Riders were confronted with patches of snow and ice-covered puddles as they poured into the popular Tunnel Hill venue for the rescheduled second round of the Saddle Skedaddle Gorrick Spring Series.
The course was typically classic Gorrick – one that has been worked on and tweaked over time to provide some great fast flowing singletrack – and conditions were nigh-on perfect, with the sandy base draining the worst of the mud from the six-mile loop, leaving just a few puddles for a spot of gloopy fun.
It was the younger element who kicked off the proceedings at very nearly the crack of dawn, with the youths, juveniles and under-12s setting the pace for the rest of the categories.
As the day progressed there were some pretty fierce battles going on, with more than one outcome settled by just a handful of seconds. The closest of these had to be in the veterans race, where the top three finishers had just 15 seconds separating them. Dean Morgan took the honours, with eight seconds to spare from Andy Weaving, who in turn squeezed Daran Blackwell into third by just seven seconds after three hard-fought laps.
Similarly, in the grand vets, Mark Boyton-Salts and Tim Stowe were neck-and-neck for the first two laps, until Boyton-Salts got the edge and managed to forge a gap of 39 seconds over the remaining lap, leaving Stowe to pick up second.
In the masters race it was a resounding win for Singular rider Steve Webb, who found his big-wheeled singlespeed perfect to roll over the undulating terrain. He told us: “Gorricks are renowned for their furious starts, so while I was really just there to get some miles in, the adrenaline started flowing and I found myself up with the fast boys from the start. I found myself on the front mid-way through the first lap, not sure whether it would hold. The second was steady, and the last was just trying to hang on and not fall off. I've been racing mountain bikes for 20 years and this is my first win – I hope not the last, it feels great.”
Earlier ‘cross rider Harry Franklin put all his winter racing to good use by taking a comfortable win in the juvenile race. Then, in the women's categories, the Dirt Divas made quite an impact with four of their riders taking wins in their respective categories, while Big Ring Racing’s Hollie Bettles continued her winning ways and once more bettered her Dad Lloyd by winning the youth female race.
Kim Hurst cruised at high speed to take the women’s masters race with a tight battle going on behind her for second between Jo Munden and Liz Tapper. Liz didn’t have the best of starts but fought her way back to near contention as Jo started to lose pace after a fast start. However she managed to hold off the fast finishing Liz to hang onto second by just 19 seconds.
Once again the race of the day was the battle of the experts, with a junior thrown in for good measure! On the start line was NPS champion and round one winner Gareth Montgomerie, along with cycle-cross national champion Jody Crawforth, plus Chris Minter and Tim Dunford to name a few. As the race got underway it was junior Steven James who led the classy field out on the start of five long laps. James had a great ride in the first round and was determined to better his fifth spot, predicting before the start that he'd finish third.
By the end of lap one the field had been whittled down to just Minter, Crawforth and Montgomerie, with James at the head pulling them along. Lap two and Montgomerie was visiting the pits with a mechanical and was out of the running, leaving the three front-runners to decide the outcome. Still James headed the group, not easing once, while the others seemed to be biding their time.
By lap four Crawforth started to fall away, the relentless punishment over the fast course coupled with a long ‘cross season finally taking their toll. It looked like the youngster James might actually take the win, but then finally on lap five Minter just found enough reserves to make the jump. With Jon Pugh snapping at his heels James just managed to hang onto second spot, while Crawforth rolled in for fourth behind Pugh.
Minter said: "I knew it was going to be a hard race with Gareth Montgomery but when I saw Jody Crawforth pull into the car park I knew it was certainly going to be! My plan for the race was to try to go with the first lap effort and be in the mix on the beginning of the second lap. Steve led nearly the entire race and was pushing the pace really hard in places, which really pushed me to my limits. I honestly thought he would win.... [but] I managed to get a gap and continued riding as hard as I could until the end. I'm well happy with my win and would like to thank Gorrick and everyone who cheered me on. Cheers!"
The most rewarding ride of the day had to be the one completed by Chris Absolom in the men’s open race, who, unknown to himself at the time, was racing himself to 41st spot and a free weekend break courtesy of series sponsors Saddle Skedaddle – not bad for just over 1hr 36mins' work!
Round three, snow permitting, takes us to Crowthorne Wood, which is famous for not only being the venue of the first Gorrick but also the home of the now infamous ‘corkscrew’. Details can be found at www.gorrick.com.