Location: Sherwood Pines Forest Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Event: 24 March 2013
Report: Andy Whitehouse/Snowdon Sports
Sweden’s Matthias Wengelin revelled in the snowy conditions at Sherwood Pines as he saw off the home challenge in the opening round of the British Cycling National MTB Cross-Country Series.
Forcing the pace from the start of the five 5.5-km laps, Wengelin (pictured) showed his strength over the last two laps to pull away from second-placed Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) and Grant Ferguson (Superior Brentiens Mountainbike RT) on a thawing course more usual to cyclo-cross.
Flying in from South Africa on Friday, Mariske Strauss (Giant/Contego) had her first experience of racing in snow as she won the four-lap elite women’s race from Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling), who was racing off-road at national level for the first time in four years.
Starting on the fourth row of the grid, Barnes surprised herself by matching Strauss for the first half of the race before losing ground in the closing stages as she finished well clear of third-placed Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing).
The majority of riders made it to the event despite the poor travelling conditions, vindicating British Cycling’s decision to go ahead and the work put in to prepare the course.
With the temperature rising slightly to a little over freezing, conditions were becoming very sticky and the elite men’s race would become a battle of the strongest.
Wengelin started well and opened a modest gap on the rest of the field, a gap which was hovering around ten seconds by the end of the first lap. Ferguson was heading up a chasing line of who's who in the race, Oldham, Dan Fleeman, Seb and Hamish Batchelor, Steve James, Van Der Heijden and Oli Beckinsale all looked strong but it was Ferguson who made the jump to the leader on the third lap, Oldham was out in front of the chasers by a handful of seconds but was making inroads to the lead two.
Van Der Heijden tried to go with Oldham but couldn't make the gap and was riding solo but with a useful gap of some fifteen seconds over Didier Bats who had worked his way through to the front end of the race.Fleeman was still in with a shout of a high finish but had Seb Batchlor close on his wheel putting the Forme Coaching rider under pressure.
Oldham put in a big effort to close the gap to Wengelin and Ferguson and coming into the finishing arena to complete their penultimate lap made the jump over the two previous leaders and took the bell on the front but Wengelin wanted the win after finishing second to Liam Killeen in 2012 and put in the effort t to retake the head of the race coming into the finish are alone and crossing the line ahead of Paul Oldham And Grant Ferguson
After his win Wengelin said: “I think that was a good win for me, I was thinking about last year’s results coming second to Liam (Kileen) so I wanted to go one better today and win.
“When the two guys caught me with two laps to go I think, I felt under pressure, they tried to ride away from me so I had to give it everything I had and got round them. I knew I had to be in front of the race from the start because of the conditions. It’s much easier to pick my own lines and control the speed of the race. I've spent all winter riding in Sweden so I am used to the snow and today was fun to ride.”
Jack Ravenscroft took victory in the junior race, his first at a national level holding off a strong field that saw Sam Stern crash on the opening lap and effectively start his race from the back but the current National Champion rode a blinding race and stormed through the field to take fourth spot.
Michael Thompson finished his outing in second spot, one place to the good of Orange monkey's Billy Harding. Josh Asquith took a narrow win in the Sports race keeping Matthew Dewis into second spot by a mere nine seconds. Nick Baxter took the last step of the podium by one second just getting a tyre width over Ashley Evans.
In the expert race AW Cycles's Issac Pucci got his arms in the air crossing the line just over a minute ahead of Aron Marshall who finished his four laps in 1.23.21. John Cruickshank took third place.
Mariske Strauss flew in to the UK on Friday to race in the elite women race and took the honours with a strong ride virtually from the gun. The South African who had never raced in the snow revelled in the wintery conditions pulling away on the opening lap from Hannah Barnes and Annie Last who dominated the course the previous year.
2012 overall series winner Lee Craigie was sitting in fourth place some thirty seconds back but had pulled out a good lead on a chasing pair of Beth Crumpton who moved up from junior this season and Mel Alexander, Jessie Roberts and Rebecca Preece were a few bike lengths back riding in seventh and eighth respectively.
Coming into the arena to finish the second lap the crouched figure of Strauss was still heading up the race and looking strong but Barnes had put the power down in the forest and had pulled a twenty five second gap on Last and was making inroads to the leader. Craigie was riding a measured race and had Last in her sights and would take the Trek rider on the penultimate lap.
Crumpton was riding a steady race in fifth spot keeping Alexander at twenty seconds. It would be on the third lap where Last would retire and Barnes would close the gap to Strauss and the two would pass the pit area and enter the finishing arena wheel to wheel, Barnes riding her first UCI mountain bike race in four years took the race to the South African crossing the finish line for the final lap, it would be the visitor's race to lose but by her own admission
Strauss was too strong for Barnes taking the lead again on the back of the circuit and crossing the line a minute ahead of the MG-Maxifuel rider. The demanding circuit was showing on the field with Lee Craigie crossing the line to take third almost two minutes down and Beth Crumpton some three and half minutes adrift in fourth.
Strauss said: “The weather today is a little bit cooler then I'm used to but riding in the snow was a blast, it’s my first time riding in these conditions. I flew in on Friday to race today, there are good UCI points to get here and we are having a short break from racing in South Africa.
“Hannah (Barnes) gave me a really good workout today, I was in front on the early laps, then she caught me but on the last lap I just had to give it everything I had and see if I could get a gap but my legs held up and I made a break. I'm flying back to South Africa tomorrow (Monday) and I'm looking forward to some warm weather.”
