Monday, 22 February 2010

a good strong dose of northernism

Photo courtesy of British Cycling

Us cross riders are indeed a quirky breed, a fact that was brought home to me at the superbly eclectic Hit the North Winter Sprinter event last Sunday.

Held as part celebration of all things gruff and northern, part younger sibling of a more substantial summer MTB endurance race and part mash-up of off road disciplines, HTN is into its second year and continues to fill a unique gap in the off road event market.

It's more a sportive than a cross race at 2 hours length, but not long enough to be an enduro. Neither is it rough enough to be the sole preserve of mountain bikes, but is definitely challenging enough to keep crossers on their toes.

The coming together of discplines is fascinating - I rode the innaugural event last year at the back end of the cross season and in common with a very few other hardy souls, treated it as an extended cross race. Skinsuit, carbon wheels with tubs - the usual stuff I would take to a cross race - contrasted starkly with mountainbikers with big rucsacs of supplies and provisions, cammo jackets and if I wasn't mistaken, some body armour here and there......

All this heavy duty stuff made me nervous about what might be about to come - for my part, the well prepared MTB brethren probably enjoyed seeing a shivering lycra loon on the start line, like a sacrificial lamb about to get it's due reward.

The event was less epic than I had feared, though there were some descents that were beyond my technical ability, at least lap after lap. Instead it turned into a grand day in the park, albeit an exquisitely muddy one, and the few crossers came to the fore taking the win with Aidy Lawrence and the Vets prize with myself.

Fast forward to this year, and the crossers were out in force this time in the 160 strong field, and not the usual NW cross scene stalwarts either - lots of faces I didn't know, underlining the popularity that cross bikes are currently enjoying.

A similar course, about double the length of a normal cross course was the basis for the 2 hour race format, and once again it was billed as cross vs mtb - which would be faster or more appropiate?

This question wasn't really answered conclusively (for me) despite the first 3 places being filled by crossers. This was more down to a difference of approach more than a suitability of equipment. Don't get me wrong, a cross bike was fast around the course but the preponderance of cross riders toward the front of the field said as much about their racing attitude compared to the laid back riding vibe from many of the mountainbikers. A really fast mountain biker would still have been a really fast racer.

Photo courtesy of British Cycling

For myself, I had my best performance in many years and pushed very hard to take 3rd overall and 1st Vet again (though I benefited from an unwarranted Haygarth double puncture incident that cost Dave the win for sure). Report here on BC website.

Photo courtesy of British Cycling - that's my foot that is.

The 2 worlds may have met once again in Phillips Park and a little entente cordial exchanged between them but judging on what I witnessed, clearly most crossers will go back to their 1 hour slots of pain, many obsessing over tire pressure and the like (not just me surely!), whilst the MTBers seek out relaxed new worlds in which to ride and chat. Each to their own for sure, but if you are up in the North next February, you could do worse than hope that this little gem of an event pops up again to cover you in sticky mud at whatever speed and intensity you choose.


Dave Haygarth said...

A fair appraisal - was particularly interested in your comments about MTB vx CX bikes. It's a great way to garner some interest in the event to semi-bill it as that, but I'm in half a mind to go back and ride it on the MTB next year just to confirm what you are saying; that it's down to attitude. I mentioned this to Chipps a year or so ago ( Click here to read in PDF format from Singletrack mag) but cyclocross is fundamentally about racing; it can be about more, but at its heart is going quickly and beating the people behind you.

If people don't 'get' this then you won't understand why it's hard to compare. Believe me; when I rode my last MTB 'race' at Grizedale there wasn't that many people up the front smiling or seemingly having much fun. You get the fun when you've finished.

(And on that matter, the less said about 'finishing' the better ;-) )

Mark said...

Cross riders at the end of their season MTB riders at the start of theirs, fat tyres verus skinny, full sus versus rigid (we'll leave the single speeders out of it).
It boiled down to lots of people who love riding their choosen steed in the mud.
The race may not have been about crossing the line first but beating the person nearest too you or simply crossing the line.
As for smiling I had a huge smile on my face when I finished :)
The big question is have you worn your shirt yet????

Jase said...

it'll be interesting to see what happens if/when we have an 8-ish hour cyclocross/mtb team race. Sinilar course bit longer and open to solos, pairs and 4's.

There might not be much smiling after several hours.

Anonymous said...

Podium and winning the Vets...good work Alan! Will try and keep some cross form next year and join the melee!