Report: British XC Series Round 1
Beckingsale and Last take conclusive victories
Oli Beckingsale and Annie Last were stand-out winners in an international field at the opening round of the British XC Series, held at Sherwood Pines in Nottingham. On a course that had dried significantly and escaped predicted heavy rain, over 600 riders competed across the categories over a sell-out weekend which included bike-demos as well as races for all from the under-12s to the over-60s.
Race 1 - All Women's & Youth Men's Races
Racing began over the 8.2km course bright and early at 10am; the Elite women's race the big attraction. All eyes were on Annie Last who had ended last season with a win at the final round of the British XC Series, established herself on the World Circuit and claimed fifth at the under-23 World Championships at her first attempt.
However, facing an international lineup of senior World Cup riders including Australian Kate Potter and New Zealander and 2009 Sherwood winner Rosara Joseph - alongside twelve other Elite riders - she was clearly going to be tested.
Kate Potter leads the Elite train through the opening lap
Sure enough, off the line Last settled quickly into her rhythm, with Potter, Joseph and Lily Matthews for company. Over the opening couple of circuits it was Kate Potter who was the main driving force, but all three riders in the group seemed comfortable with the early pace set.
Behind, there was little danger of a counter-attack as the field had been broken by the pace of the initial lap. Leading through initially and first of the non-professional riders was Maddie Horton, clearly working hard and returning to previous form, while behind Lee Craigie and Mel Spath headed the chasers at thirty seconds.
For two laps the lead group stayed together, increasing their lead incrementally over Craigie who had now taken up the lead position among the chasers.
An acceleration from Last, Joseph and Potter on the third lap would however break Matthews from the group, from which the three leading riders would regain their energy before a thrilling final-lap showdown.
It was at this stage that Potter's attempts to dictate the race didn't really work out and with Last and Joseph sustaining a punishing pace, Last made a decisive attack, opening a gap of over a minute on Joseph - who was at risk in the closing stages of being caught by Potter.
In the other women's categories, Adela Carter made a storming start to her Expert career, blowing away the rest of the field and recording a fine solo win by some ten minutes. Rickie Cotter won the Sport race with a similar show of speed. Downhiller turned XC rider (via the Soggy Bottom series) Jane Cumming took a very well supported Veteran's race and indeed all the women's categories rolled out with impressive numbers of riders.
Meanwhile, Debbie Burton won the Grand Vets' race, Hannah Barnes held off Katie Winton to take the Junior category, Lucy Grant got the better of Ffion James (younger sister of GB sprinter Becky) in the Juveniles and Emma Bradley was the first Master home.
The Youth Men's race was another cracker, with the riders absolutely storming round the three laps. On the front almost from the off were Ross Wilcox, Ed McParland, Martin Turton and Ryan Fenwick.
Turton was the first to lose contact - it's believed he had a mechanical or a problem with a back-marker, because he was soon closing back down on the leaders. He eventually passed Wilcox, but McParland and Fenwick were in the clear and the win was going to go to one or the other. McParland was on the front mid-way through the final lap, but it was Fenwick who nipped through to take the win on the line. Turton grabbed a well deserved third after a brave fight back.
The Juvenile Men's race was won by Welsh rider Dylan Kerfoot Robson, who had a half minute gap over Billy Harding at the line, with Harvey Lowe third.
Race 2 - Elite, Expert, Junior & Sport Men's Races
The Elite Men's race was predictably rapid as it always is at Sherwood. A train usually develops and if you miss it, you're out of contention and out of the race.
Making the cut were Oli Beckingsale, Lee Williams, Adrian Lansley, Billy-Joe Whenman, Jody Crawforth and David Fletcher and these six were soon clear with a growing gap over the rest of the field. A notable absence from the train was Liam Killeen, who is recovering from recent illness, and the Commonwealth Games champion had a quiet day, seemingly happy just to get some race miles into his legs, rather than try to get involved in the main race, though he seemed to dig in a bit late on and finished a very respectable seventh.