Barnes commented: “I started pretty much from the back of the grid and I knew I had to get up towards the front if I had any chance today so I worked through the field and got up to sixth wheel just as we got to the first single track on the first lap.
“I think I need to practice my handling skills, I think they let me done a bit in the woods but I really wasn't expecting second place today. I got my new bike last Sunday so I'm getting used to it but it is so good to ride. We worked out it has been four years since I rode at this level so I really didn't know what to expect today, I may be doing a few more mountain bike races after today's result.”
In the youth male race it was Jake Poole who took a fine victory in the closest race of the day. The Dirtwheels Cycle youngster took his first National race victory by a mere four seconds from Lewis Champion and Tom Craig, a victory made all the more impressive knowing Poole crashed heavily eighteen months ago breaking three vertebrae in his back. Dan Tulett stormed away from the rest of the field in the juvenile race taking the victory some four minutes ahead of second place Joe Barker. Lichfield's Harry Yates rode a solid race to take the third spot on the podium.
In the junior female race Alice Barnes went one better than her sister taking an emphatic win from Lucy Grant. The Scott Contessa rider took the victory by a little over three minutes and spent most of the race riding in the top ten of the elite race. Isla Short secured the third step of the podium.
Ffion James got her series off to a good start taking the win in the youth female race. The Welsh youngster who was runner up in 2012 fought off a close challenge from Amira Mellor and Martha Gill who finished their two laps in second and third respectively. Beeline RT's Emily Wadsworth took the victory in the juvenile girls race crossing the line almost two minutes ahead of Abergavenny's Megan James. Ffyona Booker finished in third spot.
Julie Elder crossed the line ahead of Fern Henry to take the expert's race while Lichfield's Helen Clayton dominated the sport race crossing the line almost five minutes ahead of Fiona Innes. Gillian Pratt took a decisive win over Donna Morris in the masters race while in the veterans Caroline Goward took the win from Helen MacGregor by a couple of bike lengths. Kim Long took the honours in the Grand Veterans race almost a minute to the good of Elizabeth Clayton.
With the temperature taking a downwards turn for the last race of the day it would be the strongest legs that saw the riders struggle their way through the now hardening mud. Cycle Tec's Jonathan Pugh proved to be the strongest on the day but after a dominating opening three laps his win margin over Philip Morris was cut to eighteen seconds.
Pugh took control on the opening lap pulling out a useful looking twenty seconds by the time the race got to the slight downhill fire road on the final part of the circuit, Morris struck a lonely figure sitting in second spot some two minutes ahead of third placed Grant Leavy, Kim Little and Robert Purcell.
By the mid way point of the race Pugh had increased his lead over Morris to just over a minute and looked as though the victory was all but tied up. A group of seven were sitting in effectively third place, some three minutes adrift of second place but were now, barring any incidents racing for third place. Approaching the final lap Pugh had again increased his lead to a little over two minutes and it was his to lose but an attack on the last few kilometres from Morris brought the gap down drastically and Pugh had to make a last effort to ensure the win was his. Grant Leavy took third place ahead of Robert Purcell
“I got off the line in second but I kept getting a face full of mud which I didn't appreciate so I put the effort in to get on the front,” Pugh said.
“I had a strap break on my shoe which didn't help my peddling and that got worse as the race went on. The conditions meant my gears didn't work very well, they kept clogging up with mud and it became a real slog. I lost a lot of time on the last lap and Phil (Morris) almost caught me, I think he got the time down to ten seconds at one point. I was stuck on the big ring so it was slow going in the mud.
“The conditions were awful today, a lot worse than I expected to be honest but I'll be happy when I've warmed up.”
A big field in the veteran's race saw Jedi Cycle Sport's Ian Taylor come out on top riding Paul Hopkins into second spot by some forty seconds. Andrew Peace took third spot to complete the podium.
National Champion and 2012 series winner Pete Harris took victory in the Grand Veteran's race holding off a strong challenge from Gateway's Peter Turnbull and Roland Tilley who finished in third place. Vic Barnett again took the spoils in the Super Vet's race but only just holding off a strong challenge from John Lloyd. Team 300's Denis Smith took third spot.
Results - Full results (NB - results are provisional with some queries being verified)
1 Matthias Wengelin (Ck Naten Sater/Specialized Conceptstore) 1-34-22
2 Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) at 29 sec
3 Grant Ferguson (Superior Brentjens Mountainbike RT) at 37 sec
4 Didier Bats (Toka Print MTB Team) at 1-12
5 Michiel van der Heijden (Giant Pro XC Team) at 1-58
6 Sebastian Batchelor (Fluid Fin RT) at 2-04
7 Hamish Batchelor (Fluid Fin RT) at 2-18
8 Olivier Bruwiere (MTB Team Langdorp VZW) at 3-18
9 Nick Craig (Team Scott UK) at 3-33
10 Dan Fleeman (Forme Coaching-Pactimo) at 3-34
1 Mariske Strauss (Giant/Contego) 1-23-14
2 Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) at 1-04
3 Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing) at 2-47
4 Bethany Crumpton (Hargroves Cycles/Specialized/Trant/Next) at 6-20
5 Melanie Alexander (Contessa Scott Synchros) at 6-55
6 Maddie Horton (Certini) at 7-27
7 Rebecca Preece (Red Rose Olympic CC) at 8-08
8 Maxine Filby (BC Private Member) at 8-45
9 Jessie Roberts (Torq Performance) at 9-18
10 Annabel Simpson (Team Hope Factory Racing) at 11-43
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