After nine months wait, the cross season started with a bang at Mary Hare School, Newbury. Early fixtures are often warm, dry affairs and this was no different. What was different, was the course – the builders pretty much reversed last years’ route for a tough and technical challenge.

Starting things off with a long sprint accross the top of the playing fields, the riders took a fast left and started the rise that preceeded an up and down 6ft banking then on to an 11% climb to get the lactic pumping. The following bumpy descent was a prelude for a series of technical dead turns around the trees with a bit of off-camber thrown in, then three evil switchbacks again set on a wicked gradient. The ‘recovery’ was next as riders bounced their way down the edge of the large fields, then more twisty turny stuff around the trees, dismount for the barriers, a short sand section, yet more tight twisty tree turns, several on banking then into a spiral and finishing off on the start straight to the finish line. So, still the biggest circuit in the league at 1.4 miles and definitely tougher than last years version.

The vets race had a predicted huge and quality field of 118 (including a current cross world champion, Dave McMullen) and had a split start as a result. Over 50s, women and juniors were first, followed two minutes later by the 40-49s. Lining up for Sotonia was Jez Hart and three newcomers to cross – Rob Tomlinson, Mike McLachlan and our first female racer of recent times – Gemma Wilks – welcome and chapeau to all of you for taking the plunge!

After being gridded near the front, Jez soon paid for keeping pace with the top boys (the Hill of Pain didn’t help) and the next two laps were regroup time as he recovered. Then just as he started to move back up through the field, his handlebars decided they would work their way loose leaving him with a choice – steer or brake – a bit of running/comedy bar juggling got him to the end in 24th place in the v40s.

Rob’s race sounded like he had a blast – took a couple of tumbles but loved it, another cross convert, finishing 39th. Oh, and our world champion didn’t have everything his way – tangling with a lapped back marker on the hill and both riders landing in a heap – only in cross!

In the senior race (51 starters), Sotonia had the other half of the Wilks family cycling dynasty – Phil, along with Darren Sell and Dan Sahota. The pace was ferocious and Phil was up to 18th after 2 laps. He went on to finish 31st with Darren in 47th, Dan having to pull out with a mechanical early on.

Full results can be found here