There were wins today for Grant Ferguson and Mariske Strauss in the Elite Men’s and women’s races on a demanding Hopton Woods course in round three of the National MTB Cross-Country Series.
A long climb just out of the start arena found many riders looking for their easier gears and a technical descent back into the finish arena saw a good few eating the dirt.
In the men’s elite race it was the Superior Brentjens pair of Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher who made the early impression in the race. Gallagher, fresh from his recent World Cup eliminator win, looked to be the stronger of the two leading Ferguson out of the woods at the end of the opening lap.
Oli Beckinsale, who celebrated an emotional victory at Hopton 12 months ago, was sitting in third spot alongside Nick Craig and Hope's Paul Oldham who looked to be returning to some form. And Dan Fleeman was comfortable sitting in sixth and would make his mark later in the race.
The second lap saw the race change shape. The long drag would prove to be the undoing of Gallagher, the young Scot finding the dusty climb not to his liking but Ferguson was still heading the race. Beckingsale had dropped Oldham and Craig and Fleeman had worked his way through to third spot and was only a few bike lengths of Beckinsale's rear wheel.
The South African Rourke Croeser was beginning to find his form on the course and was sitting in sixth spot. The podium placings - barring any major incidents - surely looked like it would come from the front group with big gaps appearing to the rest of the field. Ben Sumner headed a select chase group including Ian Field, Steve James, Gareth Montgomerie and Jason Bouttell, a group which would fight it out for the lower placings.
Ferguson was beginning to dominate the elite field and going into the third lap had increased his lead to Beckingsale by some 40 seconds. The course was telling on the majority of the field; Fleeman, still looking strong in third spot was losing time on the leader, Oldham and Croeser were having their own battle for fourth and fifth but they too had lost almost 90 seconds to Fleeman.
Gallagher had dropped to sixth and, struggling through riders from other categories, found his path impeded when going to get a drinks bottle from the technical zone, putting him further back from the Oldham/Croeser battle.
A steady fourth lap saw no change in race order but on the fifth and final lap Fleeman had worked over Beckingsale in the woods and the two came into the arena just a couple of bike lengths apart. Fleeman held the Endura rider at bay to take a well-deserved second place behind Ferguson. Croeser proved to be a stronger rider than a returning Oldham to take fourth.
“I liked the course, it was fun to ride, pretty hilly which suits my style of riding,” said Ferguson afterwards. “Kenta and myself managed to get clear early on and coming into the final descent back to the arena, he went down first and took me with him but I managed to out climb him.
“Oli came over to us and we got away and stayed together for a while but I took him on that final descent and I just went for it on the third lap and managed to stay away to the finish.”
A fine win by Mariske Strauss in the woman's Elite race gave the South African rider her second win in the National MTB Series - but the Orange Monkey rider didn't have an easy ride for the majority of the race.
An ever-improving Beth Crumpton made Strauss work hard for a good part of the race. The Hargroves rider headed the race out of the start arena on the opening lap and would dictate the race to mid-way through the penultimate lap.
Completing her first lap Crumpton had pulled out a commanding lead over Strauss, a 25 second buffer which was enough to go through the finish arena and be part way up the tough climb before her rival appeared.
Maddie Horton, having finished sixth in the previous round, was sitting in third and with Jessie Roberts in close contention the woman's race looked as though it far from a procession.
Hannah Barnes was back fit after missing the previous round in Cornwall and was sitting in fifth with Maxine Filby and Annie Simpson along for company. With two laps completed Crumpton was still away at the front of the race, holding Strauss at the same gap as the previous lap and the youngster looked comfortable in the driving seat.
Horton and Roberts were almost touching handlebars and third spot on the podium could have been anyone’s guess. Barnes and Simpson were having their own tussle for fourth and fifth, again the smallest of gaps between two riders.
Strauss found her race legs on lap three and put in a big effort to bridge the gap to the race leader. Coming into the arena to start the final lap she had jumped Crumpton and had gained a good few bike lengths over the youngster. Horton had also put in a big effort and had pulled a few seconds away from Roberts.
