On Sunday I took an impromptu trip to Crow Hill in the New Forest near Bournemouth for Round 5 of the Southern XC Series, incorporating the Southern Regional Championships. Initially I had planned on entering more Southern XC races this year, however I decided to focus more on the National Series and local races due to the expense and time-investment of travelling, but the promise of double British Cycling ranking points lured me into making the 3 hour drive from Plymouth on this occasion!

Arriving earlier than planned, I stepped out of the car to be hit by a wall of heat, not too dissimilar to the feeling you get stepping off a plane when you go abroad! The sun was beaming down and it was hot, with highs of 26 degrees. After registering and getting everything ready, I headed out for a couple practice laps before chilling out for a couple hours before my race started at 2pm.

Having raced at Newnham on Friday evening for the second round of Fully Sussed’s Summer Soggy Bottom Series, I was a bit unsure how the legs would be feeling considering I’d gone pretty hard as I wasn’t really planning to be racing on the Sunday as well. After two steady practice laps I wasn’t feeling terrible, but after sitting around for over an hour killing time, as I made my way to the start line I seemed to have seized up a bit. Perhaps it’s time to invest in some rollers for a thorough warmup?

The start line organisation for the Southern’s are a bit more formal than the South West events, with gridding based on category and series ranking. As this was my first Southern race, that meant I was pretty much right at the back… great! As the whistle was blown everyone blasted off, quite literally leaving me in a cloud of dust that had been kicked up from the gravelly dirt track. As it cleared and I regained vision, I found myself sitting right on the back and last to leave the start loop. It wasn’t looking promising!

The course was great fun, albeit a bumpy one. From the gravelly start loop, it continued down a very bumpy pot-holed grassy field, before joining onto some slick tight and twisty singletrack. Even on the first lap, the bumpiness seemed to have led to a few chain-offs from other riders as they pulled to one side to sort themselves out.

From there it continued onto a fast gravelly straight, which started out fairly flat before curving to the left and ramping up into a longer fire road climb. I found myself making good progress here, catching quite a few riders as they began to fatigue towards the top, clawing back at least some positions before it narrowed into some steeper rooty singletrack climbs followed by some flowy drops and descents.

After the first lap I’d managed to work my way up from dead last to 14th place, and was determined to keep picking away on the next few laps.

Despite the recent dry weather, there were several areas of deep boggy mud which caused a few OTB moments for some, and whilst the sunny day meant sunglasses were necessary to keep the glare down, they weren’t so beneficial when the course headed into a pitch black wooded area with off-camber roots and trees in the dead centre of the track!

On the whole the course wasn’t too technical, especially when compared to local venues like Newnham Park. There was just one ‘A’ line option which was a bit of a steepish roll off, and other than that the only other techy feature was a bit of a jump over a storm-felled tree.

Completing my second lap, I’d somehow worked my way up to 8th place, which I managed to hold going into the third lap too. My final lap saw some close racing with Nick Try from West Drayton Mountain Bike Club. After being followed closely for most of the lap, as I approached the final rooty climb leading to the finish line I could hear him advancing and was anticipating a last minute sprint for the the line. Giving it everything I sprinted for the finish to find he hadn’t come with me after all!

After such a poor start, I was pretty surprised and happy to finish 7th. Considering the heat and lingering fatigue I wasn’t too disappointed.

A big thanks to the organisers at Southern XC for putting on a well organised event with a great course, and even more so to Seb Lloyd for passing me bottles helping to keep the vital hydration up! Also thanks to Kevin Sheldrake and Sports Alive Images for the photos!

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