What a difference a week makes! Seven days previous riders were enduring a certainly icy feel and calls to rename the series to snowy bottom, but following a postponement Newnham Park returned to its soggy roots for the staging of round two of the south-west's most popular race series.
With any traces of the cold white stuff well and truly gone eager riders came from near and far to get their XC fix. Well over 200 competitors lined up over the two races keen to earn their hot cuppa and bacon sarnies, while the weather gods pulled out all the stops with crisp blue skies setting a positively spring-like scene.
In lieu of the previous week's conditions the organiser Martyn Salt had kept the course short but oh so hard! In just a compact and bijou 3.2 mile circuit he'd packed in two lung busting climbs, the wicked off camber and the ‘Accelerade Ascent' equally cruel as you push hard on marble sized stones making the going tough. With a heart stopping slide between the fun loving bomb holes the lap concluded with another quick descent down the much loved ‘Cottage Return' and a ribbon of singletrack that tantalisingly edged the fast flowing and icy looking river before heading out and doing it all again.
And although there were none of the dreaded river crossings, unfortunately the one or two large puddles on course more than made up for it! It was a roller coaster ride with all the fun of the fair, if the fair had a shed load of mud included too!
As per usual, the youngsters were first up to cut the tracks, closely followed by the elder statesman of racing and finally the fun brigade. As the categories got mixed on the trail it was hard to know who was racing who and made for interesting tactics As one rider commented: "everyone looks the same from behind so you just have to hang on it in case they're in your race!"
Setting a fast pace out in front was Youth rider Dan Nash, who soon found himself way ahead of the rest. Ed Welsh was the only rider that could have been in contention but a mechanical in lap two put paid to any inroads, despite the fastest final lap. Pipping him into third was Harry Forshaw, with special mention to Bo Jangles Cann who started a good 7 minutes behind the rest of the field. Putting in some hard laps, relishing the descents to pull himself up to a worthy fourth.
In the Juveniles Ciaran Barker celebrated his first win taking control on the climbs to keep rival Harry Birchill at bay. Grand Vet Garrett Hill resplendent in his new team UK-Biking.net kit, made a cutting figure in the mud as he chased down youngster Dan Nash. All plans of taking it easy and settling into a comfy third went out the window as he rode like a bull at a red rag and found himself out in front and after three laps claimed the new team's first win. Anthony Bishop took early control of the Fun race coming home nearly three minutes clear of runner up Paul Broom while Filthy Fox Millie Wilson cut a lonely furrow as the solitary fun female.
After a quick hose down and a hot cuppa or three it was soon time to watch the next races to take to the ever-increasing slippery trails.
One of the most anticipated races of the day had to be the rematch in the women's Elite category between round one winner Allie Northcott and Maddie Horton. Eager not to be involved in a rerun, Horton has been putting in some serious training as she gears up for her assault on the British Mountain Bike Series in a few months and round two of the Soggies was to be a window to her ambitions...starting hopefully with grabbing her crown back!
Horton started as she meant to go on, fast! It looked as if she'd be sprinting the entire four laps. Northcott did her best to keep abreast with fleeting Horton but by the top of the first climb, Horton had eked out a small gap and daren't look back. Meanwhile Northcott suffered a small mechanical on the dreaded Zag descent, only compounding the advantage that Horton had.
As the race unfolded there was nothing Northcott could do to limit the damage and a delighted Horton took the convincing win. This is going to be one hum dinger of a series with these two obviously taking it to the wire. We shall see who will emerge triumphant and queen of the trails in the coming months! Carla Haines raced hard in their lee and was rewarded with a well-earned third spot.
The men's Elite race was a much closer affair with Russell Turner and Luke Eggar duking it out between themselves over five hard laps. Turner as per usual threw down the gauntlet with Eggar using the climbs to get back on terms. By lap one, Eggar had narrowly edged in front of Turner, by lap two they were neck and neck and so the merry dance continued, right up the wire with a stunned and delighted Eggar finally taking the win just over 30 seconds ahead of Turner.
