More than 200 riders, including a host of mountain bike orienteering newcomers, took to the Peak District for the fourth round of the Dark and White Trailquest Winter League.
The car park filled quickly with masses of competitors, registering, collecting their free Clif bar and casting their eye over the master map. Even before they had seen the detailed map people where trying to work out whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise. As the wind wasn’t going to be a major factor it came down to which way you wanted to do battle with the epic Chapel Gate – up it or down it! Because let’s face either way it’s a battleground and as usual it didn’t disappoint. On the plus side it looked like the going was firm as the field in front of the pavilion was frozen rock solid and everyone was hoping it would stay that way.
So to the start and as soon as the first maps were handed out it was obvious that the route planners had done another cracking job. The mutterings and rumblings seemed to more audible than usual and there was considerably more map studying as competitors tried to figure out the best route. The super-fit trying work out if it was possible to clear all 21 checkpoints and collect the 355 points on offer, while the rest of us just tried to work out a route that would give us a decent points tally without climbing too may hills – fat chance there then! There was plenty to think about with a tough 30 pointer at the top of Chapel Gate and a couple of cheeky 25 pointers in opposite corners of the map just to tempt you out that bit further than you wanted to go; suffice to say people headed off in every conceivable direction.
Out on the course the going was pretty good on the firm ground but you had to keep a wary eye out for the frozen puddles and streams at high level which had formed some pretty big expanses of ice. It was a matter of don’t touch the brakes or turn the handlebars and hope you made it to the other side.
As expected Chapel Gate was tough, although the hard ground made it a little easier than usual. But not for the quad bikes and 4x4s that seemed to be having a little trouble with some of the drop offs – but never mind, they get no sympathy here! In fact, I had to smile as I rode down past them and as they were trying to heave a quad up a particularly large stone step.
As usual it was all over as soon as it had started, and back at the pavilion everyone was tucking into the biscuits and hot drinks to warm up those extremities.
It was a great performance from Mark McPhillips in first place overall. With 344 points he only missed one control point, a stunning effort. Second overall was Mark Stodgell with 325 points. First lady back was Margaret McPhillips with 248 points (any relation? Looks like a family takeover!), closely followed by Zoe Foster with 245. In the other categories there were wins for Killian Lomas (325 points), Sally Lee (210), Derek Appleton (314), Ruth Sutherland (215), Roger DeFaye (250), Neil & Helen Thurston (195), Mark Condliffe/Vanessa Bourne (200), David/Marcus Williams (220) and last but not least, in the tandem class, Colin/Jamie Fenwick with 175 points.
For once nobody was so late back that they lost all their points. It looks like the friendly advice being dished out at the start – “three hours today don’t be late back” – is beginning to work. For all the results, head to www.darkandwhite.co.uk/results-cross-country-fell-races.asp