Feature: British CX Championships 2018 preview 1

In the first preview of the British CX Championships, organiser Huw Williams tells us about what is in store for the riders at the Kent Cyclo-Park in January

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Feature: British CX Championships 2018 preview 1


Back in 2017 (seems so long ago) the National Trophy Cyclo-Cross visited the Kent Cyclopark and besides being very impressed with the park as a whole, the CX event was also very well received by riders and spectators alike and so it is only appropriate that the British Championships go there on January 12 and 13.

Click the image for a bigger version of the map …

But, will the course for the 2019 National Championships the same? We asked the organiser Huw Williams: “Largely yes, but there are some significant changes. It’s based on a course that I’ve been developing for about four years which, year-on-year has stepped up a level to reflect the increasing technical ability of the riders and to offer a slightly enhanced challenge based on the status of each race.”

“We started with London League races, then the Regional Champs and then a round of the National Trophy. I always wanted to make each event slightly more challenging and the National Championships, as the highest ranking race held there so far has some significant changes which will make it the most challenging version yet. I’ve got some unbelievable stuff in mind should we ever get to the next level of World Cup level races (and this venue could take it) if the desire is there, but one step at a time”.

VeloUK: Can you tell us what the changes are?
Huw: The entire area down the far side of the course was largely included as lap-lengthening; not very interesting but necessary as every major race we’ve hosted so far has been dry for the most part, so riders were going round it stupidly fast and I needed to find a way to lengthen the course in terms of lap-time. For the National Championships, I got some really good advice from our regular comms team of Ian Poole and Kelvin Hoy on the value of bringing the riders back into view of the pits sooner, so, as those areas aren’t interesting or challenging enough for either riders or the TV audience, we’ve introduced much better elements replacing those long, draggy straights.

I can promise one area is unlike anything you’ve seen on a UK CX course. We haven’t used it in a race yet, but I took Zoe Backstetd down there to get some feedback and she walked round it with this massive grin on her face, so I think that should work. The new layout enables far fewer tight bends in other areas of the course which now become more fast and flowing.

One of the major positives I’ve always taken from rider feedback on this course is how much fun it is to ride despite being super-technical and I wanted to keep that for sure, but also try to slow the riders down less often in the quest for a longer lap-time. If it’s wet, we’ll have no problem, if its dry, the new areas are much more interesting and technically challenging but still adds to the lap time sufficiently.

VeloUK: The finish area has changed too from looking at the course map?
Huw: Yes, that’s the other major change. I’ve moved the finish area up to outside the main building where the road circuit races finish. It’s nearer the cafe/trade area so spectators will be looked after better. This did however mean the likelihood of a lot of spectators being at the top end of the course without (apart from the race finish itself) a lot of actual race action to see, so I went back into the area we first used for the London League events around the skate-park, and built a super-fun little loop with a vicious double-bomb-hole, off-camber for the kids to ride in their training sessions.

They absolutely loved it but I couldn’t figure a way of getting back out of there again when it was configured to race format until I had an offer of a flyover from local regular Andy Smith who works for GKR Scaffolding. Andy’s kids are just mad-keen U12 ‘cross riders who come to training sessions every week, and his flyover enabled a double-back loop that brought us back onto the main circuit which we’ve since used in training and in the Regional Champs a couple of weeks ago and it really adds a great feature to that area.

I love this bit of the course as it typifies the polarised conditions at the venue – in the wet, the bomb holes and slight cambers are really tricky and barely rideable, in the dry even the U12s will go through there flat stick. It’s loads of fun.
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VeloUK: You’ve been busy Huw then. Are there any other changes?
Huw: Since I first started working on this course, the standard of CX riding in the UK has gone through the roof and things which were barely rideable in its first incarnation, well, even the u14s ride them now with ease. We used to call the big hill, the ‘bank-run-up’ because hardly anybody could ride it. So we don’t go to the top of that anymore and thus don’t allow a raw power, brains-out charge into the bottom with enough momentum to carry you up.

It now cuts left into a really nasty, muddy, off-camber, before reaching the top, which really benefits a confident, drive-side dismount/re-mount, before a big drop off into the finishing straight. It’s the highest part of the course and you can see the finish line from up there but it’s a long way up the road, so any races where there are more than one rider contesting the win, it’ll be all come down to good technique and who’s prepared to take the bigger risk on that descent while trying to save a bit in the legs for a long sprint finish.

VeloUK: Unlike most National CX venues this is not just a race venue, it’s a permanent cycling facility and there are CX training sessions here regularly. How has that helped you develop the course…
Huw: Hugely. Nothing you’ll see on the course for National Championships won’t have been rigorously tested by the kids’ groups who train here a few times a week in their various club sessions all year round. My process has always been;

1) come up with an idea,
2) build it for the kids to ride in their training sessions,
3) monitor their response when they ride it and if they keep asking to do certain areas or features in the next session, you can generally bet it works,
4) If they like it, it stays in,
5) develop those areas for the senior sessions and races.

Also having a permanent facility allows us to gradually build and test areas of the course in the months leading up to the main events, so unlike some other venues where they have to take an entire team and all the infrastructure in in the days immediately prior to the event, we can have loads of the course ready well in advance of the race and use it for things like the recent British Cycling development day where we had 80 riders from four regions on five areas of the course.
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VeloUK: Cyclopark is built on reclaimed land so what sort of conditions are we likely to see on race weekend.
Huw: I’m getting all these messages from people asking “what tyres do you think we’ll need on the day” – the thing with this course is it’s built on chalk, so it gets ruthlessly slippery in an instant but also drains really fast. I wouldn’t confidently be able to tell you what tyres to use on the morning of the race, let alone several weeks in advance. It can change from slippery-wet to bone-dry in the space of a race, let alone the space of a day of racing. That’s what I love about it – it’ll test riders’ physical ability, technical skills and pre-race planning, all key aspects of CX racing.

VeloUK:Entries for the event have just closed at record numbers I hear?
Huw: I hear from British Cycling that we have over a hundred more riders entered than any previous national championships, which is pretty amazing.

VeloUK: Finally, what advice would you give to riders ahead of the race.
Huw: Practice technical skills, A LOT! This is not racing around fields. If you think having a big engine is going to be enough on its own, it isn’t. You will only do well here if you can match your physical ability with good, key CX skills and proper preparation and race strategy. Do some running, and wear big studs!


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