With many of the TORQ Team based in the West Midlands, the riders always put in a good appearance at the Midlands XC Series. Round 6 of the Series, which was promoted by TORQ, headed to our local MTB playground of Eastridge woods, for one of the most technically challenging race venues of the year.
With Jules Toone and Alex Welburn leading the Series and just two races remaining, there was a lot at stake going into this round. As the event fell 1 week before the British National XC Championships, the event attracted a very strong Elite field – with some of the UK’s fastest Elite racers taking to the line. In the Men’s race, the interteam battle between Alex Welburn and Chris Andrews played out again, with Chris putting in the strongest performance to finish 2nd by just 9 seconds! Alex Welburn finished just behind in 3rd, with Lee Gratton in 5th place. Team Manager Ben Price also dusted off his Whyte 29C for his first race of the Season and rounded out the Elite field in 7th.
In the Women’s Elite race, Jules Toone found herself up against some very strong riders and put in “the ride of the day” – to take 3rd place, behind two full time professional racers. Jo Clay also put in an incredible effort and finished just behind in 5th. The video above gives a great insight to the event and the riders have provided their own accounts of the race below.
Chris Andrews – 2nd Elite. After a mid Season break and three weeks hard training, I was eager to get back on the start line in readiness for the National Championships, which was just 1 week away. The sixth Round of the Midlands XC Series at Eastridge was perfectly placed, quite literally. This Shropshire wood holds some fast technical single track and always makes for great racing! The whistle blew, we were off and climbing. I settled into a good rhythm in fourth position. At Eastridge it’s either up or straight back down, we had six laps to complete, so I played it safe to begin with. I felt strong on the climbs and on the rocky descents and stayed lose and light on the bike. I managed to bridge up to my team mate Alex on lap 3 and put my climbing skills to good use which allowed me to get a gap. I could see Giles Drake and David Fletcher in front. I kept the hurt on and to my surprise saw David by the side of the course with a mechanical, I was now second.
Riding smooth was the key on this course and by the final lap, I could see I was gaining on Giles, a big attack on the last lap brought the gap down to 10 seconds. However, it wasn’t enough and so I rode over the line to take second place. I was really chuffed with my ride both physically and technically. Although slightly disappointed not to win. But this result has given me great confidence for the National Championships.
Alex Welburn – 3rd Elite Male. With a week to go before the National Champs, and Eastridge being one of my favourite courses, as it is very much known for its gruelling climbs and technical trails; I managed to get into second place going into the first climb. Sadly before the first descent, I lost my chain which put me out of touch with the leaders and left me sitting back a few places. I chased frantically back on. I’d used a bit too much energy very early on, but almost made touch back with the leaders, but they were already pushing to get into the descent. After pushing to try to stick with them a bit too much, I had little choice but to back off a bit, as I didn’t want to blow. I dropped back a place or so and kept my tempo to finish in 3rd position – which wasn’t what I’d hoped for; but racing is racing and anything can happen.
Jules Toones – 3rd Elite Female. I love Eastridge, it’s one of my very favourite places to ride, so I was really happy to race there again this year. The trails are natural, hand carved with rocks and roots, but no awkward boulder obstacles to negotiate! It had been so dry for so long, but the rains fell the night before the race, which made the course pretty wet for our morning Women’s race. I do love the first climb, switchbacks up to the top before a really long swoopy singletrack descent. Unfortunately as the race got underway, we quickly caught up with some of the slower categories. The one downside of such fun singletrack is no overtaking room. I was off race pace for some time, so when I finally got clear, I managed to push on a little bit and just enjoyed the ride. I finished 3rd which was not so bad.
Jo Clay – 5th Elite Female. With Eastridge being one of my favourite courses in the calendar, I was really looking forward to the race. The Midlands Series always put on an amazing course here – with some really tough long climbs and amazing fast flowing and technical descents to tackle. As I signed on, I couldn’t believe how stiff the competition was again. So I knew I had my work cut out. For the first few laps, I found myself battling for position with Jules Toone and Mel Alexander – which was really good fun. Jules had some really strong legs on her up the climbs and on the 3rd lap she managed to gap me and Mel, who continued to battled with me until the end of the race. Unfortunately Mel managed to get 20 seconds on me, as my legs started to tighten up. Alice Barnes won the race with Beth Crumpton in 2nd.
Lee Gratton – 5th Elite Male. This round of the Midlands Series was a beast. I’d been looking forward to racing here since the last time I skidded and wheelied my bike round Eastridge last year. It’s definitely my kind of course, and the steep climbs and technical descents made the 6 laps a pleasure! As ever, there was a strong Elite field which included all my TORQ brothers. I was kinda prepared for a beating (with it only being my second race back), but I was happy to take it like a man, as I knew I was racing my way back to fitness. In the end I finished up 5th, which I was really happy with. The course was immense and I gave it everything I had. It was a top weekend on a great track, which I have Ben Price (our Team Manager) to thank for, as he set out such an awesome course.
Next up, the team head to Hadleigh Farm in Essex for the British National XC Championships on the former Olympic Games course.
As always, a big thank you to all the team sponsors. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do: