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National Cyclocross Championships: Cyclopark gears up for its big cyclocross gig

Maria David
11 Jan 2019

After almost 30 years, the National Cyclocross Champion return to the South East to much anticipation by organisers and competitors alike

This weekend, the nation’s top mudpluggers will descend on Cyclopark in Kent, to battle it out at the National Cyclocross Championships. No fewer than 10 titles will be contested at this new venue, making it the first time that a National Cyclocross Championships have been held in the South East since the 1990s.

Those of a certain age may remember seeing Roger Hammond winning the National Junior Cyclocross Championships at Harlow in 1991 and 1992, or Mick Ives (Team Jewson-M.I.Racing-Polypipe) winning the Vets title at Alexandra Palace in 1987, while others may remember international races at Shirley Hills, Croydon, featuring Hammond and a young Nick Craig (Scott Racing) in the 1990s.

So the organisers are very pleased to finally be staging the National Championships in the South East region after years of preparing for this event.

Roger Hammond at the 1998 London International Championships, Shirley Hills, Croydon. Photo: Veloklubhaus/Stuart Kinnon

The four-year road to the Nationals

It started when Cyclopark hosted local league events, regional championships and a successful National Trophy Series race in 2017 when riders and officials were impressed with the course and the features incorporated from around the venue.

'Hosting the National Cyclocross Championships at Cyclopark has been huge in terms of enhancing the reputation of the venue. We are hoping to build a legacy off the back of this event,' said a very satisfied Kyle Borley, General Manager of Cyclopark. 

'The National Trophy series was awarded on the back of great support from the local British Cycling officers in the South East Region, and special mention goes to Luke Anderson who strongly believed that Cyclopark was a unique venue to host a National round for this up and coming cycling discipline.'

Former London Cyclocross Association committee member John Mullineaux, an active member in cyclocross for over 20 years, was also very pleased to finally see the day when these Championships (as well as the National Trophy race at Ardingly, Sussex) would come to the South East.

'This was the result of four years of effort by promoters, committees and individuals pressing buttons, turning handles and generally taking the time to communicate,' said Mullineaux.

'Hopefully both events will help in the development of cyclocross and cycling to a wider public, and allow a stepping stone for all "Weekend Warriors" of all ages to dream of international participation.'

With each race that has been staged at Cyclopark the course has been modified, making it increasingly technical. Initially the local race contained classic features such as steep bankings, tight bends, and off-camber stretches.

Then progressively additional obstacles such as a sandpit and hurdles were added, leading to what is now, the most technical course yet for this weekend’s race.

Getting technical

Top riders will be treated to the features that they negotiated last season at the National Trophy round. However, they will also need to come ready to tackle the flyover, a BMX pump track and berms, all in rapid succession, as well as a technical run-in to the finish line.

Huw Williams, a member of the course design team, wanted to make the best use of the limited space available at Cyclopark while including features that would test riders physically, technically and psychologically. Ideally, this would be a course that would not look out-of-place at a race in Belgium or the Netherlands.

'At cyclopark we haven’t got any of that wide open space, as it’s a very long narrow venue. What we do have is a series of very technical off-camber banks, short bank run-ups, and very tight turns, all packed into a really narrow strip,' Williams explained.

'I call it a Fisher-Price activity centre, a bit like when you were a kid and you had all those fun elements packed into a really small space.

'There’s a really high mental aspect to it because all of these things are coming at you so quick and you’re trying to think about where you are in the race, and what you need to do to be competitive.

'As a National Championships status race we’d suggest it should be a really hard challenge, and anyone who wants to win a jersey should really deserve it!'

This edition of the championships has proven to be popular with riders, since around 750 competitors have signed up - 100 more than last year. Clearly a number of people fancy their chances at gaining glory on the terrain at Gravesend.

What type of rider would do well at this race?

According to Williams, the winner would be someone who can hold their nerve, particularly in that final technical run-in to the finish.

'Because it’s a long, narrow venue there’s a lot of places where you are riding one way, riders you are racing against are going the other way. So you can look into the eyes of the person who is about 10 or 15 seconds behind you. It’s all about keeping tactically aware and being psychologically very cool,' he advised.

'You can see the finishing straight 350m up the road, but you’re coming through this really large bank run-up with an off-camber at the top before you make this descent onto the finishing straight. It’s going to be all about who’s prepared to take the risk over where they get on the bike and where they get off it, and who can handle the pressure best.'

Nick Craig at the 1998 London International Championships, Shirley Hills, Croydon. Photo: Veloklubhaus/Stuart Kinnon

Feast your eyes on this

A course with so much action will provide ample fodder for the spectators who will have a lot to feast their eyes on, with the main spectator area being centrally located where they can see the bank run-up, the sandpit, the hurdles, and the off-camber capers as well as any action in the pits.

National Championship races generally attract large crowds and this would be no exception, with around 3,000 people expected to cheer, jeer, and ring cowbells over the two days of high quality racing.

With Eurosport filming the race for a highlights show, and media promotion by British Cycling, there has been a real buzz about the weekend.

According to Borley, 'We are having more and more people getting in touch via our social media pages or ringing up to ask about tickets for the weekend. This weekend’s events are free to spectate, and a large live screen will also be in situ around the venue.'

As well as top riders who race in Europe such as Helen Wyman, Nikki Brammeier, Ben Tulett and Tom Pidcock, people will also see close contests involving domestic racers like Ian Field, Nick Craig, Paul Oldham, Cameron Mason, Bethany Crumpton, Anna Kay and Ffion James.

