With the turning of the leaves and the chill in the air Autumn has arrived and with it the XC season! After promotion two seasons ago and relegation last year by the tightest of margins (2 points...) the squad were keen to start the season strong and go back up as Champions.
Unfortunately due to the timing of the race a number of the club's faster and stalwart members were out of action for this first fixture together with the loss of Guy McLaren and Jamie White from last season. Without them it was always going to be a tough race but the enthusiasm of the team was not dinted and a number of new runners were keen to take advantage of the absences to make a name for themselves.
The race was held at Nork Park with a flat fast lap at the top of roughly a k followed by 3 longer laps of 2.5k. The longer laps were essentially down one side of the hill the park was set on, along the bottom of the park next to a road and then back up the other side of the hill to the top before you headed down again. Flat ground was at a premium! The course was almost entirely on grass with only a few areas particularly muddy. What was perhaps most disconcerting was that on the hill back up you were occasionally running on a camber and then on uneven and potholed ground for a short stretch. The course was clearly going to be challenging.
Andy O was deputising as Captain Fantastic and with 20 minutes to go was metaphorically pulling his hair out with only 7 names on the team sheet (10 to score) and a car of 5 stuck in South Wimbledon. The arrival of Graeme Buscke leading a phalanx of antipodean warriors left us confident we would finish a team and the subsequent arrivals of one of last years regulars Rory O'Neill left us believing we could not just finish a team but be competitive. Ryan Bayley's last second arrival left us over 20 strong and out numbering the other teams.
The race started quickly with the fast first lap and subsequent downhill leading to some of the fastest first miles ever recorded by many of the runners in a XC race. The race strung out fairly quickly with a serpentine stream of multi-coloured vests adorning the hills. A hair pin turn allowed you to see how your club mates were faring. The consensus was that the race passed quickly with most on their third and final lap of the race before they really felt the impact of the hill.
Jon Hamblen of Walton on Thames athlete won the race by a clear margin however after that there was a steady stream of athletes. Graeme Buscke was second home for Chasers in 17th place despite struggling with an ITB issue which had forced him to withdraw from Abingdon the next day. It wasn't long until the next 3 Chasers came home together in a bunch sprint with Rob Tuer 21st, Rory O'Neill 22nd and Hamish Cropper 24th. Rob's run wasn't quite as good as he hoped but with Cabbage Patch today and Frankfurt next week he has a busy week scheduled. Look for Rob to be in the top 3 of one of these races by the end of the season. Rory's run, just as it did all last season, put us in a strong place and Hamish demonstrated the improvement he's made over the past 12 months.
A gap emerged and those of us watching started to get concerned as the vests streamed past without the blue, green and white present. Finally a Chasers vest appeared as debutante Luke Davis finished with a strong kick to overhaul a 15m lead the runner ahead of him had and pip him on the line. It demonstrated the Chasers spirit that was present throughout the day as not a single Chaser was passed that I noticed in the home stretch with several overtaking. Christian Rose-Day after a hard Thursday session closed shortly afterwards to make the top 50 by the skin of his teeth and 7th place for the Chasers with Nick Burkitt just missing out in 53rd but with a clear target for the next race. Sub 3 man Alan Scott fresh from supporting the ladies race got home in 63rd place, one place behind Walton's first non-scorer but leaving us in with a chance.
All eyes were now on who would be our final counter. Clive Perreira loomed around the corner and sprinted his hardest to power past his competitors and close the team in 74th place. Ryan Bayley followed closely behind in 78th place as our 11th man. Paul Wallace closed in 88th place. Andy O probably got the largest cheer of anyone finishing through-out the entire race in 98th place with Andrew Hobbs finishing immediately behind him and also making the top 100.
David Percival, Sam Morton and Dan Howell all finished before the final counter from other teams pushing their men further back and demonstrating that the Chasers have far greater strength in depth than any other club in the league. Rich Trubshaw, Kyle Fox and Christian Rijs all finished within 5 places of the final scorer of Tadworth showing they can be competitive at this level before former captain and mastermind of our previous promotion efforts Russell Thompson finished the Chasers contingent.
We knew we'd been competitive but were worried that we might not have done enough. The final scores showed that the team had pulled together and produced an awesome performance to finish 2nd in the league with 375 points and in the promotion places.
When we were relegated by such a tight margin last year a lot of people thought that we would storm this league easily and win by a (cross) country mile. Walton scored 250 points and to be frank we are going to have to work hard to overcome them this year. We can't be complacent in this league and although this was a great performance and rear-guard action given the loss of some of our superstars we really need to get everyone out there and training hard.
Leagues don't get won by the top 5 scorers in a team - they get won by the last 5 scorers. Tadworth had 4 runners in the top 20 but ended with 456 points. Walton similarly had 4 in the top 20 and ended up with 250 points because they closed their entire team barely outside the top 50.
So get out there, hitting the hills, the mud and the roads and lets see if we can overhaul Walton next time.