When you watch a race for two and a half hours, see at least six different riders out in front and with 15-minutes to go still have no idea who will win, that is the mark of a great course and a bunch of talented racers.
That is just what happened at the Fast Eddy Racing Great British Cross Country series which clicked into top gear on Sunday at a venue that proved to be more than worthy of the series presence there. Ratlinghope is big and bold with real old school challenges; large hills, bogs, stream crossings and fast open terrain.
The three stream crossings became harder as each rider passed through them, dragging water out onto the dry ground and helping to start ruts to form while the boggy areas became softer and more treacherous with every lap. The mud battles at the bottom of the valley were matched by the steep climbs where dust was thrown up and many riders got filled in. It was hard to believe it was the same course on the same day. Mid-point in the afternoon race the heavens opened for a short time and everything became so much harder.
Such was the mix that there were three or four different leaders just on the first lap of the 2.5hr afternoon race containing the Experts, Clubman, Veterans A and Youth A riders. In the Expert ranks Derek Bawn was first to the first stream crossing, closely followed by Ash Fox who was returning to racing after a very long lay-off, but it was Daryl Bolter and Tom Ellwood who really upped the pace as the first half dozen riders were virtually inseparable over the opening handful of laps.
Husky Sport’s Bolter opened a gap but then disappeared leaving MRS Sherco’s Ellwood to take up the running. Halfway through the race everything changed in just a few minutes as the rain arrived and swung things in favour of the technical riders. Elwood retired leaving ET James’ Ben Murphy and Derek Bawn to take up the head of the field with Edmondson Racing’s Beta mounted Rich Ely and an ever-improving Colwyn Bay KTM rider Mark Roberts slowly making inroads in their lead.
Roberts had a very disappointing start but worked his way through the field and excelled on the slippy stuff when the rain arrived and his times fell with every lap. Murphy was leading but within a single lap Roberts caught and overtook him, posting a 40 second lead which he added to lap after lap as he charged on to take a well-deserved win.
Murphy clung on to second spot as Derek Bawn held third, with two minutes between them. Harry Edmondson had a hard outing amongst much more experienced riders but rode well to take fourth, finishing just seconds ahead of Fox in fifth.
Gary McCoy headed the Vets A class as Chris Wagstaff, virtually on home turf, did his best to close on the man from down south but could quite manage it while Jack Twentyman charged around the lap in his own inimitable style to take third place.
George Yardley had what can only be described as an outstanding ride. He rode the wheels off his 85cc machine to win the mega-competitive Youth A class despite having to cope with huge ruts after the midpoint of the race. Charlie Chater was also on an 85cc and was on his rear wheel initially but young Yardley never stopped pushing to take the Youth A win as Chater took second and Cole Cookland third.
Ryan Phillips eventually took the Clubman class win but endured a long battle with second placed Jacob James that saw both riders raise their game considerably. They both finished in the mid-teens overall but raced as though they were leading the whole field. Luke Tarr took a solid third in class but had little hope of catching the leading pair.
Earlier in the day the Vets B, Youth B, Novice and sportsman riders enjoyed a two-hour race in excellent conditions although they also had to negotiate the streams and bogs which took their toll on more than a few riders.
Nick Whitehead took the overall win and the Sportsman top spot with a calculated and clinical ride as he passed a multitude of riders who had started in classes before him. Steve Cranshaw and Shaun James in the Vets B class were leading the field but Whitehead’s determination saw him catch, pass and put a minute on both of them to take the win. Tom Walker was also making ground and took a solid second spot with Ben Martindale completing the Sportsman top three.
Cranshaw’s second overall saw him top the Vets B class with James in second spot and Pete Nixey in third as Richard Moorhouse won the Youth B class as the final rider to post 14 laps. Second in Youth B was Dan Leadbetter with Adam James some way back in third spot on his 85cc machine.
Top of the Novices was Kristian Ankritt who just managed to post an extra lap over Properly Protected’s Tony Chawner in second. Chawner had a comfortable gap over third placed James Redfern who was on 11 laps.
Racing actually began on Saturday morning as the Youth riders took to a slightly shortened course at 9.00am. Cory Cookland posted yet another win overall and topped the 85cc class ahead of Francis Davies andJohn Stanley while Jack Sandland took the 65cc win from Reece Jones and William Barratt.
It had been three years since Fast Eddy racing was at Ratlinghope but it was worth the wait as the course was fantastic and the racing superb, at a standard expected of a GBXC event. Well done Fast Eddy and his crew. A great event.