Liam Killeen and Sue Clarke are the 2009 British Cross Country Champions, claiming their titles on a tough Innerleithen course. Nestled in the bosom of the Tweed valley, a hilly seven kilometre lap characteristic of Scottish racing separated the best from the rest over a weekend of changeable weather which defined the terrain and the racing.
All eyes were on defending champion Liam Killeen and four-time winner Oli Beckingsale on Sunday afternoon - both riders showing incredible recent form internationally, readying for another thrilling head-to-head. From the start Beckingsale was at a disadvantage, slipping gears through the heavy grass field and slipping back to near-last position. Killeen was comfortable within the top five riders, leaving Beckingsale to revive his chances of any title. By the bottom of the first descent both riders were clear with Paul Oldham head of the chase over a minute down.
Over the five lap race both Killeen and Beckingsale would test each other in a rare true race performance. Visibly in difficulty Britain's two professional riders would conclude the race with a convincing twelve minute lead, highlighting the quality and divisive nature of the course. Beckingsale knew his only chance of success would be to pull out all the stops on the massive climb and he piled on the pressure hoping to break his main rival, as he explained.
"I had a plan for my race - ‘shit or bust' really! I planed to ride as hard as I could on the climbs and take it to him. It was working and I was gaining little gaps. It was good in places to turn round and see I'd opened those gaps, it's good for confidence and I could see that maybe the plan was working. To get little gaps on Liam on the climb, well he's a blooming good rider, so I'm at least chuffed that I had the edge there."
But it was Killeen who would launch the final, most searing attack to resounding chants from his mother, trackside. Passing onto the climb for the final time, Killeen had Beckingsale in clear difficulty, but dared not look back to see just how much he had hurt his rival. Happy and relieved to finish, Killeen talked after the race.
"I'm actually really pleased today that was a tough race on a proper hard course and five laps was definitely enough. Oli was strong on the climbs and as I'd only ridden one lap yesterday the plan was to ride with him and get a feel for the course as the race progressed and it worked well, I felt pretty smooth out there. In terms of technical courses this has to be up there some of the best World Cup courses like Mt. Snow.It was good once again to have a great race with Oli, he's in really good form at the moment and I'm sure he'll achieve what he wants this year."
At the finish Killeen would have a clear two minute gap over Beckingsale, while the fight for third some twelve minutes behind was won by Lee Williams, just ahead of Jody Crawforth. Early in the race Garath Montgomerie looked good for a top five, but a collapsing rear wheel and destroyed rear derailleur meant a lengthy stop in the tech zone and seventh position.
In the Senior women's competition it was the perfect return for Sue Clarke, who after five years regained her National Champions' jersey some five minutes ahead of five-time winner Jenny Copnall. In contrast to Sharon Laws who stormed from the start line and into an early lead, Clarke took a conservative approach, before passing all her competitors and finishing the opening lap with a convincing lead. Steadily Clarke built on this and as the gap widened, she backed off, favouring safety on the descents and conservatism on the climbs to make the win a certainty, rather than risk everything for a bigger winning margin.
Behind her and hoping to limit the damage was Copnall, though as the race progressed she suffered two punctures, but conceding that Clarke was the best on the day and that mechanical difficulties made little difference to the result. Clarke crossed the finish line in a jubilant mood, thanking those who helped orchestrate her successful return to the top of British XC racing.
"It's been a real tough journey and there are a lot of people who have a part of this jersey today, Barrie, my family, there are so many that have stuck by me through thick and thin, I just have to say ‘Thanks guys this is for you!'"
"I've worked pretty hard on my climbing and descending over the last couple of months and it's really paid off. It hasn't really hit me yet that I've done it; it's been an awful long time in coming. It was a superb course and everyone who got round there today is a champion in their own right, heroes for getting round that, it was so physical all the way round. I felt very confident from the start, this has to be only the second nationals I've got to without being ill, I guess in previous years I'd overdone it and now thanks to the people around me I'm healthy and ready to race."
Copnall took silver, happy at last that the pressure of that jersey was now lifted and Laws picked up third.
In the men's espoir race, David Fletcher was always the man to beat, coming in with his pedigree as defending champion, however a careful examination of recent results would have thrown up the name of Scott Thwaites as a dangerous challenge. Anthony O'Boyle took the race lead early on, with Fletcher and Thwaites riding a balanced race further behind. Lap two and Fletcher had joined ranks with O'Boyle, leaving Thwaites 16 seconds behind. By lap three it was Thwaites and Fletcher sitting pretty with O'Boyle staring to suffer for his fast start. On the final ascent Fletcher made a few digs to rid himself of Thwaites but couldn't, then it was Thwaites' turn to attack and this time he was successful hitting the final descent in control of the race he surged on, with Fletcher dejectedly coming home just under two minutes later to pick up second, while O'Boyle narrowly held onto third.
