The Midlands XC Series is Back!
The midland XC mountain bike community has been a bit lost over the past couple of years, with no regional XC series and racers have been forced to travel to other regions to get their regular XC fix. Well, after a two-year hiatus, during the peak of the covid pandemic, last weekend saw the very highly anticipated return of the Midlands XC Series… and it was back with a statement.
The venue for the event would be home to the series and circuit regular, Swynnerton Parc, located in Hanchurch Woods near Stoke-on-Trent. The venue isn’t open to the public to ride, so a race weekend is the only opportunity to reap what this place has to offer.
The UK had been blessed with the sun on the run-up to the event and this looked set to continue as I arrived at the venue about midday on Sunday, although a quick look at my phone predicted some showers right about race time, great!
The venue was a hive of activity, with people of all ages and abilities excited to be back racing a midlands XC event again. Some of which were already out on course racing, and others preparing for course practice, socialising and taking advantage of the local caterers. Soon after arrival I signed on, got kitted up, and headed on track to see what was in store, and the course was a banger.
Making the most of what the woods have to offer, the course was 8.5km long with over 200m elevation gain per lap. It featured 4 lung-busting climbs, all linked together with a great range of technical singletrack, with jumps, berms, and lots of roots. The course was so long, I didn’t think one practice lap was enough to get all of the lines dialed, so planned to head out again just before my race and utilise this as my warm-up. This second lap was useful, I managed to dial my lines and validate my tyre choice. Having switched from a Schwalbe Racing Ralph to a Racing Ray on the front. Race time!
Off the line, I got a good start, in line with another rider, however, because the start straight was very long I dropped back into the peloton for some draught. As we approached the first corner, which lead into the first climb, I came round and took the lead hoping to space the pack out and create some space. This didn’t really go to plan and I soon realised I didn’t have great legs. I continued to push on, but a rider came past me on the second climb and I wasn’t able to go with him. Luckily it didn’t appear anyone else did either and I managed to head the 2nd group as we dropped into the first descent.
During this descent, I pushed hard and managed to establish a small gap over 3rd place. However, paying the price for my earlier efforts the 3rd & 4th place came back to me as we started the second lap, but by this point, it was clear 1st place was out of play so I settled in with this group with the aim of trying to recover. As we reached the top of the second climb, I came to the front and thought I would again try to establish a gap on the descent. This worked pretty well and as I crossed the line for lap 3, I had about a 30-second gap over 3rd place. From here on in, it was all about managing my pace, fuelling well, and playing to my strength of descending for the final 2 laps. This worked well as the gap remained pretty consistent and I managed to cross the finish line in 2nd place.
Not a bad result! it’s always nice to visit the podium and it gave me a little confidence boost after some not very rewarding outings at the Nationals. Best of all though, it was great to see the return of the Midlands XC series and the rain hold off. Hopefully, this is the start of a prolonged return and an expanded series in 2023, with only two rounds on the calendar this year. Fingers crossed!
Big thanks to guys for putting on such an awesome event and I shall look forward to the next one in July. Next up for me though is RD4 of the UK National series this coming Sunday, taking place at Cannock Chase.