|Pic: Ed Rollason
The Rapha Super Cross series has been in many ways a game changer for UK cyclocross. My first introduction to ‘cross was in the fields outside a windswept farm near Macclesfield in the 90s and the course, facilities and atmosphere were consequently somewhat agricultural. To be fair, my next race was held in some slightly more salubrious Northern parkland but the concept of small, facility-lite, muddy races around non-descript bits of grassland and watched under (usually) leaden winter skies by a faithful band of willing and more likely, un-willing spouses and kids was pretty much what you got in standard League ‘cross. They call ‘cross ‘Veldrijden’ in Flanders – field riding’ – and this is where most UK ‘cross seemed stuck (even at National Level where it wasn’t much more exciting either).
Except in Belgium and Holland it’s different despite the field riding origins. Frenzied crowds of 20,000 are common at big races especially over Christmas, beer tents are everywhere along with ubiquitous frites vans and there’s a pumping euro-techno soundtrack much of the time. ‘Cross is big business there. And so, with a nod to the Euro scene, some of the elements for the Super Cross series were born, adapted subtlely for the slightly less rabid UK ‘cross fan.
This year’s Northern Super Cross weekend was hosted at stately home Broughton Hall, nr Skipton and the following day, within sight of the Velodrome in Manchester. A series finale is next weekend in Alexandra Palace, London. On offer this year was racing for regular weekend warriors, followed by the UK’s finest riders slogging it out in teams for the Eilte race, the usual beer/frites combo, a Spiral of Doom, bands of various description, and a foam wall over the course and the ever-popular tequila shortcut for the fun race. And lots of atmosphere with plenty of spectators coming simply to watch and not participate.
I opted to ride the Broughton Hall round on the Saturday (heading to spectate at the Manchester round on the Sunday) and my front row gridding for the Vets race ensured that maximum effort would be required at the start on the rolling but tough course in the grounds of the Hall. What it lacked in technicality it made up for in off-camber, greasy corners. Low tyre pressures would be critical to avoid being dumped on the outside reaches of many of the bends. Seeking out alternative lines became important later in the race as the course cut up and muddied significantly – it’s always good to remember to look for how the course evolves over your race, especially if you are one of the early races on the day. A quick bike change toward the end and I rolled over the line in a reasonable 16th. Normally a swig of water suffices at this point, but this being Super Cross it was a treat to have a large glass of Belgian beer thrust into my hand, obtained from the beer tent we had just been racing through.
Not all ‘cross races are like Super Cross and nor should they be. Grassroots ‘cross is still about volunteers putting on great races in local venues, on a shoestring budget. But for a couple of weekends a year, a little taste of Belgian ‘cross really does the trick.