Annie Last, despite not feeling 100% once again put on a display of awesome riding as she stormed to the win in the women's Espoir race, leading her team mate Lily Matthews to a Halfords 1-2, both girls showing the level needed to compete at an international level as they opened up a huge lead on the remaining under-23 riders. Last would also pass all of the Senior women, despite starting with a minute deficit - but would not effect the Senior title race - owing to the Espoir race duration being three laps to the Senior's four, a significant difference over a races totaling 1.5 hours and 2 hours respectively.
The first races of the day were contested on a somewhat wetter course, but that didn't detract from some superb close racing. In the Juniors it was a two man battle between Kenta Gallagher and Steve James, and it was James who took the early advantage of Gallagher's poor start, instantly gaining a ten second lead. Gallagher would claw his was back though and by the first descent both riders were locked together, James and Gallagher out alone, evenly matched.
By the last lap Gallagher knew it was an all or nothing moment and threw himself headlong into the descent, finally cracking James, coming home to take a popular win, with James having to be content with seconf with a massive eight minute lead over third placed Robert Hassan.
Ruby Miller made short work of defending her National title in her junior race with Carla Haines grabbing silver ahead of Danielle Rider.
The first races of the day saw the younger element of XC racing get to grips with this epic course, seeing the Youth and Juvenile riders get stuck in. Starting in the open field surrounded by massive mountains you could be in no doubt what lay in wait and as the gun fired, riders soon started the long strength sapping climb out of the field soon hitting the miles of moist and muddy singletrack as they spun their way to the top.
In the Youth boys race Grant Ferguson at last had a perfect ride when it counted taking the jersey with confidence ahead of Joe Home and Lewis Kirkwood, while Scottish pride was bolstered yet again when local rider Katy Winton put her knowledge of the course to good use getting the better of pre-race favourite Bethany Crumpton on the technical descents, leaving Crumpton disappointedly in second. Scottish riders ruled supreme in the Juvenile races too with twins, Stuart and Ross Wilcox taking the top two spots in the Juvenile race while Kenta's little sister, Yuka delivering another National jersey for the family coming home ahead of Lucy Grant in her Juvenile race.
With all fingers crossed that the forecast wet weather would remain at bay just that little bit longer it was next time for the second block of racing to get underway. This time titles up for grabs were at the other end of the age scale with Master, Vet, Grand Vet and Super Vets all in contention.
With three wins out of three for master rider Matt Barrett, he would have been a sure fire favourite for the title if he'd had been entered! So this title was wide open, with maybe BMBS series leader Chris Rathbone entering the frame from stage left. In fact the winner of the Masters race underlined how race two unfolded, throwing up a whole host of new champions virtually across the board most that would have been rated as outside chances! The eventual winner of the Masters race turned out to be a jubilant Scott Forbes, with Phil Morris nearly but not quite able to close the gap taking silver just twenty seconds adrift and Neal Crampton who opened up the racing gambit with a deft ride over the first lap settling for bronze.
In the women's event, the awesome descent proved too much for defending champion Nina Davies, who pulled out of her race, leaving Kim Hurst who was already well out in front to chase that title hunted down by Caroline Goward and Ruth Mordaunt. Hurst proved unbeatable and claimed the jersey comfortably ahead of her two rivals and was a welcome pre wedding present for both her and her partner.
In the vet's race, all eyes were on local rider Ian Nimmo who regularly pops up and puts on an awesome display of climbing and descending as well as defending champion Mark Chadborne. Hoever as the race unfolded it was a relative unknown Alex Glasgow who soon proved to be the man to beat. Nimmo's descending matched Glasgow's climbing and the two were equally matched. When Nimmo punctured, Glasgow took no second asking and went for broke with Chadborne chasing him hard but he couldn't be caught and bemusedly crossed the line to take the win with, Chadborne having to settle for silver.
Pre-race favourite Nicky Hughes opened up her vet race in fine form taking an early lead, which was quickly dashed as she punctured, leaving her walking for home disappointedly well out of the results. Anne Murray proved to be the one to take on the mantle and she comfortable took the win from Jo Cardwell, while in the Grand Vets Debbie Burton was one of the few to defend her title taking the coveted jersey home, as did Super Vet Victor Barnett.
