Rebecca Romero goes off-road

Olympic champion competes in Merida Brass Monkeys

Olympic pursuit champion Rebecca Romero took part in her first mountain bike race - the first round of the Merida Brass Monkeys winter enduro series at Rushmoor Arena in Hampshire, UK - and lived to tell the tale.

Romero raced in the women’s four-hour category and, after suffering a mechanical, finished sixth behind Jo Munden, Kathy Beresford and Sam Hart.

Romero said: "This a bit of a different aspect of cycling for me, so much mud – I wouldn’t get this on the road, would I? And I definitely wouldn’t get this cold and wet on the track. I’ve decided that I want to broaden my experience as a cyclist, work on my skills and challenge myself in other ways. I’ve been riding plenty of trail centres all round the UK and having fun.

"I had a few little tumbles out there but really enjoyed it, it was great training. I feel a bit bad for not going the full distance but as it’s my first real race and I’m just learning the ropes, I think I did okay. Let’s see what happens at the next one. This one was a real baptism of fire. I did enjoy it, though I can’t wait to see the bruises. I’m going to see how I go over winter and if I think I can get to any reasonable standard then I might think about having a go at the National XC Series."

A full field

Pre-entries for the first round of the new Merida Brass Monkeys winter enduro series were full to overflowing, and so were the trails after hours of heavy rain.

After a night-long deluge, the morning started promisingly, with a few glimmers of sun. But as soon as the last back wheel disappeared into the distance – a little late due to the sheer number of riders – it started to bucket it down.

The new circuit at Rushmoor Arena held up pretty well, although the sandy base turned into a fine grit that swiftly ground down brake pads, and there was a true British Bulldog feel out on course as young and old did the only thing they could and ploughed on through the never-ending deluge.

Two-hour race

Scott Forbes looked like a man in a rush to get to a warm bath as he made short work of the two-hour race. George Budd did his best to stay with the Pedal On rider but slipped back on one section and Forbes just kept pushing on. Four laps later and he took victory, with Budd trailing by over eight minutes. The only other man to complete four laps was third-placed Paul Troughton, just nine minutes behind.

Forbes said: ”I reckon most of my season has been in preparation for this today – it was unbelievable out there! My brakes went in the first lap, my will to live went on the second lap and my legs went in the third lap! I have to say that ranks as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. It’s one of those days where you’ll look back, after the bike is all fixed and the kit is all clean and I’m warm again, and say 'yeah, that was a brilliant race'.

Samantha Jones battled hard with Joanne Middleton and Elizabeth Gilmour, all three clocking up three laps in closer to three hours than two. After two laps just 30 seconds separated Jones and Gilmour, but Middleton overtook Gilmour on the last lap to take second place.

In the Veteran Men’s race 'Little Dean' Morgan took a comfortable win ahead of runners-up Paul Isaacs and Danny Coote. He said: "That was grim, but nothing compared to all those doing the four-hour! Fair play to them, that is truly hardcore. It was a good course, pretty hard, with the weather making that much harder, but it held up pretty well. There were some pretty deep puddles – at one point I nearly found myself underwater."

Lydia Gould pelted off in chase mode in the women's race after turning up late but was unable to catch up with Louise Parker, who took the win with three laps and over three hours of riding. Gould had to settle for second, ahead of Karan Andrews.

Four-hour race

The four-hour race was a true battle of attrition as hail joined the rain and some riders found themselves mixed up with a local hunt. It also provided one of the closest finishes of the day, as only 62 seconds separated the three top finishers in the Vet’s race. As the race unfolded, the lead seemed comfortably in the hands of Craig Dolwin, with Daryl Cavill and Colin Smith trailing. Then, in the closing stages, it was all change as a newcomer to the Vet’s field, Paul Howard, surged through on his trusty singlespeed. Howard took victory after five laps while Smith came in to take second and Calvill third. Dolwin limped home in fourth after a mechanical.

"That was the hardest thing I’ve ever ridden," said Howard. "The conditions were pretty bad. It went from very damp and mushy to 'ah, there’s a nice line forming here', to 'it’s actually quite rideable' as rivers formed. The last three hours I had no brakes so it was foot down speedway style and the occasional tree hugging to slow down. It was a lot of fun despite a lot of mental talking to myself to actually get round the last lap.

"Today was only supposed to be a winter training ride, and then I came over all competitive! All race I didn’t know what position I was in, till the start of the fifth lap someone shouted out that I was in third, which made my heart rate go a bit silly. And I only found out I’d won when I crossed the line, truly shocked. A great start for the series despite the weather, and a good start for my new Vet status. Obviously getting old hasn’t affected me!"

In the senior race, elite cross-country rider Tim Dunford powered on for six strong laps to take the win nearly 30 minutes clear of second-placed Ed Rose, while enduro specialist Anthony White came home third. Elaine Burroughs battled through to win the Veteran Women’s four-hour race with four hard fought laps from rival Viv Hazelton.

Dunford said: "”That was pretty good fun. I set off with Ben Thomas in the beginning and just concentrated on riding smoothly. Unfortunately he ran out of brake pads after two laps – that was his excuse anyway! Towards the end I had no braking power left either so I spent my time trying not to fall off. The course wasn’t too bad considering how much rain we’ve had, and I was so wet that I didn’t notice it after the first couple of laps. I have to say I enjoyed it really. “

The women’s four-hour category saw a surprise entry from Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Romero, taking part in her first mountain bike race. She went on to finish sixth after a mechanical. Jo Munden went about her winning business pretty much undisturbed, recording five soggy laps in just over 4hr 30min. Second spot went to Kathy Beresford, with an ever-smiling Sam Hart third.

Munden said: "It was pretty good fun for most of it, but the last lap was a lap too far – no brake pads left and the course was just sludge – but you just can’t stop, can you? I got a good start and just kept going. It was fun, and I’ll be back for the next one.”

Round two takes place on 28 December. For details, see www.meridabrassmonkeys.com. For full results, see www.timelaps.co.uk.

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