Last weekend my son and I attended the National Cyclo-cross championships in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It was our second time at the Nationals, we spectated at Cyclopark in 2019 but this year my son raced and I was there to help him with his race on Saturday afternoon and we both spectated for the main races on the Sunday.
Shrewsbury has been a feature of UK cyclo-cross for quite a few years now. The races are held at the Shrewsbury Sports Village just off the A49.
When we arrived mid Saturday morning, the venue was already heaving with competitors, vans, motor homes and cars and the main car park was full. We were turned away towards an overflow car park further along. Bike racing is many things, but it’s not green given most competitors need to drive and bring plenty of kit.
My son had raced a National Trophy round earlier in the season and getting everything done at the Nationals was much the same.
Firstly find sign on. The pre-race information tells you what time it’s open for each race & it also gives you the “official practice” time for your specific race. I’m quite happy to ask for directions, so did just that to save wandering around for ages.
At sign-on they said they’d like my son to sign on himself, so that’s what we did. Sometimes parents are able to sign on for their kids but not here.
We brought two bikes with us to the race – my son’s and my own. It was instantly clear that it was going to be my first time in the pits. Practice confirmed this with claggy mud adding about a kilogram of weight to the bike each lap.
Our logistical catch was that we only brought a small amount of water for bike cleaning and a battery powered pressure washer. So after practice we washed the worst of the mud off with a small bucket of water and a scrubbing brush. Not very pro, but we aren’t.
The race itself went well. My son got a decent start, made up a few places over the first couple of laps, then crashed (on my bike!) dropped the chain and by the time he got it back on he’d lost the places he’d made. He finished one place above his seeding and was very happy. First time racing at this level with a big crowd with the best in the country and he loved it.
Sunday we came back again to watch the Elite racers and that was a highlight for both of us.
Cyclo-cross is a brilliant sport to watch. The courses are accessible in that you can walk around most of it. The riders come past very close to you and the fans are friendly and knowledgeable.
On Saturday night it had rained hard so the mud was different on Sunday – there was much more of it and it was more watery than claggy.
My son’s a big Tom Pidcock fan and a Camerson Mason fan too. I’m also a big fan of women’s cross as the racing is generally closer. I was keen to see how Anna Kay got on.
While standing near the start of the women’s race, I got talking to a lady next to me about the mud/conditions. After a couple of minutes, I worked out that it was Abby-Mae Parkinson’s mum, the 3rd Trinity Racing rider. Her mum was lovely and we had a good chat.
The women’s race itself was terrific to watch. Hatty Harnden attacked from the start and took an early lead with Beth Crumpton in pursuit. Anna Kay seemed to not start well and Abby-Mae Parkinson got a great start to be in the top 5 early.
Hattie Harnden got a lead that never seemed to quite be enough, with Beth Crumpton fighting to not let her get away.
It just wasn’t Anna Kay’s day sadly. Crumpton did get in front of Harnden onto the final lap but Harnden obviously rode a fantastic last lap to get back in front for the win.
One of the most impressive rides of the day, aside from Harnden (and Parkinson, who I thought rode brilliantly) was that of Kate Eedy, the Veteran’s World Champion who finished 6th overall in the Elite race – a fantastic result. Not even the amazing Nick Craig could top that in the men’s race – although his 11th for a Vet 50 rider was also astonishingly impressive.
The men’s race played out a bit differently. After a customary poor start, Tom Pidcock literally rode away from everyone. Apparently he’d told his team he wanted to lap everyone up to 10th place. In the end he won by two minutes over 2nd place Ben Tullet and lapped up until 15th place. Pidcock is the UK’s Mathieu van der Poel right now – in a class of his own.
We were delighted to see Ben Tullet get second. He’s not had a great season with his new team Correndon Circus, now renamed Alpecin Fenix but 2nd overall and 1st in the Under 23 was the best result he could realistically have achieved.
Cameron Mason rode his best race I’ve seen to finish 3rd and in person he was super friendly and happy to chat with fans. Being part of Trinity Racing has helped him on many levels – not least of all from racing in Europe all season. He’s taken a big step forward.
It was a great race to watch even with Pidcock waltzing away with it. He really is on another level to everyone else in the UK right now. I don’t expect him to win the World Championships against van der Poel but hopefully he’ll be up there. I’m still not personally convinced he made the right call to leave Sven Nys’s tutelage but no-one can argue that he isn’t riding fantastically well.
After the race and podium presentation, we finally managed to get my son a photo with both Tom Pidcock and Cameron Mason to go with his new Trinity Racing cap, acquired on Saturday afternoon. That finished off the weekend perfectly for him and he’s already talking about racing in the 2021 Nationals. I won’t be racing in that either but I’ll look forward to helping him again.
The big disappointment of the weekend was British Cycling deciding not to broadcast the racing. Because there aren’t Olympic medals up for grabs, BC seems to have a fairly poor commitment to Cyclo-cross right up to the National Championships & beyond. It’s one of the most accessible & welcoming forms of bike racing there is and right now the UK has a number of World Champions – past and present racing at all levels. It’s a poor show that it doesn’t get better support – come on BC – lift your game!
Cyclo-cross is such a brilliant sport to watch or race in and attending the nationals hasn’t done anything apart from re-confirm that. It was also another opportunity for me to work on my photography for the Sunday races.
Thanks for reading.