The cyclocross races I went to towards the end of 2016 were, if I’m honest, rather disappointing. It wasn’t the quality of the riding – the riders, as always, gave it their best and were thrilling to watch; not was it the races themselves – the various organisers, like they always do, have been working hard to make their events as good as they possibly can be. It was the weather: I had to take my jacket off at a couple of races early on in the season, and even some of the later ones have been taking place in bright sunshine. That’s great for photography and for the riders, who in some cases haven’t even had to clean their bikes before the next race, but it’s just not how ‘cross is meant to be.
Cyclo Crossmas, organised by the Lovelo-Cinelli club and held on the 18th of December, was different. Thick fog lasted until lunchtime and soaked everything including the grounds of Ashlyn’s School to create some lovely sticky mud and the wooded sections, in places bottom bracket-deep in fallen leaves, were full of all sorts of moss, lichens and other delightfully slippery stuff. A purely technical race is fun to watch, but we all appreciate some speed too and these were amply provided by the fast sections winding around the school’s well-drained playing fields, which also included a sandpit and some tight turns and which could only be reached by crossing an obstacle rarely seen at a non-National level race – a bridge. It was a big one, too, which would have looked perfectly at home at a World Championships race. All in all, one of the most variable and challenging courses so far this year – which is all the more remarkable considering that this was the first ‘cross race (and in fact only the third race) Lovelo-Cinelli have ever organised.
Tough, attritional races suit Welwyn Wheelers’ Elspeth Grace very well, and the sixteen-year-old is on top form at the moment as anyone who was fortunate enough to see her take on and beat some of the top riders on the domestic circuit at the South and South-Eastern Regional Championships at Cyclopark a few weeks back will be well aware, so this one was ideal for her: although she lost a handful of sections in the first lap thanks to a minor mechanical coming into the gravel sections (which caused a number of DNFs when pebbles and mud combined to jam the chains and rip the derailleurs right off some of the bikes in the men’s race priot to the women’s event) she was clearly the strongest rider and before too long at all had a big lead over the next rider. She had, it seemed, taken careful note of the sections that had given riders in the earlier races problems too, shouldering her bike to run through, and her bike-handling skills saw to it that her advantage steadily increased through the subsequent laps – she ended the race two and a half minutes ahead of second-placed rider Fran Whyte of Bicester Millennium, who had herself put in an expert ride to hold off Lydia Brookes of Sigma Sport.
Lovelo-Cinelli’s first race, which took place in April last year, was notable for two reasons – one, it was so well-organised that it had the feel of an established event put together by a team that had been running races for years and two, because it was first and foremost a women’s race; and it was great to see a women’s race given centre stage with the men as support act. This year, it’s due to run again on the 9th of April at Leighton Buzzard. Be there if you can to show your support, because clubs like them organising superb women’s races simply because they want the sport to have the events it deserves are the future.
Keep your eyes on Elspeth, too – she’s had a lot of success in the U16 races already, and her recent performances suggest she may well turn out to be a serious new talent.
1 Elspeth Grace (Welwyn Wheelers; Junior) 20pts
2 Fran Whyte (Bicester Millennium; Senior) 16pts
3 Lydia Brookes (Sigma Sport.co.uk; Senior) 12pts
4 Helen Boatman (Team Milton Keynes; Veteran) 9pts
5 Clemence Copie (Les Filles; Senior) 7pts
6 Samantha Hughes-Dowdle (Team Milton Keynes; Veteran) 5pts
7 Cecilia Hime (St Ives CC; Junior) 4pts
8 Wendy Rees 0pts
9 Zoe Allsop (Lovelo Cinelli; Senior) 2pts
10 Julia Chatterton (Team Milton Keynes; Senior) 1pt