For the first couple of laps the riders worked well together, whilst the class act of the field, Oli Beckingsale, looked very cool and collected as he pushed things along. Sherwood is a course which he doesn't especially enjoy as his forte is really climbing, but he's still a fine all-round rider and was clearly determined to win.
With his desire to avoid any kind of sprint finish no doubt foremost in his thoughts, Beckingsale began to up the pace on the third lap and the lead group began to shed riders. By the end of that third circuit - the half way point in the race - Beckingsale found himself with only Williams and Fletcher for company.
The fourth and fifth laps saw further digs by Beckingsale, his consistent high pace really hurting the other two and Fletcher finally dropped back, to be followed one lap from the finish by Williams. Both kept their pace up and didn't collapse, but Beckingsale was able to control the race from there on in to the finish, where he claimed a fine win on what he acknowledges is a bogey circuit for him. Williams came in second with Fletcher third.
After the race Beckingsale was clearly delighted, as was Lee Williams who recorded much his best result in the British XC Series, underlining his growing reputation in the XC ranks. Dubbed "Wales' best kept secret" by some, he started his season early in Cyprus and showed the steady progression we've seen over the last couple of years has continued over the winter. 'Watch out for Lee in 2010' is clearly the message he's sending out.
Meanwhile, in the Junior Race the battle for the win soon came down to just two riders, Steven James and Grant Ferguson. James was content to work with Ferguson for the first two laps, but then he applied a bit more pressure and soloed away over the last lap to claim the win. Ferguson was second with British Junior ‘Cross champion Luke Gray third. It was also good to see Kenta Gallagher also close to the front of racing, despite the recent loss of his father.
In the Expert race, Giles Drake used his failure to feature in our "ones to watch" preview of the series as motivation and won with something to spare. As he won the final round of 2009, it wasn't really a surprise and our congratulations go out to him! It was good to see ultra endurance specialist Matt Page - winner of last season's Mayhem - finishing third in his first serious crack at XC racing.
Rob McCarthy won the sport race, pipping James Lister to the line - Lister is another rider better known for his endurance racing and again it was a fine first crack at the 'sprint' discipline of XC racing!
Race 3 - Masters, Veterans & Open
The third and final race of the day saw the Grand Vets riding out to the strains of "When I'm 64" by the Beetles. But age is only a number to most of these riders and Ian Wright was certainly not counting the years as he blew away the opposition to win the Grand-Vet men's race by some eight minutes. With arch-rival Roy Hunt absent, Wright was in a class of his own and able to relax once he'd built up a big cushion. In contrast, Mark Hadwick had more on his mind as he took second in a sprint from Bruce Rollinson after a race-long battle.
The Super Vets' race was missing the usually dominant Vic Barnett and so John Lloyd was the rider to step into the breech and he did it to great effect, winning by a quarter of an hour from Steve Collen.
The ever popular Masters' race saw a massive entry of almost 80 riders (there were 75 Vets too, for the record) and it was Scott Forbes who made all the running. Uncertain of his form, he decided to go from the gun to see what happened - and promptly rode away from the rest to win on his own. Paul Newnham and Simon Ernest tried to chase him down, but it was Forbes' day.
The Veteran Men's race saw a welcome visit from the National Champion, Alex Glasgow, a man famed for having the hairiest legs in XC racing. The Scot doesn't usually venture south of the border, but was passing on the way to a family holiday in Cornwall and decided to race. In the end, he found the flat, fast going at Sherwood a little too testing and had to settle for third behind neo-Vets, Mark Hutt and Paul Hopkins. Hutt went off course early in the race, but re-traced his tracks and rode through most of the field to win by 40 seconds, a fine ride by any measure. Hopkins was second.
A big 43 rider Open field was won by Richard Jones, who was several minutes clear of Anthony Windle and Damon Manning.