By MTB Captain Sam Fitzgerald
On Sunday the 19th of February, 10 of Cambridgeshire’s finest MTBers (Not an Oxymoron) made the trek down to darkest Surrey to take on Oxford in MTB Varsity 2023, CUCCs biggest, and possibly only, mountain bike race of the year. Oxford put up some stiff competition, but ultimately it was Cambridge who overcame every obstacle, jump, berm, and not least our very own Matt Bryan getting locked in the back of a transit van, to take home their sixth consecutive men’s and 5th consecutive women’s titles.
As the 10 CUCC riders (8 Men, 2 Women) and the 15 OUCC riders (12 Men, 3 Women) arrived at the course they were greeted with warming sunshine and a gentle breeze, perfect for racing. Spirits of both camps were high and the excitement was palpable.
To let off some steam and hone their trail skills the riders scouted the course, whilst also looking for potential threats and opportunities on the track. The course overall consisted of a narrow twisty trail that seemed to tempt riders into becoming a little too intimate with the surrounding trees. Some technical features, a fresh jump and a gnarly bombhole, also provided the resident photographers with some prime material.
As the riders finished their practice lap, tension began to build at the start line. The Oxford and Cambridge riders now stood face to face, or at least bike to bike, as the racers shot off. The start proved to be an all-out sprint as the riders jostled for position going into the first single track section, With Matt Bryan of Cambridge and Max Bolton of Oxford leading the pack. The initial peloton fractured with each feature and the whirr of cassettes was quickly replaced with the sound of panting breaths as the riders settled down to business.
By the end of the first lap, in the Men’s, Max Bolton and Matt Bryan remained neck and neck at the front as they flew past the finish line; whilst light blue Ilya Kaysin and dark blue Thomas Long battled it out just behind. Reigning champion Tom Wade and Cambridge captain Sam Fitzgerald powered round soon after holding off Oxford’s third placed rider Luke Tamblin.
In the women’s Cambridge’s infamous Maddie Angwin established an early lead of almost two minutes. Oxford’s Elizabeth Hayman and Freya Butler along with Cambridge’s Lucy Coleman remained within arm’s reach behind leaving all to play for.
Things looked like they were slowly unwinding for Cambridge as Wade suffered a severed break cable, limiting him to just 3 gears and forcing him to so much as run up the steeper sections of the course. The winding undulating course also began to take its toll on some of the Cambridge riders as Bryan and Kaysin began to slowly lose touch with their Oxford counterparts. However not all was lost as Angwin powered on in the women’s holding her lead strong. Fitzgerald too, used his position in no man’s land to carve every corner and gain Cambridge precious seconds in the men’s.
The first rider triumphant over the line was Maddie Angwin, who managed to hold off a late surge from Elizabeth Hayman to win her second consecutive Varsity title. With Lucy Colman succeeding in her first ever race and ‘the hardest thing she’s ever done’ to podium and nab Cambridge the women’s team trophy. Coleman also won the, unofficial, award of being the only CUCC rider not to stack it!
In the Men’s, it was an unstoppable performance from Max Bolton who stormed to victory in the individual classification. A mechanical for Matt Bryan in the last lap put second placed Thomas Long just out of reach but even so, a very impressive performance from Matt placed him third and Cambridge’s best placed rider. However it was Cambridge’s quality in depth that really propelled them to victory with Sam Fitzgerald and Ilya Kaysin also boasting rapid times, rounding out the top five and sending Cambridge to a close fought victory. Light Blues Tom Wade (6th) and Jacob Lewis (8th) also performed impressively to break into the top ten. It was a great race for all involved. The full results can be see here.
The day ended with all sides left with something to celebrate and some great fun to be had in the process, and it was with, a celebration in true MTB style, down the pub.