After a week of torrential rain Red Rose Olympic's Cyclo-Cross Sunday was in danger of being a wash out! But, as last year, once the mist had cleared from the river Ribble the clear skies began to shine through and over 180 cross riders descended on Preston's Victorian jewel - Avenham Park.
This unique venue offers spectators the opportunity to see the whole course and there were spectators aplenty to see the riders battle one of the most challenging courses on the calendar.
First event of the day was Go-Ride Racing, developed by British Cycling as a stepping stone to bridge the gap from school and community coaching to regional competition for under 16 novice riders. On the day over 25 riders took part in coaching and racing activity and some even felt confident enough to move on to the regional races later in the day.
The youth race was the first main race of the day taking part on the full course. Three riders very quickly started to pull away; Dylan Kerfoot Robson (Ross on Sea), Robert Rogers (BRECC) and Oliver Payton (Cycle Sport Pendle) followed by a bunch of 6 riders including what was promising to be a strong ride from Jess Wilkinson (Birkenhead North End). Kerfoot Robson showed his strength after only two laps and opened a commanding lead which he would maintain to the finish.
His victory was especially sweet as last year he unfortunately crashed out damaging a collar bone. Rogers and Payton battled out for the remainder of the podium positions with Rogers taking overall second. Jess Wilkinson came in overall fifth to claim first girl with Martha Gill (Bolton Hotwheels) and Caroline Humphreys taking second and third place girl respectively.
It was high noon for the under 12's with nearly 40 riders taking to the start, suggesting that grass roots Cross through regional racing is in safe hands. It turned out to be the most closely fought event of the day on the shortened course which still included some of the steepest climbs. Winning through to take first place with a fine ride was Nathan Hawthorne (Cycle Sport Pendle) closely followed by Solomon Kerfoot Robson (Ross on Sea) and Craig Rogers (BRECC) and showing her expertise across the disciplines was first placed under 12 girl Kim Baptista (Eastlands Velo).
The last race of the day commanded the largest field with juniors, seniors, veterans and women taking to the gridded start line. National champion Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) fresh from his double win in rounds one and two of the Yorkshire league showed his class by pulling out an early lead which just got longer as the race went on. A select group of riders from Wheelbase Cannondale, Cycle Sport Pendle, BTrek and Team Elite along with veteran Jonathan Watson (Charge Bikes) took up the challenge to try and stay with the National Champion.
First to show was Wheelbase Cannondale rider Thomas Armstrong along with Martin Woffindin (Cycle Sport Pendle) closely followed by Armstrong's team mates Lewis Craven and Jack Humphreys. Armstrong rode well with slick pit changes in the early part of the race maintaining second place as the race developed. Woffindin showed early promise but was hampered by both a puncture and mechanical problems resulting in a half lap run to the pits.
Meanwhile James Thompson (BTrek) and Jack Humphreys (Wheelbase Cannondale) were locked together with both Paul Bethell and Giles Drake (Team Elite) following on. The course continued to take its toll on both the riders and bikes. Drake‘s machine was next to let go forcing retirement. Craven seemed to be getting faster as the race went on and was closing quickly on Armstrong only to fall foul of a rear mech / rear wheel clash just after the pits which effectively finished his race.
This left Armstrong ahead of Humphreys and Thompson a lap up on the rest of the field to battle out the remaining podium places. There was no catching Oldham as he swept to a comfortable victory. Armstrong's consistent lapping enabled him to stay clear of any challenges and Humphreys secured third in front of Thompson followed by Bethall, Watson and Woffindin. The strongest female rider was
Becky Preece (Red Rose Olympic) showing she means business for the new cross season coming of the back of a very successful mountain bike XC summer. First Junior was Red Rose Olympics Ashley Clitheroe with a strong first place Veteran ride from Jonathan Watson (Charge Bikes) after Wheelbase's veteran Dave Haygarth fell foul of a broken rear mech 40 minutes in, with a comfortable gap over Watson.
A fantastic opener to the North West season with private battles established throughout the field of riders that will continue over the coming months.
British Cycling would like to thank the organising team, officials and everyone else who helped promote this event. Our sport could not exist without the hundreds of people, many of them unpaid volunteers, who put in many hours of hard work running events, activities and clubs.