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.