Round 5 of the HSBC UK | National Trophy series saw wins for Ffion James and Arne Vrachten, as British and continental-based riders alike hailed the quality of the Pembrey course.
The weekend of racing saw Ian Field retain his series leader’s jersey in pursuit of a seventh title, while in the women’s race, James did enough to repel the challenge of series leader Sophie Thackray.
The men’s race saw an explosive start from U23 series leader Toby Barnes (RST/Cycle Division RT) who tore through the opening lap, pulling a string of Belgian and Dutch riders along in his wake. Unluckily, Barnes had to drop off the pace on lap two with mechanical issues, allowing a continental-themed front two groups to take charge of proceedings.
Gosse van der Meer (Bombtrack Bicycles p/b Hunt) was extremely aggressive at the front of a fast-moving group along with Gianni Siebens (IKO-CRELAN) and Yannick Peeters (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal). A handful of seconds back was another group of continental challengers including Julien Siemons (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Vrachten (Acrog-Pauwels Sauzen) with series leader Field (Neon Velo) the leading rider hanging on the edge of the top six.
Siebens suffered a mechanical on lap three which allowed Field to move through into the top five, but the leading four were turning the screw up front in a relentless exhibition of high-speed bike handling. First Peeters tried to force a gap with an aggressive attack that saw only van der Meer and Vrachten able to follow, with Siemens initially struggling to hold the wheels of the leading three.
But it was U23 rider Vrachten who managed the crucial move, not so much attacking but gradually riding away from the leading group and opening a gap of 11 seconds with three laps to go. Van der Meer consolidated second place with a small margin ahead of Siemens, and Peeters just five seconds back.
As the final laps unfolded, Vrachten looked assured in nailing down the win, extending to a comfortable 20 seconds ahead of van der Meer at the bell and throttling back in the final half lap. Siemens finally broke Peeters’ resistance to take the final podium spot with Field finishing 5th to retain the series lead with one round to go.
“I rode away from the rest and I didn’t really notice,” admitted Vrachten. “I tried to take Peeters with me to work together but I looked over my shoulder and he was gone. I liked this course and these conditions; it was a bit more like home.”
The series will come down to a winner-takes-all title shoot-out between Field and van der Meer in what promises to be a thriller in York in two weeks’ time.
James (Hope Factory Racing) was the home favourite and justified her billing with a dominant win in the women’s race. After a fierce start by Xan Crees (Empella) strung the field out through the initial half lap, James emerged as the first rider with clear air between herself and the chasers with a gap of 10 seconds as early as the first time up the sand hill toward the end of the opening lap, and looked capable of riding away for the win even at that early stage.
But series leader Thackray (SCOTT Racing) was having none of it and, mindful of the fact that in the event of a James win she would need to finish at worst second to retain the leader’s jersey, set off in pursuit, and with a strong half-lap effort, overhauled Crees before pulling back up to James’ wheel.
Behind them Crees was in career-best form, maintaining third comfortably ahead of a great scrap behind her in the U23 category led by Fiona Turnbull (Slingshot) locked in battle with the Hargroves Montezumas pairing of Abbie Manley and Amy Perryman, with Alderney Baker (Empella) just a few seconds further back.
James would later admit that she felt “pretty shocking” when Thackray came through to pressure her for the lead, but James managed a strong response, putting in a hard effort that was good enough to open up a race-winning lead of 30 seconds by the bell which she maintained to the end. Crees consolidated a fine third place and Thackray looked impressively composed in finishing a clear second to retain the leader’s jersey.
Manley dropped off the pace in the battle for 4th, with Turnbull finally winning a real dogfight with Perryman, the two taking 4th and 5th respectively. The junior win was taken by Verge Sport PI Cycles rider Lucy O’Donnell, who had to recover quickly from an excursion through the tapes on the switchback descent mid-race, with the RST/Cycle Division RT pairing of Amelia Wayte and Lotta Mansfield rounding out the podium in that age group.
The juniors got racing under way on day two with Alec Gregory (8point8 Group) and Twan van der Drift (Westland Wil Vooruit) opening a small gap on the opening lap, chased by a lead group led by Joe Kiely (Welwyn Wheelers). As the race headed into lap two a group of four strong contenders formed at the front with Adam Bent (Green Jersey RT) and Joe Blackmore (Rotor Racing) making their way across to the lead pair with Will Truelove (Abergavenny Road Club) and Ben Bright (Marsh Tracks RacingTrek) in close attendance.
The next lap saw the race split into two leading pairs with Gregory and Kiely trying to face a break, but three seconds was as large as it got, and Blackmore was able to close. Van der Drift paid the price of the high pace at the front, losing contact as a group of three leaders formed the leading break.
As the leaders approached the long sand climb Kiely made his move with a decisive attack, opening a gap of 12 seconds by the end of the lap which increased to 25 seconds by the time he took the bell. That gap never looked like coming back and Kiely calmly picked his way around the final lap as Gregory pulled clear of Blackmore, the two taking second and third respectively on the podium.
