Belgium’s Ruben Scheire and Githa Michiels powered to victories in the elite races at British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series at Sherwood Pines on Sunday.
Belgium’s Ruben Scheire took the victory in round one of the British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series at Sherwood Pines - but it was Dave Fletcher who stole the show with a fine ride to take second spot.
A host of European riders took to the start line looking for arguably easy points but the pre-race favourites didn’t get it all their own way on the fast course.
With the race reduced to six laps because of the previous race running over, it was the quick starters who would look to benefit and Steve James took the big field out of the arena and into the forest.
By the end of the first lap it was a group of around 20 riders including Fletcher, Grant Ferguson, Adrian Lansley and the European hitters who were away from the rest of the field.
With the course now becoming a mud fest it would be the bike handlers who would dominate the remainder of the day, and appearing for a second time out of the forest a break of three - Fletcher, Ferguson and Scheire.
Such was the mud, numbers and jerseys were now indistinguishable. The conditions began to dictate with numerous crashes and mechanical retirements and as the temperature dropped many more would abandon.
Fletcher looked to be at ease on his home track and dominated the head of the race with Schemer still in contact it would be Ferguson who looked to be losing pace.
A chase group of four, including Lansley and Hans Becking, were holding a 15-second gap to the leaders that remained until the following lap when Ferguson fell on a greasy bend just before there pit area, loosening his bars and in the process and losing third spot to the chasers after a visit to the technical area.
With the final lap on the horizon it was Kevin Van Hoovels who made his move to take third spot in the race but it was too late to make inroads on the lead two.
Ferguson was now sixth, some way off Becking and Lansley, but as the clock ticked down the money was still on for the local win. But leaving the second feed it was Scheire who made his move on Fletcher who was unable to respond to the Belgian’s attack and had to be content with second place.
Afterwards, Fletcher said: “I came into today hoping for a good ride and maybe a top ten which I would have been happy with, but to lead for most of the race and get a second is phenomenal, I’m really pleased with that.
“Scheire passed me on the last feed but I’ve only raced once this year so it’s lack of racing I think. The Europeans always come over here well prepared so to podium is really good for me and in front of a home crowd, it’s my back garden so to speak.
“I had a really bad season last year, had a lot of problems that needed sorting to be honest but that’s all sorted now. I’ve got a new team, new coach, new everything really so it’s a fresh start for me this year. I’ve just got to work to get back on that Olympic programme and reboot my career.”
Githa Michiels took a fine win in the rain-lashed elite women’s race. She flourished in the filthy conditions as many struggled, but was pushed all race by Alice Barnes and Swiss rider Nathalie Schneitter.
Beth Crumpton took the field out of the start arena with Barnes, Schneitter, Michiels and Annie Last gaining a small gap on the remainder of the field. But Last and Crumpton hit the deck leaving the arena for the first time, Crumpton having to pay a visit to the pits and watch the field ride past her.
Michiels soon settled into her rhythm and by the end of the first lap was sitting at the front of the race just ahead of Barnes and Schneitter. Last was back in to technical area with a mechanical, while Nicky Healy made the most of the National Champion’s misfortune by riding into fourth place as Kerry Macphee was looking settled in fifth.
Last soon took back fourth place after her pit visit, but it looked to be too big an ask to challenge for the lead. Michiels was away on her own in the now torrential rain, and riders were losing bottles in the feed due to wet gloves.
Coming into final lap Michiels upped the pace. Schneitter did likewise to take second off Barnes, and Last had to be content with fourth, her white jersey now a shade of mud.
Crumpton had fought through the field and was now up to fifth, just ahead of Lucy Grant, but the race belonged to the Belgium national champion. A late attack by Barnes saw the British rider retake second place, while Schneitter rolled across the line to finish third.
“It is always a hard race here because it is really fast, the conditions are a lot worse than last year and I haven’t done much training for this so it hurts and I can really feel it,” said Michiels as she stepped off the podium.
“My brakes stopped working on the second lap so I couldn’t go very quick on the downhills and had to take them carefully then make it up on other parts of the course.
“I hit a tree on the third lap with my shoulder because I couldn’t slow down and then I ran into another rider for the same reason which allowed the other girls to catch me up. I had trouble seeing because of the mud and rain in my eyes which caused a few problems but the biggest problem today was having no brakes.”
It was a Tulett 1-2 in the opening race of the 2015 series, with older brother Dan Tulett taking the victory in the under 16s race.
Holding off a race long challenge from Ross Harnden the National Champion, had to work from the gun to ensure victory which made for an exciting race, while local rider Calum Fernie took third spot.
Riding for his new team, Beeline Bicycles, younger brother Ben Tulett took the win in the under 14s. And he also had to work all the way to the line to hold off Lewis Askey by a mere four seconds, while Harry Birchill secured the third place.
Sophie Wright romped to victory in the under 16 girls race, riding Megan James into second spot by some 90 seconds, and a strong ride by Emily Field took the Stirling girl to third place.
Poppy Wildman proved once again to be too strong for her rivals in the under 14s race, a strong challenge by Harriet Harnden ensured another second podium of the day for Malvern, while Maddie Wadsworth took the final podium place.
Evie Richards made light work of the junior female race, once again strong riding by the T-Mo Racing youngster ensured the victory from Ffion James and Ella Conolly.
Helen Macgregor took a fine win in the veterans race, holding off Maddi Smith into second by a slender six seconds, with Alison Holmes completing the podium.
Sarah Barnwell completed her four laps in the grand veterans in 1.27.44, some three minutes to the good of Elizabeth Clayton with Penny Allan finishing third.
In the experts class, Laura Simpson made light work of the poor conditions to take victory over Katy Simcock and Diane Lee.
Paul Hopkins took the win the 40-49 veterans race after a race-long tussle with Ian Taylor. Taylor looked a surefire bet for the win but Hopkins had his own ideas on the final lap putting 31 seconds into the C&N Cycles rider. Lewis Craven took third in a field that boasted over 90 starters.
In the over 50s race it was Grant Johnson who proved the strongest in the drying conditions taking the win from Mark Chadbourne by a mere five seconds, with Nigel Brown taking third spot.
Andrew Roberts took the victory in the super veterans race from Ian Petherbridge, Cycle-tec’s Andy Firman completed the podium.
Due to an incident in the third race the results from the male experts and juniors are on hold.
1 Ruben Scheire (Belgian National Team) 1-50-50
2 Dave Fletcher (Pine Cycles-Felt-Enve) at 5sec
3 Kevin Van Hoovels (Versluys Team) at 13sec
4 Hans Becking (Betch.NL Superior Brentjens) at 52sec
5 Adrian Lansley (Pedal On) at 2-23
1 Githa Michiels (Versluys Team/Belgium National Team) at 1-52-19
2 Alice Barnes (Betch.NL-Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team) at 34sec
3 Nathalie Schneitter (Rose Vaujany fuelled by Ultrasports) at 45sec
4 Annie Last (Liv Cycling UK) at 2-34
5 Beth Crumpton (North West MTB Race Team) at 4-33