Proving once again that the racing doesn't get any easier the older you get were the grand vet men, with a real battle unfolding over the year between Roy Hunt, Ian Wright and Gregor Grant. Last year newcomer Wright wrestled the jersey off Hunt and earlier in the year Gregor proved his hill climbing skills were second only to his descending as he scooped a win at Margam, so this years Nationals could prove a real fierce battle. For the first climb three main contenders kept each other in sight, then as they descended Wright felt out of water on the ultra technical descent leaving Hunt and Gregor to start the second lap together. Gregor then fell foul to the dreaded mechanical leaving Hunt out in front steadily increasing his lead and finally after his third lap and nearly eight minute gap he reclaimed his title, leaving Wright to take silver.
Annie Last - Espoir women's winner
Really happy with that result especially on such a testing and demanding course it was so enjoyable. I can't say I've had a perfect build up this week as I've been a bit off colour but in the end it turned out better than expected. The aim today was just to ride my race, no focus on the seniors especially as I've not been well, but I got into a rhythm and before I knew it I was riding through the seniors catching Sue on the final descent for my race, they had another lap to do, but yeah it felt good. I can't say I've done anything quite like this, it was just a major climb with a major descent, but I really liked it, it suited my riding style and the big descent was so much fun. Great to get the jersey, especially in my first year as an espoir, I now have another 3 years ahead of me in this category. Now I've got a week off to look forward too before I start building up for my next set of races and then hopefully the Worlds.
Scott Thwaites - Espoir winner
I'm over the moon with that result, I've just been riding road really, riding crits mainly as I've just signed for Madison.
I enjoyed the course out there that was a proper mountain bike course, proper hills and technical descents. I have to say I was struggling a bit on the descents I couldn't really keep my bike under control, It was just a matter of hoping it just wouldn't hit a tree on the way down! I just set off steady, I knew a few people would go off quite hard, Shaun I know did where as me and Dave rode sensibly and went at our own pace. We were pretty evenly matched out there and rode into the race but it was only on the last lap, where he made a dig up a muddy bit but I just put my head down and pulled him back and I attacked back and managed to gap him and just didn't look back and just kept going. My legs at the top were absolutely screaming, but I knew I had to get to the top and then I could freewheel all the way down and didn't take any risks. I looked behind when I got to the bottom and couldn't see him so I was chuffed and took the win. That's my first ever National jersey, I've always come second, it's a habit I seem to have on my last lap it was playing on my mind a bit when we were riding together I was thinking oh well here's another second but I gave it all I had and I was confident to the end and it paid off.
Jenny Copnall - Senior runner up
It was a shame today that I punctured as I've said all along that I've wanted us both to have a clean race, but it seems that either of us is doomed when we have a major race together. However I have to say Sue would have won the race regardless of me being hampered by punctures. I know I was making d=some progress on the descents, but when you're faced with a 20min climb and a 10min descent, usually it goes the way of the climber. So yeah I had a bit of bad luck and some of that was probably caused by pushing harder on the descents, it was just one of those days.
I said last year that I didn't even know if I was going to contest another national champs, but I've always thought that I didn't think too much of people who go out at the top I think you have to keep at it and keep putting yourself in the ring to allow people to come up to the mark and start beating you.
I'm pleased it's over today, I'm pleased for Sue that she got the jersey, it's about time it got a new owner for a while I've probably got a bit too used to it, it's been a bit of a weight round my neck to be honest, I'm now quite relieved to hand it on to someone else who really wants it, so know I can get on and enjoy my racing slightly more anonymously.
Scott Forbes - Master winner
That was brilliant! Can't say I had the best preparation for it though! I did the practise laps yesterday and on the second one I managed to break my frame, so I was running round like an idiot yesterday trying to borrow bikes off people and Steve James who's one of junior riders managed to have a spare bike though he's about 6ft2" and I'm not! So we spent all of yesterday trying to adapt the bike so it would work so I came into the race not thinking about it and I'm sure in a way that helped, I wasn't too nervous, I paced myself well had good tyre choice and no bad luck so yeah brilliant. It's about time as well! I've been coming to these races for quite a while and it's about time I won one.
It was tough out there and I come from a road background, so my bike handling skills aren't great so I knew I'd have to make my time on the climb as these guys I knew would catch me on the descents so I made sure I had a good lead coming up to the last descent and I managed to hold on and take the win so I'm pretty pleased with that result. The trick today was not to go off too fast. It was a long long race it was o muddy and boggy too and it would have been easy to blow. I went off at a good pace and slowly eased myself into the race. I've spent the last 2 months just doing hill training for this event and it worked. I'm also going out to the World master Champs in Praloup and I'm feeling confident now so it'll be nice to be able to take my jersey out with me and wear it and do a good ride.
