Queen Elizabeth Country Park is a quiet little part of Hertfordshire, one of those posh scenic English southern village type places. It’s absolutely ages since Iv ventured right down south to do a race, the last time being the Southern Area Mountain Bike Series DH races back in 98, which I subsequently got banned from, but that’s another story!! With the south not exactly being known for it’s mountains, it was a real unknown type of race I was heading to during the three-hour trip from the shire. With the hill topping out at 100 meters the track builders had to make the most of what they’d got for sure, but could they get four stages amidst the beautiful coniferous and broad leafed woodland of Petersfield?
I had been invited down to cover this race for one of the organizers, Scott, he helps run what is known as the QECP Trail Collective. I had a word with him during the fantastic sunny day, where he filled me in on how the Trail Collective came about. About twenty years ago a load of locals made several tracks around the usable part of the woodland, these were soon left and nearly grew over. But recently a whole bunch of volunteer MTB enthusiasts took the reigns and resurrected the old trails. They meet every week and build new stuff all the time, using the money from any events held to throw 100% back into the trail pot and improve the area’s riding. The tracks are now everywhere, and the terrain is like nothing I had ever ridden before, with the ground being made up of a kind of chalk/clay mix and covered in loose granite stones, some half the size of a fist. During and prior to the weekend it was hot, dry and dusty, the trails were loose, with the rocks and stones trying their hardest to catch you out. I heard reports off riders of how in the wet it was one of the trickiest places to ride, like riding on ice.
The format was that of a nice steady twenty minute transition up to the top, where all four stages started at the same spot, wound their way down different parts and all finished in the same spot too, with the whole lot totaling in at around 17k, not bad for a tiny hill! Practice was Sunday morning 9am – 12am, with racing starting soon after that. As lots of the racing went through private land not open to the public, then there was absolutely no practice prior to the event, perfect! The race village was a good selection of Ezee-ups sporting Marzocchi, some shop stands and also a new selection of bikes by Bird Bikeworks (expect a test at a later date) The organizers were a great bunch of blokes, all totally in it for the love of what they do, and the atmosphere was fantastic, everyone just buzzing to ride and race, no pressure, no factory bling, just blokes having fun on bikes, so refreshing.
We met many good chaps throughout the days practice and racing, the whole family affair of the paddock was perfect for my wife and kids, making a rare appearance at one of my races (another great thing about one-day formats) As expected the day went so quick, even though we had put in around 34k of riding, it was more the heat and humidity that was a killer than the climbs. The stages ranged from three minutes to over five, so pedaling hard was a must, most being tough, but still so much fun with the loose corners and the odd rough section. Hammering through the open woodland was cool too, not like races I have done before, stage four even had a pretty tight and steep section of switch-backs claiming many a victim.
Fast UKGE rider Oli Carter (Ride io) took the win in the Pros, Tom Davies (Crank Cycles/Kona Grass Roots) Under 18, Laurie Arther (Mule Bar) Seniors, Paul Webster won Masters, Ewan Parkin (D&D Cycle QECP Trail Collective) Hardtail, Jonathon Broughton won Fun Category and Traharn Chidley (Bird Cycleworks) women. As for yours truly I was pretty chuffed with 2nd place in Vets, beaten to it by Marco Guerreiro (Brighton MTB).
To sum up, after doing so many big-time races over the summer, UKGE’s, EWS and Mega included, it was so nice to come and do a local grass-roots race, my favorite type of racing, massive thanks to the guys from the QECP Trail Collective for the invite, it’s definitely one to go in next year’s calendar for me.
Full results here
QECP Trail Collective’s site here www.qecptrailcollective.co.uk
Words: Jim Buchanan | Pics: Big Mac Photography