One notable absence will be under-23 National Champion Evie Richards, who is currently out of action due to knee surgery.

Feedback from riders who contested the National Trophy has been positive and it seems they are relishing the chance to race at Cyclopark, although the beady eyed among you may have noticed that recent dry weather now means there won’t be any mud-plugging, just fast and furious racing, which will still make for an exciting spectacle.

Pre-race talk

What the racers say about racing the National Cyclocross Championships this weekend

Photo: VeloUK

Ben Tulett (IKO-Beobank), Cyclopark Ambassador – Junior Men

'It’s been such a dry year that the course is incredibly firm and there’s not a lot of ruts forming so I think it will be a very fast race. It won’t be one for your mud tyres on Sunday!

'I’m looking forward to racing, it’ll be good fun. Of course I want to win. It’s an important race in the year and I feel like I’m in really good shape now coming back well after injury. I only live 15 miles away from the venue, so it’s really nice to have a local race.

'Normally we have to go abroad to race every weekend, so it’s nice to have a race that feels like it’s close to home. In my lifetime I don’t think the Nationals have ever been held in the South East.

'I think for a spectator, the best place to watch will be on the short steep climb up to the BMX track and that’s a really brutal climb. I think the encouragement up there will be very nice.'

Ian Field (Neon-Velo Cycling Team) – Elite Men

'I can’t believe how dry it is. You wouldn’t need a jet wash. I did three or four laps and you can almost not tell I rode cyclocross.

'The course has all the cambers and all the features it had previously, but we were just racing across the cambers like they weren’t there. On some of the cambers you’re almost riding them like in a velodrome; you are flying round.

'But the speed definitely adds a technical element to it because you are going that much faster, and so what looks like a fairly innocuous turn could be quite tricky just because of the speed you are carrying, going through the sections.

'There’s quite a hard section through the finish area. I think that could be the deciding section of the course.

'I am looking forward to racing there. It’s gonna be completely different to Nationals we’ve had, so we should expect some fast group racing, but at the same time it’s so twisty and turny that it’s quite difficult to hold the wheel round there as such.

'So although it’s superfast I’m not expecting huge groups going round.'

Photo: VeloUK

Ffion James (Storey Racing) – Elite Women (Under-23)

'I raced there [at Cyclopark] last year in one of the rounds of the National Trophy Series and actually managed to get my first ever Elite Women’s Trophy win!

'So as you can probably guess I love the course and have good memories from there. Last year it was dry and fast, but technical at the same time. The more technical a course the better for me.

'I hear the course has changed since last year, but as long as it keeps the general theme of being twisty and technical with plenty of steep banks and off-cambers then I’m happy. I think it will make for some exciting racing.

'Looking at the weather it’s likely to be dry for the race, so being able to ride the off-cambers and corners at high speed is probably going to be key.

'It could also result in quite close and tactical racing, so knowing when to put the power down and make your move could be important.

'I love racing in front of big crowds, and on a tight circuit with a lot of spectators expected, the atmosphere should hopefully be awesome.'

Annie Simpson (Hope Factory Racing) – Elite Women

'I’m looking forward to racing the Nationals at the Cyclopark. I’ve never ridden at the venue before but I’ve done my research and it looks a real contrast to the muddy, slow and sloggy conditions of last year’s Championships at Hetton-le-Hole.

'I think it’s important to change up the types of venues for National Championships, as certain courses are suited better to different riders, so the variation can certainly make it more interesting.

'The strength and depth of the women’s racing is improving each year, so hopefully this year there will be some new names knocking on the doors of the usual suspects.

'I’m just hoping for a clean race, no mistakes and getting my best effort on the day out.'

Photo: Simon Pattinson

Helen Pattinson (Hargroves-Montezuma’s) – Veteran Women (Vet 45-49)

'I am really looking forward to the Nationals at Cyclopark this weekend. Racing always makes me ridiculously nervous but this will be my fifth Nationals and I feel like I’m finally getting to grips with coping with the build-up.

'Being part of the Hargroves Montezuma’s race team, made up mostly of juniors, I do feel like I have to put a brave face on it to show them that being overwhelmed by nerves is not the best way to start a race! Having said that, I have raced at Cyclopark twice now and this always helps.

'I have worked a lot on my technical skills and racing in the wet and mud over the last year, so I’m a bit disappointed that it’s looking like a very dry course.

'I like the course. It’s set on a hill and this suits me; I am learning to love off-cambers too.

'I am feeling fitter after a poor summer and early season, with some family illness and a lot going on in the business.

'The Trophy series win has also given me a lot more confidence so maybe this year is my year, but I would never rule out Maddi Smith, Alison Kinloch and Lucy Siddle. They’re all on good form and could easily pull it out of the bag – and with cyclocross, almost anything could happen on the day!'

Dougie Fox (Crawley Wheelers) – Veteran 60+ Men (Vet 60-64)

'Having the National Championships close by is a great opportunity for the South East, so I was definitely going to ride.

'Having ridden the course at a wet Regional Championships I was expecting the worst. However, now with a dry course in January it will require a different choice of equipment.

'The course has some great technical bits and should flow nicely but with the lack of rain it may well suit the more road orientated riders.

'The start/finish straight is long and kicks up at the top so maybe there will be some drafting tactics deployed there. I hope my cold has disappeared by the weekend!'