There was a similar battle in the Master's race with one of the Certini team - Jay Horton - keen for everyone to sit up and take notice. Phil Morris opened up the race with a good gap by the end of lap one. Unfortunately thinking he'd done enough he eased slightly off the gas leaving a determined Horton a window of opportunity to get back on terms, which he did with gusto, passing the Welsh rider in his wake as he screamed past. Morris responded digging deep and this battle continued with just ten seconds separating the victory from the vanquished - and with his heroic efforts it was Morris how emerged triumphant; Angela Proctor taking the win from Emma Sargent in the Master women's race.
Harry Smith made short work of the Sport men race opening up an unassailable lead on the first lap fighting with the Elites along the way. He couldn't sustain the Elite pace but he had enough in the tank to keep an even tempo that stretched his lead and earn him the win. Fran Bullock took the Sports women's race with an impressive margin that would have seen her battling for a podium spot in the Elite race.
A new face in the Veteran men's race - Pete Dawe - quickly showed the rest of the packed field a clean pair of heels. Try as they might Dawe's rivals just couldn't put a stop to his fast paced laps and Dawe went virtually unchallenged to the line over two minutes clear of runner up Gary Andrews. Under strict team orders to win at least three races before she can race Elite was Veteran Jane Cumming, who did as she was told in comfort, with Sam Cann picking up second. Only one more race to go and Cumming is looking forward to putting the cat amongst the pigeons and seeing what she can do in the final round.
Round three, weather permitting of course, is scheduled for February 21. Come and join the hundreds that take part or just spectate. I'm could have sworn I was in Switzerland when I was on the top of the valley and could hear enthusiastic cowbells and the cheering that was going on in the valley, it certainly was a day to remember for all the right reasons!!
Anthony Bishop - Fun Race
It was very fun! Very slidey out there which not having the right tyres didn't really help! Grip was a real issue especially on the last lap. I'm not sure how my race unfolded really as it was pretty confusing as you have all the young riders and grand vets ahead of you so you're never really sure where you are we you get up into the thick of the race! I had an idea that I might have been near the front of my race, but it was just a case of trying to keep the pace up and fingers crossed! Great course and a lack of river crossings was a blessing, it was wet enough out there without them!
Garrett Hill - Grand Vet
Yeah I wasn't going to bad out there this morning, I've put in some good winter training with Darren Shepherd and it seems to have paid off. Plus it's a first win for our new team that we are currently setting up so that's a real bonus.
I had no intentions to go from the front I was going to be quite content to sit behind the other 2 but a couple of the youth riders went past me and they all look the same from the back, so I thought I'd better stick with them and then I'll be third and that'll be fine for a season opener, but they told me at the finish that they were youth, so I got the win!
Conditions were great considering the weather we've had recently, I got a bit of snow training in and to be honest all that mud out there well it was just like brown snow! To be honest I like riding in snow, but then again I like the warmth, so I guess the ‘brown snow' here is a good compromise!
Dan Nash - Youth
Good race and very competitive but incredibly muddy which made it even tougher. It was great to be able to ride with older riders too as they made the race even more interesting. I had no idea how I was going to go today I just turned up and gave it a go and it worked out pretty well. The course was excellent, I loved all the climbs they helped me pull away from my rivals, though for the first lap it didn't all go my way and I had to ride hard to get a gap and then I just kept working on it till the end.
Ciaran Barker - Juvenile
Yeah I'm happy to start the New Year with a win. I had no idea where I was at the start of the race as there were so many riders out there and over those first two climbs I had no idea and kinda expected the worse really but kept pushing it on and then on the second lap Dad shouted out that I was leading so I dug a bit deeper and took it to the line and took the win. Delighted with my first win and a great result after my third in the first Soggy race. The climbs were hard, I didn't expect that much climbing so quickly and yeah they were tough, but they helped with the race as I had a real battle with second, I'd get a .gap on the climbs and then he catch up with me on the descents but I must have done enough on the last climb as I couldn't see him coming into the finish.
Luke Eggar - elite
I'm so happy, I can't tell you how happy that has made me! It was tough out there much tougher than the first round, especially with those two stiff climbs in it. I really wasn't expecting to win today considering I haven't done any training since Xmas. I've probably only put in 3 rides since then. I know Russell has been training pretty hard and he was chasing me all the way. He always goes out hard at the start of the race but I kept him in my sights and got a gap on him on the climbs. H wouldn't let me go easily though I could see him there just behind me all the way. I thought he might get me towards the end but I kept the gas on and held on for the win. `So yeah so happy with that, I'll start training properly now!