Yuka Gallagher - Juvenile girls
Amazing that was my first British win, well worth the journey to get here. I some delighted with that result, I thought Alice Barnes would be a big threat, but I guess she's more used to flatter courses and ~I also thought Lucy would be hard to beat as this is her home ground, but I managed to come out on top. Brilliant. Alice (or Lucy.) was in front of me all the way up the climb, but when we got to the top I sprinted away and opened a gap. I can't say I'm a great descender in fact I think it's one of my weakest parts of my riding but today I did enough to count and it was good, I enjoyed myself out there.
Kenta Gallagher - Junior Winner
I'm really am pleased with that most definitely, especially as it's a win in front of home crowds it's all good. Steve had a better start, I slipped trying to clip in and from there it took me ages to get into my race and Steve (James) had a massive gap on me on the first lap going into the technical section, but he had a bit of a crash on the way down so I took advantage and got past him. I crashed myself at the bottom of the course at the end of that first lap and got a bit of a dead leg and couldn't put all more power down. Second lap, Steve got me on the climb again and opened up another big lead, he was really strong today, but I caught him again on the descent. I was trying to push him out of his comfort zone throughout the race. He hit a tree, so that was another advantage I took and by the last lap I knew it was all or nothing Again he had another gap on me going up the climb but I dug in and got him going over the top, I knew It was the last lap and I needed to do it. And it worked and I got the win so I'm well chuffed with that!
Katy Winton - Youth girls
That was good for me, knowing the course made a big difference especially today. I was quite worried about the competition, Beth (Crumpton) is so good on the climbs that I just had to try and stick with her and then I got away on the descents, just cos I know them so well, that helped a lot. She attacked on the climb and although I managed to stay with her for most of it, she did get away, but I kept my head and thought I'll just let her go and get her back on the descents which fortunately I did, and then made some time on her and then just managed to keep that gap for the rest of eth race. I got cramp at one point at the top of the climb on the last lap and I had to get off my bike it was so sore but I got back on again and kept it going and rattled down the descents, They're brilliant, so much fun.
To be honest I've been riding the tracks here for quite a few weeks, which I think has made a difference, if I was one of the other girls here to day I think I would have found it difficult, turning up the day before and finding out about the course. We were so lucky with the weather too as if it was raining it would have made it all 10 times harder out there, luckily it was perfect today and a good day for Scottish riders!
Grant Fergusson - Youth winner
That was quite fun out there today I liked the track and it's local so I know it well. I was a bit worried before I started, I've not had the best of luck this season and the competition is pretty fierce but it was okay once I got going. Though I did have a bit of a rubbish start as my chain jumped off but once I sorted that I just put the pressure on the climbs and managed to catch up with Joe and Matt and got away and then just played it safe on the descents and was happy knowing that I was on to a winner.
Stuart Wilcox - Juvenile winner
I didn't have the best of starts, I think I was about 6th on the first climb but I worked hard and got it back and then went ahead on the descents and got the win with my brother coming in for silver. Now we're off to do the DH, I'm seeded 4th and my brother is seeded 2nd so we'll see how we get on, hopefully we can get on the podium again.
Roy Hunt - Grand Vet
It was nice to get jersey number 5, it was good. It was a great course to win on too, it was old style, coming down was just as hard as going up, real tough. Ian Wright and Gregor were both there with me for most of the first lap, it was only when we started to descend that the group stated to split up and then on the climb it started to split even more. It was a hard race, but that suits me down to the ground. I might just retire after this one, but then again....
Alex Glasgow - Vet winner
That was a real shock I only thought I'd make it to halfway through the field, I really didn't think I'd make the top end let alone win it! It's really taught me that I need to work on my descending, Ian Nimmo was taking 30secs out of me on each descent, until he punctured, it would have been a really close race between us. I was making about 30secs on the climbs and he was just embarrassing me on the descents. It's just a shock, I just ride my local trails and there snot much technical descending where I live, now I'll have to learn if I'm to do more stuff as befits this jersey.
I'm sort of fazed by winning, as I wasn't that happy with how I raced today, I made such a bad go at the descending. I sort of think I don't deserve it, strangely, you have good days and bad days and this must have been a good one for me and Ian had a bad day. I feel quite strange, slightly elevated, and just a bit taller then I already am!
Debbie Burton - Grand Vet winner
It was good I wasn't sure what to expect today as I saw two Scottish names on the start sheet that I didn't know, they could have been a real problem. I enjoyed the course and it made it open to anyone it was so testing. I got mixed up with the vets and the master women ahead of me which made it really good fun, very enjoyable. Can't say I liked the climbs to much they just went on and on and I don't have a granny gear on this bike and the descents were fine, I didn't come cracking down them like the men but I got down okay and found them quite good fun.