By Sara Flatt - British Cycling
Set in rolling parkland, better known for hosting the Essex end of the annual V Festival, the MSG summer series got off to a fine start under clear blue skies and ideal course conditions.
MSG have extended their event programme this year to include mid week pre-rides of the course and 2 hours of race day Go-Ride coaching and racing for under 12’s. The timing of the Go-Ride events means that parents are free to race the mornings events while their offspring are being entertained and educated by Go Ride coaches. No more excuses then Mum & Dad!
Pre-entries were at their highest level and were boosted on the day by racers tempted out by the fine weather and opportunity to pick up valuable early season points.
The mornings racing covers juvenile, youth and senior fun/sport categories (Warriors). In the Warrior race it was first year senior, Daniel Barford who took the win, having a nervous race knowing that Paul Cooper (Basildon Timber) was never far off his wheel. John Heaney (Flitchbikes) came home in 3rd with Victoria Gee 1st woman.
Hargroves Cycles picked up 1st places in the Juvenile and Youth boys races with Daniel Tulett and Harry Franklin. Behind Harry, Sean Dunlea (PCA Ciclos Uno) and Liam Cowell (Artic Premier) kept each other honest, finishing just 6 seconds apart. Imogen Buick (Salsa Factory Racing) was 4th overall and 1st girl.
The Go-Ride races fitted in neatly after the morning racing had finished. After a 1 lap gridding race the 23 Grommets lined up for a 3 lap blast around a specially laid out circuit. Ben Tulett took the narrowest of wins from Josh Peters, with Ben Clarke in 3rd. Sisters Gemma and Zoe Whiffen took 1st and 3rd in the girls race with Imogen Pitcher grabbing 2nd.
As the picnic blankets were spread out and families got down to some serious lunch action the Elite and Expert racers got ready to tackle the fast, narrow singletrack course. On the day entries made it possible to run an elite male category and these guys lined up on the front row of the grid with 63 experts packed tightly behind them. The race got away without incident and the starting loop around a grassy meadow ensured that by, the time the field dived into the first section of singletrack, hold ups were kept to a minimum.
Stephen James (AW Cycles), Billy Whenman (Whyte Bikes) and George Budd (Salsa Factory Racing) quickly formed a leading trio and were locked together for the first 4 of the 7 lap race. James and Whenman made Budd suffer on the fastest and tightest section of singletrack towards the end of the lap, with Whenman using his compact stature to good effect leading Budd through some improbably narrow gaps. At the end of lap 5 James and Whenman came through the start together with Budd 12 seconds behind. But on lap 6, a problem with his rear wheel saw Whenman lose a minute and a half on James and get caught and passed by Budd. Two scorching laps by James secured his win, with Budd in second and Whenman 3rd.
Just off the back of the first 3 elite riders, Jason Boutell (Revel Outdoors) put in a storming 1st lap to secure his place at the head of the expert field. Although he faded a little toward the end he had done enough to hold off Shaun Aldous (Team CCN) and junior Hugo Robinson (XRT Elmy Cycles) who spent the entire race together, finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively.
The women’s elite/expert field saw 6 senior and 4 veteran riders line up. First into the woods was Anna Buick (Salsa Factory Racing) followed by Hollie Bettles (WXC) and Amelia Cambridge (Velo Club Rutland), this order stayed the same until the finish with Buick taking the win by just over 2 minutes after 5 laps. Sue McIntyre (Newdales Giant) lead home the 40+ women.
Andrew Manning (Team CCN) was the early leader in the veterans race but Lloyd Bettles (Numplumz)caught him on lap 5, Bettles lost a little ground again on lap 6 but came back to take the win on the line. Jason Peters (Cycles UK) finished 3rd.
Dennis Dix (Chelmer Cycles), Philip Buick (Salsa Factory Racing) and Ian Robson (MTS Cyclesport) took the podium positions in the grand veterans race.
Fabulous weather, a great atmosphere, a good venue and a competitive turnout of riders made this a superb start to the 6 race series. Next round is at Thetford Forest on May 8th – if last years course is anything to go by it’s guaranteed to be another top venue and a top days racing.