Maddie Horton - women elite
I really feel like the cat that got the cream out there today, I just pushed it hard right from the start and just didn't look back. I knew Allie was strong, so I just kept my head down and pushed and pushed and pushed. I heard her chain came off on the first corner and I wasn't quite sure whether I should do a bit of a gentleman's agreement and wait for her, but then I just thought, nah! I'm off that's it! It certainly was a grudge match out there I wasn't going to let her beat me again. I'm delighted with how I felt out there as it's a real indicator of my form, the fact that Jay didn't catch me and in fact the only guys that did catch me were Russell and Luke, which has never happened before. I have been training like a Trojan so its nice to see it's starting to work.
The third round is going to be even more interesting now as Alli isn't just going to roll over and die she'll be back with all guns blazing! I think it will go down to the wire for the overall series now between us.
The course was excellent right up my street, I love all the climbing, and I know a few riders were saying it was a bit too tough but I loved it.
Gary Andrews - vet runner up
The race was good, very fast, very slippery. There were some new faces in the vets today, Pete Dawe had a good ride, he's pretty fit having done loads of cross over the winter so yeah he did very well out there. On the first lap Pete went off from the gun and we had a bit of a battle on the first lap, we caught a few tale enders from the masters category and he took advantage of overtaking when I couldn't and he just opened up a gap which he maintained then for the rest of the race.
There were a lot of ups and downs including our favourite the shooting ground climb, which always helps to sort the field out. It was good though, all rideable slippery in places but really good fun.
Jane Cumming - vet lady
It was good fun and the hills were hard work, but everyone said they were hard work so that was reassuring, I just thought I might be being a bit of a wuss! My team wouldn't let me race in the elites as they want me to get a win and rack up some points for the overall series so we can grab the cake for Devon! They have said that if I win 3 times in a row then I can race elites. I was in the race to put in my best effort and to see my laps times, hopefully when the results come up I can compare my times with the guys and hopefully I'd have beaten a few of them!
Phil Morris - Master winner
That was a shock to the system, first race of the New year and after all this weather we've had, I haven't been out on the bike hardly at all since the New year, we've been pretty snowed in at home in Wales, it would be suicidal to go on the road and impossible to go off road so the turbo trainers had a bit of a hammering!
It was good out there today, I really enjoyed it and it's always tough getting back into racing after a layoff, you sometimes think you're going okay and then you get in a race and suddenly find that you don't have the legs you thought you had! Fortunately I had the legs even though it hurt! The weather was fantastic considering this time last week it was -12, the sun was shining today and it was a good race.
I managed to open up a gap on the first lap and all of a sudden Jay came past me like I was stood still, which was a real shocker. I managed to get past him and open up a gap on the third lap and held onto it this time it was certainly a tough race. Fair play to Jay he's really strong at the moment.
I reckon that has to be one of the best Soggy courses I've ever done I think, it was really enjoyable.
Fran Bullock - Sport winner - women's.
I managed to get away quite early in the race and then I didn't see any other girls for the whole of the race! It got a bit worrying on times. I went past a couple of guys but a lot more guys went past me of course! It was pretty slippery out there so I was concentrating on staying on the bike and not lose it on all the corners. I did actually went over the bars on one section, a big dip just caught me out, I'm sure someone has a cracking photo of it!
I rode the first round back in November, so I pretty much knew what to expect, but yeah it was good to get back into it after the xmas break. Hopefully I can now make it a hat trick at round 3!
Harry Smith - Sport winner
That was actually quite easy for me out there but it was pretty slippery, on the third lap I couldn't get up the off camber climb properly, my tyre choice wasn't the best and I was sliding all over the place! I've only just picked up my new race bike, so I haven't had any chance to sort nay changes out yet. The two hills out there made the course more challenging, especially the first climb after the start it was horrible but apart from that it was okay. On the first lap I hung onto the elite riders but I couldn't do that for too long, I tried to stay with Russell but he just rode away from me. I need to get a bit more training in now ready for the BMBS.