The UK National Cyclocross Championships took place last Sunday at Hetton Lyons Country Park, Sunderland with our team rider Lewis Craven well and truly in the mix at the sharp end of the race. Here Lewis reviews his efforts and reflects on what has been a very successful cyclocross season.
‘This year there was more pressure than usual in the run up to the National ‘Cross Champs in Hetton. Various sources in the cycling media had put me in a short list as a podium favourite. My third place in Bradford behind two pros had upped my expectations as well. The Hetton course being generally muddy and technical suited my skills, and the lack of U23 riders would mean the start would be less frantic.
The start itself could not have gone better, a front row grid and clean pedal entry had me taking the hole shot. Usually, after 100 metres I’m around 30th. So to be in the top 5 as we started the long climb up to the circuits high point was surprising. My plan was to ride within myself up the climb which resulted in 10 lost places by the top but it was still early in the race and I knew I’d be one of the quicker ones descending. A smooth descent had me back up to 8th by the pits. The Focus Mares was running great and my Challenge tubs gripping well so I skipped entering to change bikes.
The lower section of the circuit comprised of sections of off camber grass which I cruised round to join up with Paul Oldham and Giles Drake. Onto the second lap again I paced myself up the climb and was dropped (must try harder next lap). Some sweet lines had me into 5th at the bottom of the descent now with Steve James up ahead in 4th. By this stage you start looking around to see where you are in relation to the leaders. It looked like we were lapping at a similar speed to the top 3 and the legs felt great. Pressing on and passing Steve it was all coming together, on the lower section looking back I’d gapped my group again. But guess what, fooled by my high placing again I took on the climb at a comfortable pace and was joined by the 3 behind me.
The next 3 laps our positions chopped and changed as we each made small mistakes or gained a little ground. With three to go I dug in on the climb and crested it in the group fighting for 4th. This is when my legs started to feel tired. Across the traverse I lost 20 metres and that was it, I just couldn’t close it. Soon they were out of sight and knowing I had 7th in the bag I concentrated on not blowing up. The final 2 laps I pushed on knowing I’d not catch them, or be caught and rolled in for 7th. Not bad, but a little disappointing.
However, I can’t be too disappointed. My last year before I become a VET (heck, I’m nearly 40) and I’ve had a good season and to have been fighting for the win with a Belgian pro 15 years my junior in Bradford has given me the confidence to race elite next year. My pit crew (Billy, Stu, Tyla , Tim etc ) have been awesome yet again. My Focus Mares has honestly been the best cross bike I’ve ridden and the organisation and support from Wheelbase as good as ever.
Now I’m going to have a few weeks off, get a bit fatter, get my mountain bike out and hit my local trails. I fancy getting back to my roots and racing some MTB events.
See you at the 3Peaks CX.’
Lewis (neo vet/elite bike racer)
Words from Lewis Craven and photos courtesy of Nigel Bradley.