With two separate races fighting it out for the first four places, Barnes and Simpson came across the line together to start their final lap, both taking a bottle from the pits in unison, the two would sprint to the line to take fifth and sixth respectively, just one second splitting the two.
Once away Strauss proved unstoppable to cross the line in 1.40.32, almost two minutes ahead of second place Crumpton, while Horton increased the distance between herself and Roberts and claimed third spot.
Mariske Strauss said afterwards: “There is sun and blue skies today, last time here there was snow at Nottingham!
“It was a great race for me, a great course to ride and so well organised. I didn't have it too good in the first few laps, Beth gave me a bit of a run.
“I had some trouble this morning with my bike so I was fixing that while the warm up laps were on but I found my legs on the third lap. I caught her on my third lap and to be honest prayed that my legs would hold to the finish.”
Jonathan Pugh made it three from three in the final race of the day, the Masters. The Welshmen again dominated the masters race with another show of strength lapping some ten minutes quicker than the veterans race.
A quick pace saw Pugh and Philip Morris head the field out of the start arena and up the long climb, already easing a small gap on the rest of the field. The usual fight between Pugh and Morris was expected but completing the opening lap it was Pugh who was out on his own but a chasing Daniel Wells was only a short distance behind and Morris some 20 seconds adrift of Wells.
Alistair Lovell was sitting in fourth and Shaun Wells looked comfortable in fifth. Pugh was turning the big gears and had pulled some 90 seconds ahead of Wells by the end of the second time around the dusty course, Morris was sitting in third, the pain showing on his face unable to bridge the now increasing gap to the second placed rider.
Shaun Wells had been joined by Chris Clark and were trying to sort out fourth and fifth place between themselves, Tom Fowler could see the two riders just ahead and was only a handful of seconds adrift.
The Malvern rider would lose places on the closing laps to finish in 10th. Starting the last lap Pugh was in full flow and was now over two minutes to the good of Wells and was well on his way to victory, the second placed man looked comfortable in second probably knowing with Pugh's good form, second was almost as good as the win.
Philip Morris kept the pressure on the final lap to finish in third, the XCRacer.com rider only 17 seconds adrift of second on the line. Shaun Wells rolled across the line in fourth with Chris Clark almost a minute back in fifth.
Afterwards, Jonathan Pugh said: “I found that a bit tough on the first lap but once I was settled into the race I found a nice rhythm, I changed gear at the same point on every lap which seemed to work really well for me and I found I was able to pull away.
“I think getting the speed right on the first climb was the answer to my race, it was a long effort and there really isn't time to recover on any part of the course after that.
“The second climb is actually harder so I had to set myself back a bit and save some energy for that one. The decent was a lot of fun, I eased back a little on that and started to enjoy riding the bends. Great course today.”
Ian Paton did his campaign for the overall title no harm with a fine win in the junior male category. Both he and series leader Michael Thompson were locked together for the majority of the race and pulled over a minute on the chasing pair of Sam Stean and Jack Ravenscroft until the third and final lap when Paton dropped Thompson to ride home alone to take the win some 40 seconds to the good, Stean proved the stronger of of his battle with Ravenscroft to take the last podium step.
In the junior women’s race Alice Barnes proved too strong for a chasing Isla Short to increase her grip on the overall taking her third victory of the campaign. Gretal Warner took third, her first podium of the series.
Dan Tulett took his third win from three in the juvenile male race, again attacking from the gun to complete his two laps in 46 minutes, almost 3 minutes ahead of Tomos Nesham who rode a great race to fend off third place Harry Yates of Lichfield City CC.
Tulett wrapped his chain around the frame on the final lap but was able to freewheel down the final descent and carry the bike across the line to take the win. There was no change at the top of the juvenile female leader board, again Emily Wadsworth proved to be the stronger of the battle with Megan James crossed the line only a handful of seconds behind the leader. Again Patsy Caines found good form to take third spot on the podium.
