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Getting Cross in Feltham

Now in its third running, the annual Kingston Wheelers cyclocross race is the largest event hosted by the club, and the 2019 edition attracted just under 300 riders aged from 4 to 72, from complete novice to current Masters World Champion. The course build team had been hard at work on Saturday, constructing a course close to the maximum permitted 3.5km per lap in anticipation of fast conditions. Cyclocross courses use a variety of surfaces and terrain; as well as grass cambers, tricky gravel hairpins, grass switchbacks and flat-out open bends, riders had to traverse a flight of steps and a pair of hurdles. Whilst intended to be challenging for all, the course was specifically designed to encourage close and exciting racing. To add extra pressure, the hurdles had been set up on one of the fastest parts of the course, just after a descent and less than a hundred yards before the finish line, and set at a relatively low 20cm to encourage riders to bunny-hop.

The day’s competition started with a combined U8/10 race on a shorter and less technical version of the course. Even at this level racing at the sharp end of the field is close, with just 8 seconds separating the leading U8 riders after 11 minutes of racing, and a 10 second gap in the U10 race. Further back, several riders were competing in their first ever bike race, their sense of achievement on crossing the finish line every bit as great as the winners’. The U12 race is on a slightly longer course incorporating the hurdles, giving plenty of riders the opportunity to show their parents how they should be tackled. The U14/16 riders race the full course; many were able to ride the steps, though running them with a smooth dismount and remount was often faster. The same applied to the hurdles, where a rider with the skill to carry their momentum through a dismount and run followed by a slick remount would prevail over all but the fastest bunny-hopper.

First adult race of the day was the V50 men’s race. At the hurdles, a growing crowd of spectators was treated to some exemplary displays of jumping, and rather more demonstrations of ambition exceeding ability. A fair few riders made it over the first hurdle in relatively good shape only to land the second jump on the front wheel, followed by a swift trip over the handlebars. Deciding whether to run or ride a section of the course is a key cyclocross skill, and as with the youth riders, staying on the bike often worked out slower than running. At the finish, V65 World Champion Dave McMullen (Cotswold Veldrijden) took the win by one second from Richard John (Spirit Tifosi Racing Team)

The Women’s race was next, with 40 riders taking to the start line just as the heavens opened to deliver proper cyclocross conditions. While husbands and boyfriends retreated into the nearest gazebo, a hard-fought race saw Katy Simcock (Trek Bicycle Club) take the win with Maryka Sennema (Paceline RT and 2nd-claim Wheeler) 2nd and leading V40, followed by Imogen Chastell (Cycle Team OnForm) 3rd and leading Junior.

The V40 men’s played out almost like a road race, with Paul Robertson (Treads Cycle Club Northampton) and Jason Painton pulling turns about 8 seconds ahead of a chasing bunch of 6, the remainder of the field strung out behind. With most of the field riding the steps and all but one of the top 10 riders jumping the hurdles without slowing, lap times were fast, the front runners averaging 18mph. The final lap went down to a photo finish, Painton and Robertson crossing the hurdles side-by side and Painton taking the sprint by half a wheel.

Final race of the day were the Seniors, with three Flamme Rouge riders (Matthew Humpage, Nathan Blackmore and Joseph Bennett) escaping off the front and treating spectators to a 7-lap off-road team time trial. The three riders crossed the final set of hurdles side by side, Humpage just prevailing in the final sprint, with Blackmore a few inches ahead of 3rd-placed Bennett.