Nick Craig (Scott Racing) took his fourth straight trophy victory in the men’s V50s race, looking even more dominant than usual in riding away from the field to win by over a minute. Initially joined by Mark James (Dream Cycling), the two escaped early in the race opening a slight gap of around five seconds at the end of the first lap with Tim Davies (CC AbergavennyJPSignsPrint) in pursuit.
Craig attacked on lap two as James seemed to suffer gear issues and, following a start that left him unusually low down the field, it was Pete Middleton (www.Zepnat.comLazerhelmets) who stormed through the field to finish second and retain the series leader’s jersey with Davies rounding out the podium.
The concurrent V60s category saw a fantastic head to head battle between series leader Robin Delve (Mid Devon CC) and previous round winner Malcolm Cross. The two swapped the lead repeatedly through the race with both making mistakes, sliding out on the sharp, twisting decent before the finishing straight on the penultimate lap, before Delve eventually pulled clear on the final lap.
Adrian Lansley (Pedalon) completed a clean sweep, winning his fifth consecutive trophy in customary style by riding away from the field. Paul Lloyd (Banjo Cycles/Raceware) was a comfortable second place but behind the leading two was where the real race was taking place. Ben Eedy (Team EmpellaCycloCross) was mixing it up with the wwwZepnatcomRTLazerhelmets pairing of Daniel Alexander and Alexander Forrester, with multiple Three Peaks winner Rob Jebb (Hope Factory Racing) up in the mix. Alexander pulled clear as the race reached its closing stages before Jebb put in a strong finish to overhaul him for the final podium spot on the last lap.
The women’s veteran categories saw another clean sweep of five straight trophy wins as Kate Eedy (Team EmpellaCycloCross) rode away from the field to solo victory in the V40s race with Lucy Siddle (Allen Valley Velo) eventually overcoming Helen Pattinson (Hargroves-Montezuma’s) in the battle for second and third respectively.
The V50s saw Tracey Fletcher (Magspeed Racing) ride to a comfortable 30-second win over series leader Catherine Kilburn (Mid Devon CC) to take her second trophy win in a row and earn the right to wear the green jersey for the final round in York, while another head to head race between the series leading contenders in the 60+ category saw Nicola Davies (www.cyclocrossrider.com) once again edge out Sally Reid (Magspeed Racing) for the win.
Race of the day was the U14 girls, won in controversial fashion by Cat Ferguson (Pendle Cycle Sport) after a coming together with second placed Lucy Glover (Derwentside CC) as the two approached the final descent to the finish line, Ferguson crossing it in front.
The commissaires’ final decision was that, with the lack of any clear evidence one way or the other, the result stood, but whatever the outcome the race was a thriller, with both girls riding extremely well. Series leader Carys Lloyd (VC Londres) looked to be away and clear on the first lap before first Glover caught and passed her before she herself was overhauled by Ferguson on a steep bank run-up. Third-place finisher Imogen Wolff (Holmfirth Cycling Club) was right up in contention until the final lap and Lloyd hung on to fourth to retain the leader’s jersey with one race to go.
The U16 girls’ category was more straightforward with Zoe Backstedt (Storey Racing) putting in a customarily strong performance to ride away from compatriot Ella Maclean-Howell (Cardiff Jiff), both riding comfortably to the top two spots on the podium. Behind them the customary race from a very closely-matched crop of girls was taking place with Niamh Murphy (Pedlaon), Maddie Cooper (Jam Cycling RT), Libby Bell (Leicester Forest CC) and Emily Carrick-Anderson (T-Mo Racing) all in the fight for the final podium spot. Murphy eventually won it with a strong final lap performance to take third behind the Welsh pairing.
“That was harder than I expected,” said Backstedt after her fourth straight trophy win. “I thought we would just float over the grassy sections but it was hard, and the steps tired you out as were so high, but it was good - a really fun course.”
Sebastian Grindley (North Cheshire Clarion) won his fourth straight round to keep the leader’s jersey but this one was far from straight forward.
“I just had a really bad warm-up and tried to attack on the first lap, but it didn’t stick,” admitted the rider who has been in dominant form for the previous few rounds.
Second-placed overall in the series, local rider Finlay Tarling chased Grindley down and immediately put in a strong attack which gave him a slight lead before immediately crashing over the bars at the ‘water feature’ road crossing. Grindley wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity like that and immediately counter-attacked to break away in the race-winning move. To his credit, Tarling recovered his composure quickly and immediately set off in pursuit, but only managed to retain second with Oscar Martin (Rotor Racing) putting in a fine ride in 3rd.
Under darkening sky, the final race of the day was another thriller with Max Greensill (Hope Factory Racing) returning to the top step of the podium, overhauling Oli Akers (Garden Shed UK-SCOTT) who has dominated the previous three rounds.
Akers lead out early on and was the only rider to manage to get up the top section of the gruelling sand hill without dismounting in the early laps, Greensill slipping when re-mounting at the top and allowing Akers to open a slight lead. But along with an impressive Nathan Smith (Birkenhead North End CC) Greensill managed to close the gap on Akers before overhauling him on the next lap and managing to ride the big climb for two laps himself.
That was enough of an opportunity for Greensill to open up a race-winning margin, Smith coming through for second ahead of Akers in third.