The time has finally come for the first (and what looks like the only round) of the National
Trophy series. We visited the Westmorland Showground in the North West of the UK for the
first-time last season. The long travel didn’t disappoint as we were greeted with a cracking
cyclocross course, which was laid out by Dave Haygarth and his team of volunteers. You could tell a wealth of experience had gone into the course features and lay-out.
The course map was released yesterday, and I’ve had a look to compare it against last year’s
lay-out. Here, I’ve put together a round-up of the changes, features and efforts required for
the COVID-19 edition of the race so you’ll know what to expect next weekend!
The first major change is the start straight. Last year, it was on a wide hard-packed surface
on one of the many heavily-gravelled roadways in the showground. I am guessing that due
to the new gridding procedure, and a lack of UCI status surrounding the British Cycling
COVID guidelines, it has now been moved to a wide, open grassy area. From memory, this
will still provide the slightly uphill start and plenty of room to move up. Given this wide
straight is part of every lap, I have no doubt a fast, narrow line will form within the course
providing a big advantage to those who get first pick of grid placement on each row.
VELD coaching tip – Get practicing those starts. Practice getting clipped in fast and efficiently before working on that maximal 30sec sprint.
The pits are not long after the start, so any start-line mishaps can be quickly rectified with a
bike change. Of course, bike changing is going to be very different to last year.
A rider will now leave a bike within the pit area before the start of the race. When they
want to change bikes, they will have to enter the pits and exchange bikes (with no outside
assistance) before carrying on. I presume that there will be ruling on not touching anyone
else’s bike and not leaving your original bike in the way of others before exiting. Hopefully
these points will be cleared up before the start of the race!
On exiting the pits, you’ll head towards the ‘main features’. There’s a small up and down as
a warm-up before you meet the ‘Fred Witton Steps’. These are a short flight of nicely-
spaced steps. However, they did provide some trouble with clipping back in afterwards last
VELD coaching tip – Practice a smooth, fast dismount into a suitcase-carry, followed by a fast and powerful remount, accelerating hard away from the obstacle while clipping into the pedals.
After this remount, there is a small descent before a double bank which wasn’t rideable by
Sunday afternoon last year. This is where one of the hardest efforts of the course will be.
You’ll need a short, sharp acceleration to clear the bottom bank before a false flat Z3/4
effort into the next steep climb which will require maximum power to ride over.
VELD coaching tip - You may want to think about practicing some double-spiked efforts for this section. 6secs max effort into 10secs recovery at Z3/4 before another maximal effort of around 6secs.
Being able to recover quickly is key after this feature so I hope you have been training hard
over the last 6 weeks. The next feature was the trickiest descent on the course last year: you
don’t want to be going into this out of control, so a couple of deep breaths over the top of
the previous climb is key.
VELD coaching tip – On your descent, put your weight back and look to your exit point while feathering the rear brake more than the front.
A couple of corners later and there will be another hard, possibly-rideable bank to power
up. This will be another maximal effort just to ride up so those 6-second max power
intervals will come in handy.
A short descent will take you into some repeated S-bends on a banking which turned into a
run last year. Hopefully, these will be rideable this year and provide a repeated sprints section before a flowing descent back through the second pit.
This brings me onto the point of bike changes. With limited bike changing due to no washing of equipment, picking your moment to change bikes will be key if it is a muddy race. Change too early and you will be left with a very heavy, possibly-misfunctioning bike on the final lap. Change too late and you run the risk of ripping a mech off or losing a chain due to the build-up of mud. This is all weather-dependent of course… but we all saw what the Lake District weather did to the course last year.
VELD coaching tip – Like an ordinary bike change, always remain calm. A smooth, efficient bike change will be faster than a rushed panic.
A flatter, power section provides the next part to the course. You need to make the most of
the gravel tracks to get up to speed; but you also need to recover as the longest climb on
the course is looming.
The old start straight was slightly uphill. Instead of flying straight on up the off-road climb,
the course this year sticks to the gravel path and adds a couple of corners to provide a steep
gravel climb all the way to the top of the course. This will take its toll.
VELD coaching tip - A back-loaded Z4 effort in training will replicate this section of the course well. 2mins Z4 into 20secs Z6 should make race day feel that bit easier.
Luckily, after cresting the top of this climb you are then onto the longest descent of the
course. At first, the descent is on gravel with a fast, loose left hander to deal with, before
running almost the length of the course area on grass to the bottom of the circuit. Be
careful on these fast gravel sections: there are some big bits of loose gravel on these paths
which caught me out last year and I punctured on this section!
On reaching the bottom of the course, a couple of punchy short climbs back-to-back provide
the route back to the start. Dave has predicted a mid-6-minute lap time for dry conditions
for the fastest men and mid-8-minutes in muddy conditions (like last year).
This course really does provide a test of both skill and power. The course conditions will
depend heavily on the North West’s finest weather. In the dry, the course will be relatively
fast, and it will feel like the features are coming at you faster and faster with no recovery
between them. The repetitive nature of the short, punchy climbs will take their toll and you
will be coming into technical features with more and more fatigue in the body and mind.
With wetter conditions, we can expect a similar race to last year, plenty of running on the
short bankings and a heavy slog around the lower parts of the course. If it’s really wet, we
could see people running some rideable sections to protect the bikes with limited changing.
It’s going to be a great opener to the season, albeit a slightly strange, socially-distanced one.
See you all there,