The youth race again proved to be anyone’s race, current series leader Lewis Champion wasn't to have the best of days but neither Tom Craig or Jake Poole could capitalise on their opportunities to take the win. Calum Magowan was to prove no real match and rode a fine race to take the victory over a chasing Mark McGuire. Harry Johnston took third place.
In the youth female race Amira Mellor took the victory from Sarah Lomas on the final descent of the race, both girls had battled it out wheel to wheel throughout the race but Mellor took the descent ahead of the second place girl and kept her head in the run up to the line, Molly Williams took her first podium of the series finishing in third.
Ashley Evans increased his grip on the overall in the men’s sport category taking the win from a solid ride. Previous round winner Ross Flashman took second place and Josh Asquith was third. Heidi Gould took the win in the sport female race.
In the expert male race Issac Pucci held series leader, Lee Gratton, at bay to claim the victory with a solid four laps finishing in a little under 90 minutes, Dexter Hurlock kept his campaign alive rolling across the line in third a few seconds adrift of second place Gratton. Julie Elder took the win in the Expert female race ahead of Leona Kadir who took her first podium of the series, current leader Nicky Healy finished in third.
Paul Hopkins saw his lead disappear when he jammed his chain going into the final lap of the veteran’s race. The Merida Factory rider had dominated for the first three laps but coming up the start/finish straight a slipped chain saw the rider having to dismount and watch Crispin Doyle ride past to head the race.
With his bike now working an adrenaline fuelled Hopkins went on the chase and retook his lead coming into the arena just ahead of Doyle to finish only 15 seconds ahead of Doyle. Ian Taylor took the final step of the podium.
Isla Rowntree stormed away in the veteran woman race completing her three laps some eight minutes ahead of second place Nicky Hughes, Alison Holmes finished in third.
Peter Turnbull took the victory in the grand vets race holding off Grant Johnson into second and a returning Roy Hunt into third. Vic Barnett again took the win in the Super Vets race with Denis Smith again finishing second. Philip Jones was third. Elizabeth Clayton rode a dominant race to secure the win in the grand vet female race beating series leader Kim Long into second, Alison Linnell was third.
1. Grant Ferguson Superior Brentjens 1.42.48
2. Dan Fleeman Dig Deep Coaching-Pactimo 1.44.23
3. Oli Beckingsale Endura MTB Racing 1.44.29
4. Rourke Croeser Orange Monkey Pro Team 1.44.42
5. Paul Oldham Team Hope Factory Racing 1.45.26
6. Kenta Gallagher Superior Brentjens 1.47.01
7. Ian Field Hargroves Cycles/Specialized 1.47.31
8. Gareth Montgomerie GT Muc-Off Racing 1.47.55
9. Steve James Hargroves Cycles/Specialized 1.48.19
10 Jason Boutell Dig Deep Coaching-Pactimo 1.48.19
1. Mariske Strauss Orange Monkey Pro Team 1.40.32
2. Beth Crumpton Hargroves Cycles/Specialised 1.42.27
3. Maddie Horton Certini 1.44.20
4. Jessie Roberts Torq Performance 1.45.23
5. Hannah Barnes MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling 1.47.55
6. Annie Simpson Team Hope Factory Racing 1.47.56
7. Mel Alexander Contessa Scott Synchros 1.48.31
8. Rebecca Preece Contessa Scott Synchros 1.50.37
9. Joanne Clay Torq Performance 1.50.38
10 Tracey Moseley Malvern Cycle Sport 1.50.57
1. Jonathan Pugh Cycle-tec 1.29.47
2. Dan Wells Cube-Nutswerk 1.33.10
3. Philip Morris XCRacer.com 1.33.27
4. Shaun Wells 1.35.55
5. Chris Clark York Cycleworks 1.36.42
6. Grant Leavy 1.36.58
7. Nigel Martin Leisure Lakes Bikes 1.37.13
8. Ed Worthington Southfork Racing 1.37.26
9. Robert Purcell Neon-Velo.com 1.37.49
10 Thomas Fowler Malvern Cycle Sport 1.37.52
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