Our first round on Sunday dawned with a misty, frosty complexion but this soon gave way to one of the clearest, calmest and generally perfectest winter days you can get in Upper Hutt. Right on time at 8am registration, no sooner had we got our wits about us than we had eager 'crossers of all ages, bicycles and experience levels numbering up and breaking trail through the crispy white grass.
By the numbers and level of enthusiasm, C grade started with a bang - 41 entries, 14 of which were women and a big bunch of youth - most trying it out for the first time. Jono Baddiley led the field from the beginning, perhaps finding his years of mountain biking transferring helpfully into the discipline of cyclocross despite it being his first time, finishing 1'38" ahead of close-finishing Ross Leslie and Richard Henderson. Jane Mcree rode her way through the field after a slower start to finish 6th overall and 3 minutes ahead of 2nd placed female Jo Miller. Both stayed on the leading lap, ahead of 3rd place Karen Hunn.
While steam emanated from sharp breaths and hot coffee, the children and families got together for what became the first of two kids' races. Much whooping, chortling and speedy manoeuvring ensued from the youngsters, happy for the attention at last and the chance to ride with the big kids on their turf.
B grade saw another big field of 44 starters, with NZ marathon national champion Dougal Thorburn steadily moving up and past fast starter Ryan Champion, to take first place despite the haggard remains of a cold. Not far behind were Ed Banks of Wellington and Kelvin Arthur of Pahiatua. Within the race lone enduro star Simon Morton was shredding it siqq in padded bovine splendour, just ahead of the close battle between Charlotte Ireland and Amy Champion. Charlotte gained enough time early on to withstand Amy's late charge. Martine Barnes, less than half the age of her competitors, put in some consistent lap times - another of the talented Barnes brigade making the jump to cyclocross. Notable also was the presence of road time-trial specialist Joel Healy, observed genuflecting on the ground on numerous occasions, as part of his familiarity process with off-road cycling.
The final event of the day, A grade, again featured a cross section of old and new faces. Brendon Sharratt led from the beginning as he often does, but was kept alert by the teenage MTB star Eden Cruise. Although Eden held on close for the first half of the race, the combination of Brendon's experience and Eden's relative lack thereof - only his second ever ride on a cyclocross bike - meant the gap crept wider until it reached two minutes at the finish. Two and a half minutes later, and the last rider to finish on the lead lap, Masterton's Ben Knight came through in 3rd out of a total of 17 starters. Lantern rouge star, Pat Garrett had some of the more erratic lap times of the day, no doubt due to the combination of zebra-print lycra and a handmade ghetto bike that looked like the fork had been bashed backwards.
With so many new faces present since last season, and many more back on 'cross bikes after slugging it out on MTBs previously, it was the best confirmation we could have hoped for that this is a sport people love and a community that we want to keep growing. We look forward to seeing you all again with your families and best friends to race and cheer you on at California Park on June 15th.