Codham Park near Braintree was the venue for the second round of Mud Sweat and Gears (MSG) – the East’s premier MTB XC race series. The CRC-supported Team City College Norwich – along with all the region’s racers – were privileged to ride the privately-owned grounds set amid the picturesque rolling countryside of north Essex.
Course designer, Jason Peters, had done a magnificent job in piecing together a very demanding – both physicallyand technically – four-mile circuit comprising tight twisty singletrack in the trees, drops and rock gardens in the ‘sandpit’ and even a BMX track with wall-like berms!
With the Arena perched atop the hill and a clear blue sky holding a most welcome warming sun, spectators and riders alike were in for some exciting racing (and a modicum of sun burn for those fairer skinned)!
Daz and Andy flying the flag
First up on the day for Team CCN was Alex Nichol in the female Sport category. In her preparations for the up-coming 12-hour champs she’d opted for ‘long’ over ‘fast’ training rides, but having pre-ridden the course earlier with boyfriend Oli she was confident of riding all the more technical ‘A’ lines and seeing what was in the tank in her first cross-country race of the season. In an ever-growing female field she set about her four-lap challenge. Having been within a minute of the eventual winner at the half-way point, she eventually succumbed to the gruelling grassy climbs. Making up time in the technical areas wasn’t enough but a third spot on the podium was the reward for her suffering.
Alex ‘droppin in’ the sandpit
The guys and girls at MSG have developed the races into a great family day, with racing for all the family from children on their first bike right through to the grandparents. The day’s main races were sandwiched by an under -9 and -12 race using some of the technical sandpit section.
Dad and future racer (© Jack Styles)
Glenn (who would later compete in the Master’s race) got a cheeky sneak preview of the trails whilst guiding his eldest son Alex through the pit. Alex had the quickest spinning pedals of the entire team on the day (he may need a bigger bike, eh Dad?!) aided no doubt by the encouragement from his supporting family and his Dad’s team mates.
All BC-ranking male category races were scheduled to start at 2pm. The arena slowly filled with testosterone and tension as the clock ticked towards the start. Team CCN Master’s riders – Shaun Aldous, Glenn Stanford, and Jason Smith – were gridded behind the Elites/Experts and Junior riders who would all start together.
Shaun, racing a 29er for the first time, gapped his rivals on a steep descent after the pace had settled from a rapid first lap, bridging across to a pair of Elites ahead. He held the lead ‘til the end of lap four; aware that his effort was dropping and thus unable to sustain such hard effort over the demanding circuit, he held the eventual winner’s wheel for half a lap until the elastic snapped.
Digging deep for the final lap, he reluctantly conceded a mere 60 seconds to the eventual winner taking the second step of the podium. Glenn – who was making his series debut – rode a solid race and was pleased to make the podium, taking third spot a minute behind team-mate Shaun.
Shaun and Glenn on the podium
Starting two minutes behind was the Sport cat, with round one winner Richard Dunnett aiming for a repeat performance. From a commanding position with a considerable lead over his rivals, Richard’s race was rudely interrupted with a visit from the puncture gods. Making the rookie mistake of forgetting to pocket a tube, his racing day was over before the end of the second lap.
Starting a further two minutes behind the Sport cat was the fiercely competitive Veterans category, in which Darren Evans and Andy Manning took to the start line in Team CCN colours. By the first climb of the lap Daz had fought his way from the third row (having been gridded from the previous round) to be at the head of the race. Having been riding strongly in training, it still came as a surprise to find himself grinning – whilst still feeling comfortable – at the leaders as they grimaced up the first incline. Andy was in close proximity by this time after surging through the pack from starting further back due to this being his debut in the series. Both Team CCN riders kept their focus as the unrelenting pace of the first lap unfolded consolidating their position amongst the lead group of six.
Andy rails a berm (© Jack Styles)
Disaster struck for Daz in the shape of a faulty seatpost, leaving him hanging off the back of the saddle, and as a result off the back of the leading group. Andy, whose meticulous bike-and-body preparation inspired confidence, pressed on in pursuit of success. Riding like a Trojan, he passed the current regional champion on one of the tougher climbs of the course early in the second lap, whilst Daz unfortunately had to step off the pedals and ‘persuade’ (with saddle-cracking force) his saddle back into position. Andy didn’t look back (literally and metaphorically); riding in third spot he kept up a consistent pace, ensuring he stayed hydrated, finishing the race only 1 min 10 sec down on second.
Daz finished in a very respectable eighth, having wrestled with the saddle on multiple occasions. Andy later commented that, “this is one of the best regional race circuits I have had the pleasure of riding on, it was challenging, exhilarating, punchy and fun.”
Andy on the podium
Team CCN would like to thank the following sponsors, Chain Reaction Cycles, Torq, and Streetlife Cycles.
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