Phil Pearce and Evie Richards were the big winners at the opening round of the 2017 HSBC UK | National Cross Country Series at a sunny Pembrey Park.
Phil Pearce (BW Cycling) took the win in the elite men's race after an intriguing battle with his rival Jason Bouttell.
A frantic start saw a crash on the run down from the start line but the favourites managed to keep clear of the fallers.
Pearce headed a group of some seven riders that included second-placed Bouttell (KTM Impsport), Grant Ferguson(CST SandD/ American Eagle), Erno McCrae, Dave Fletcher (Sherwood Pines) and 100% MEs Frazer Clacherty around the opening lap but no one managed to escape the fast pace set by the eventual race winner.
As the race settled, the lead seven riders were joined by another small group and by the mid way point some 14 riders were challenging for the head of the race.
Pearce continued to set the pace, trying to break the group up, Boutell, aware of Pearce’s intentions took up the pace setting and, by the fourth lap, the group had started to fracture, leaving a group of five riders who were able to match Bouttell’s brisk pace.
Pearce, Ferguson, McCrae, Gareth McKee and Boutell hit the penultimate lap alone at the head of the race.
The final lap saw Pearce and Bouttell up the pace and jump away from the lead group. But coming into Hobbits Hole for the final time Pearce hit the single track just in front, Boutell unable to get the lead back and had to be content with second place. The remaining three riders got tangled up with back markers and rode in to take the final places on the podium.
Pearce said: “That was a really tough race, it was a fast pace. I did a big turn on the front to try and break the field up then Jason (Bouttell) did a turn on the front but neither of us managed to get away so I just had to play it tactical. When Jason did his big turn I knew I had to go with him and managed to get past him on the last climb and going into the single track at the front I knew I could hold him into second.”
Elite men's gallery
Evie Richards (100% ME) dominated the elite women’s race to take a fine solo win with a show of strength that no one could match.
Richards hit the front of the race before it had left the arena for the first time, 2016 Series winner Isla Short (OMX Pro Team) followed the race leader into the woods but as the opening lap evolved it was Richards who proved too strong for the rest of the field and soon had some 30 seconds advantage over the chasers.
With Richards away on the front, the race turned to the rest of the field. Short held a strong second place and had a safe margin over Ella Conolly (100%ME) who was competing in her first Elite race in the UK, Jane Barr (Velocity 44), Sophie Halhead (BW Cycles) and Marlena Drozdziok (Scott Eurocycles).
Barr was sitting in third on the penultimate lap but Conolly was starting to eat into the Scots advantage.
With Richards and Short taking first and second, all eyes were on the race for third. Barr appeared into Hobbits Hole first, holding her position to take third place and her first National MTB podium with Conolly rolling across the line to take fourth.
Evie Richards said: “Although these races are great for training I really wanted to come here and win today.
“I was actually quite poorly during warm up so I really wanted to see how the race went and how I felt.
“I didn’t ease up today even when I knew I had a big lead, I tend to race against myself and that’s what I did today. I was pretty pleased with the result and the way the race went overall.”