secs.
Meanwhile Nicky Hughes took control of her vet’s race early on and kept up the pressure to take the win. In the Grand Vets Mark Hardwicke stamped his authority over the race opening up a first lap lead that he kept to the end, while Dave Lloyd took the honours in the Super Grand Vets.
Finally with the ice cream rapidly melting it was time for the last set of races of the day, with the elites, expert, masters and sport all ready to get stuck in. An impressive line up in the elite men’s race, including Irish Olympian Robin Seymour, along with the old perennial Nick Craig plus a few local favourites Adrian Lansley, Chris Minter and not forgetting youngster Steve James, meant this race was not going to be a push over for anyone.
It soon became apparent that this little fast moving express train wasn’t stopping for anyone, with Seymour, James, Lansley and Stuart Bowers setting the punishing pace. Up front and the race became a ding-dong fight between Seymour and Lansley, with Bowers dangling just out of reach, fending off the young pretender James and Craig. After 5 blistering laps it was Seymour who came out on top taking his first UK win for nearly a decade, Lansley kept hold of 2nd with Bowers still fending off a fast finish Craig to take 3rd. Jess Roberts took the women’s elite race, with team mate Malin Tindberg repeating the visit to the top step for WXC Racing in the expert race.
Gary Record proved the man to beat in the Expert race opening up a gap on his first lap, which he just kept extending over the 4 laps to finally claim the win. Rivals Simon Earnest and Scott Forbes locked horns in the masters race, with Forbes attacking and Earnest just keeping him in his sights for the first couple of laps until Forbes kicked again to open up an unassailable lead to take yet another win. In the master women’s race, it has become an intriguing year of cat and mouse racing between main rivals Emma Bradley and Jo Munden, with neither giving an inch. Today it was Munden’s day, after leaving Bradley in chase mode from lap 2, Munden took the win.
Finally the sport race provided some of the closest action with the top 4 finishing with less than 60 secs separating them. It was Max Filleul who threw down the gauntlet with his opening gambit of a sub 22min lap making enough of a lead to work on over the remaining 2 laps to grab the win from Nick Stacey.
It was a day of hot temperatures coupled with some scorching racing that you expect to see at Crow Hill, a battleground of champions! The next round of this excitingly competitive series is on the 11 July.