Soggy Bottom Rd 1 2018 – the spirit of XC?19 February 2018 | By billy1979
Was round One of this year's Soggy Bottom XC series not in the spirit of XC? Race organiser Jay Horton shares his thoughts on how round one went down.
Round One of this year's Soggy Bottom xc series has just passed, and an un-named rider stated that the final descent was not 'in the spirit of xc'. It was a great DH, for those that could ride it; muddy, wide bends at the top, some off camber wheel grabbing sections, couple of little step downs and a muddy drop off to finish. We had it as a Strava section, with the fastest rider down getting a Complete Cycle Works tee, what's not to like? No need to get wheels in the air, no imminent threat of death, everything rideable with a bit of 'hit and commit'. So what exactly is the 'spirit of xc'?
Compared to some of its peers, the Soggy Bottom's fifteen years of filth make it a mere ankle biter in the world of XC racing. By comparison The Gorrick series, the Friday Night Series in East Mids and The Beastways all weigh in at a hefty 26 years. In these years of different events, formats and organisers coming and going with the frequency of winter storms, it's good to know that some things can stand the test of time.
We are all only too aware of the stupendous changes in technology, clothing and hairstyles in the space of all those years, but the essence of forcing body and bike to do things that neither really wants to do remains pretty much the same. XC races have drifted from very technical to very easy and back again many times over the years; the first time we raced at Dalby or Hadleigh you could smell the fear on the start line. All the elements were just about do-able on pre-ride, but when your heartrate is machine-gunning, you are breathing through your ears and your quads are burning, all you want to do is have a nice sit down under a tree, not launch off Triple Trouble. Then organisers and British Cycling started getting risk averse, and we ended up racing on trumped-up cyclo-cross circuits. In recent years more and more technicality is sneaking back in (depending on who is organising the race), reflecting the capabilities of xc bikes and younger riders in particular, and to bridge the gap between UK xc racing and its European ninja equivalent, which is a near-death experience for those of us that have ever raced against Johnny Foreigner on his home soil.
XC racing is essentially not that different from any other sort of MTB racing. We still want to rag our bikes as fast as possible down fun downhills. Admittedly, the downhills are generally tamer than your average DH or enduro, but it's just relative to the capabilities of the bikes and riders. While your average XC racer might spend too much time building big quads, and too little on big jumps, you'd better believe that the riders at the pointy end also race DH, and are seriously rapid, dropper post or no. At the Soggy Bottoms we have as many riders on bouncy bikes and baggies as we do astride hardtails clad in lycra, and as many riders who come to our races for the downhills, and tolerate the climbs as we do riders who survive the downs and race the ups. Ben Wadey from Clee Cycles led the field from the mass start, once he caught the under 16s who got the hole shot to the gate, and he also won the Complete Cycle Works Strava comp on the final downhill.
After the wettest start to a year since last year, Newnham Park has lurched from wet to dry more times than a Royal Marine recruit. With a day of solid rain the day before, dry and dusty single-track was never going to be on the menu, and the course tested the bikes' tyre clearance to the max. We managed to stick in some 'A' line sections – Rocky Horror, Cumberland Drop and The Steppes and most riders, who are 99% dropper-free, risked rectal intrusion by tackling these sections in true arse up, head down stylee. The rules of XC state that everything needs to be ride-able, unlike cyclo-cross, where if 75% of the course requires running with your bike they are as happy as Larry. So the spirit of XC, like DH, is sections that certain riders can ride with ease, with 'B' lines for the rest, all of which should be fun for all the family. This ensures that those that want to get an advantage with their technical ability are able to do so, and those that prefer to concentrate on their Zwift-based training programme can still be involved in the race and use the pedally bits to chase back.
We'll continue to stick in suitably technical sections in our race courses, because it's the kind of stuff we like to ride. Round Two of the winter series is in Plymouth on March 11th, and if the ground dries out we'll be able to go to town. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.
Words: Jay Horton