The biggest field anyone can remember in the North West League of 136 lined up for the senior race at 1pm on a beautiful, warm and sunny afternoon at Boggart Hole Clough Park in North Manchester.
Such was the number of riders drawn up at the line, the organisers decided to put in an extra circuit of the starting field to thin the numbers out before the crossing of Olivers Clough and it was a good natured gallop for early positions. Evergreen Nick Craig (Scott), a flying Paul Bethell (Team Elite), Lewis Craven (Wheelbase.co.uk/Cannondale) sparing a pinch for Comm Stu Johnson on the opening circuit, Giles Drake in shiny white kit (Colnago, Microshift, Skins) and Richard ‘big gear’ Wilkinson (ProBikekit) headed off at the head of the pack for the first circuit of the course – with a fast first half of tarmac, one of the most satisfying left hander turns on short grass, field, off-camber woodland and a fast swooping descent. The bunch soon spread further as the riders hit the second tougher part of the course – a short skip up some steps, steep road climb, heavier grassland, a bit of respite in the woods with plenty of tricky roots and a second run-up, possible for the best riders to ride up, before hitting the loop by the finish area.
End of lap one and Nick Craig looked comfortable spinning a high economic gear but as usual going deceptively fast with Paul Bethell tucked in and the tussle for the next few places starting to hot up. Bearing the marks of a fall, Paul lost some 20 seconds by the end of lap two to Nick and Nick grew the gap and that’s how it stayed until the flag.
Behind these leading five was a strong riding Jack Humpheys (Red Rose) – an exciting first year junior who is stamping his authority on the North West League and already has a riding style, not to mention strength and endurance that belies his years – great to see.
Martin Woffindin (Sport City Velo)now riding U23 kept the flag flying for improving youthful talent. Behind him the race was very tight with many of the North West regulars in close contention with each other, some fast starting and falling back, others steady away and improving.
Pete Middleton (Zepnat) returning to racing Cross in the North West showed that his vintage talent mixes with the best and lead the Vets home whilst Ray Pugh (Liverpool Mercury)looked as though he enjoyed hi s eight climbs up the Clough and celebrated by winning the Vets 50 category. Becky Preece (Red Rose), also a Junior, rode a strong race to win the Womens category.
Mention should be made of promoting club Manchester Wheeler’s first rider home, Scott Wilson, producing his best ride of the season, inspired on by the presence of his 6 month old son!
In the earlier race, thirty one under 12’s (featuring at least one five year old!) set off for a 15 minute spin amidst a flurry of mini-team kit, serious little faces, smiling dads and fluttering pink handlebar ribbon for what is always a hotly contested race, with brother and sister making the trip from Cumbria, Joseph Armstrong (Border City Wheelers) taking the win and Anna Armstrong (Border City Wheelers) winning the girls.
Special mention to Bolton Hotwheels and Eastland Velo for having nine under 12 riders between them racing – unsung hero award goes to the parents and clubs.
Riding the full course for a sapping 30 minutes, Braybrooke massive, Christian and Alex (Sport City Velo) took the one/two in the Youth Race and Jessica Wilkinson led the girls home. Third and fourth were Red Rose – who had five riders racing – pair Andrew Nixon and Ashley Clitheroe