The picturesque landscape of Swaledale, North Yorkshire Dales, was the location for the 4th and last round of this year's Nutcracker Cross-Country Mountain Bike Race series. 120 riders tackled the hardest course in the series this year set by Adey Dent, being a five and a half mile lap with twelve hundred feet of ascent. Depending on the riders' categories which ranged from juvenile to elite, competitors completed somewhere between one and four laps.
The course was laid out along Fremington Edge, a steep sided hill with rocky outcrops and screes. The start of the race was at the Dales Bike Centre and as riders looked up from the start line they knew the course was going to be hard on the legs and lungs.
The preliminary section was a steep narrow road, as the racers turned onto the course across fields, the ascent eased, giving them a chance to catch their breath, but not for long. One mis-placed wheel on the technical sheep track traverse could have easily dismounted a competitor. After the last wall crossing of the traverse came the stamina-sapping grassy climb. Perhaps the breath-taking views across the Dales were lost upon riders at this point.
The next few miles gave way to open moorland tracks and was a good chance for riders to lift the pace and get some over-taking in. Following this the well-marked course descended into a scree-run giving riders another type of terrain to contend with. A few more tricky descents brought the riders back on to technical single track. For those who were doing multiple laps, it was back round into the loop.
Part of the final leg gave competitors a line choice: either an easier but slower zig-zag section or what is known as 'Stu's Half Pipe' which catapulted riders into the next field. After this, fast switchbacks could still catch tired riders out as they headed for the finishing line.
Competitors mainly amassed from the North of England, but one female entrant had made it all the way from New Zealand. Various team riders attended the event, from the likes of 'Dirt Wheels' based in Otley to 'JD Cycles' from Ilkley. Of particular note was Matt Brown who chose to tackle the course on a rigid single speed.
This round from the Nutcracker series was in partnership with the Dales Bike Centre who hosted the prize presentation and entertainment and provided camping for the competitors. Located close to Fremington and the Coast to Coast walking and cycling routes, the Centre runs bike skills courses and has its own bike shop and maintenance service. It also has accommodation and a cafe selling delicious locally produced cakes.
The 2012 Nutcracker mountain bike series kicks off in April 2012 at Gandale, on the outskirts of Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire. For further details and full race results of this year's event go to http://www.nutcrackermtb.co.uk
All Images - Andy Spencer - http://www.andyspencerimages.co.uk/
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