15 November 2019

Event review: Rapha Super Cross

November 13, 2013

Now that summer has become a truly distant memory and road racers have hung up their bikes, another breed of cyclist has come out to play.

Photo credit: Aodan Higgins www.flickr.com

As the days get colder, wetter and shorter, cyclo cross becomes the dominant autumn/winter cycle sport.

Riders revel at the prospect of bringing out their mud-plugger bikes for a blast through woods and around a damp, muddy field all in the name of fun. Why would anyone want to do that?

Maria David (pictured above) found out why, by venturing out to one of the key events on the autumn cycling calendar, the Rapha Super Cross.

The event

The commissaire blows his whistle and at once the charge begins. The pack of bikers gallop along a dirt track. At the front end things are fraught. Every rider wants to be first into the mud. At the back, we cling onto the coat tails of the bunch, being dragged along by the high pace.

As we climb the grassy mound, crowds cheer us on to the ring of cowbells, the blast of the brass band, and the encouragement of the commentator. We hear everything but our senses are focused on the job in hand. We must get round the slippery off-camber descent without stacking it in front of the avid spectators. We must negotiate a series of tight turns without putting a foot to the ground. We must keep up the momentum as we grind up the muddy hill. Don’t let the girl behind catch you. Concentrate on chasing down the woman in front.

Photo credit: Aodan Higgins www.flickr.com

This is the Rapha Super Cross – a series of three cyclo cross races held in pleasant venues in the north and south of England over two weekends. With large crowds, beer tents, and other Belgian style refreshments, including the obligatory beer and frites you get a taste of the spiritual home of cyclo cross without crossing The Channel.

The Rapha Super Cross races took place in the sumptuous grounds of Broughton Hall, Skipton (North Yorkshire), Philips Park, adjacent to the British Cycling HQ in Manchester, and the iconic Alexandra Palace in London.

I rode the rounds in Manchester and London. Both races followed the usual cyclo cross format; 40 minutes of racing around a 5-10 minute long off-road circuit with obstacles such as low hurdles to get over while carrying your bike, except there was a different “sting” in each.


For the Manchester event I used my mountain bike. Yes, mountain bikes are allowed in local cyclo cross races. As someone who has raced cyclo cross in the past, but is seriously off form, I felt quite comfortable on this bike. It dealt with the slippery rutted descents very well, where I lacked the skill.

It’s low gears took me up the mega-steep gradient of the “Philipsberg” beautifully, where I would have struggled had I been on my ‘cross bike. However, despite these benefits, racing was harder work than with my ‘cross bike due to the extra weight of my old chunky Rockhopper. I was quite relieved to see the chequered flag after yet another energy-sapping ascent of the “Philipsberg”!

Di-Lee-philipsbergPhoto credit: Aodan Higgins www.flickr.com


Ally Pally was a more straightforward affair since I had my cyclo cross bike as well as a tiny bit more skill compared with the previous week!

Being a Londoner, it was good to race in a place where “everybody knows your name,” as the song goes! Large crowds had gathered along various points of the course, notably at the most tricky section, like the “spiral of doom” – a series of head spinning hairpins which became tighter and tighter until you or your bike were caught out and you either put your foot down to steady yourself or you fell! I managed to stumble round it, though it wasn’t pretty!

The races

Cyclo cross races are a great way of getting into cycling and they encourage female participation. This year women had a choice of races.

There was an elite race for the top “crossers” in the country, a race for local women competitors – who raced with the male veterans, and a fun race where riders could enjoy a shot of spirit on the “Tequila Shortcut” as well as ride through a “Wall of foam”!

Photo credit: Jonathan Hines info@jonathanhines.co.uk

Race Feedback

I was happy with the way my race went in the local women and vets category. I wasn’t fit but I had enjoyed it, and so had other women in my race.

“Cyclo cross is great on cold wintry days when the weather’s too grim for a longer ride,” said Abigail Armstrong (Hackney GT), Veteran racer and third consecutive year at Rapha Super Cross. “They’ve [Rapha] brought us the best elements of Belgian racing – for spectators there’s the chance to watch elite racing, ring cowbells, and have music, good beer, frites and coffee.

“And for racers the enthusiastic crowd ringing cowbells is fantastic.”

And Annie Simpson (Team Hope Factory Racing), women’s winner of the series said, “I finished my Masters degree in September and I had all this free time before I started my job so I trained hard. Coming into the races I had a lot of confidence in my training and this took the stress away so I could just enjoy the racing.

“The Manchester round was the hardest for sure! A combination of the wind, the ‘Philipsberg’ and achy legs from Broughton Hall the day before made it seriously tough. I almost fell across the finish line.

Photo credit: Jonathan Hines info@jonathanhines.co.uk

“Broughton Hall was my favourite round by far! I’m a Yorkshire girl and to me there is nothing better than racing in front of a home crowd and seeing the Yorkshire Dales in the distance.”

So yes, these events are fun. I look forward to next year. Even though I already ride local league events I think I will try the fun race. I want foam and Tequila in all my races!

More info: www.rapha.cc/super-cross OR www.britishcycling.org.uk/cyclocross

Maria David, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine



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