The 2023 British Gravel Championships were decided at the King's Cup Gravel Festival. A stellar lineup of top-class riders from across British cycling lined up in Suffolk, from WorldTour pros like Connor Swift to cyclocross racers and some of the best mountain bike riders in the UK. It would be Xan Crees and Joe Blackmore who came out on top to take the British Gravel Championships jerseys home in their respective women’s and men’s championships. After 76.5km and five laps, both races were decided by sprints and exciting finishes in the King's Forest. The Women's race in particular came down to a tight photo finish between Crees and last year's winner, Danni Shrosbree, with a tense wait after they crossed the line to confirm the victor.
The first race of the day was the Women's Elite with thirty-one riders lining up for the 8.30am start. Straight from the gun, a fast pace would be set with a bunch of fifteen forging clear on the opening lap, including all the pre-race favorites, and Bike Perfect's own contributor Amy Perryman. However, it would be Danni Shrosbree, who had returned from the US where she had been racing the Life Time Grand Prix series, who was determined to defend her title and led the way. Numerous attacks saw the group diminish as the laps passed and it would see eleven women remain at the front as the race approached its conclusion.
Shrosbree still led the way, but on the penultimate bend she would run wide, which allowed Crees the chance, and despite a strong sprint from Shrosbree, as she tried to get back on terms, it would be Crees who would just hold on for the win, after a photo finish was announced, with Jane Barr third, one second behind.
Xan Crees spoke after her win was confirmed, saying, "It’s a bit overwhelming because when I looked at the start list I was like, oh my gosh I might have a chance of winning this. Then to actually do it, especially with it being close it was just a let go of all emotions, my gosh it’s happened."
"It was weird because I was telling myself second’s still great because Danni is the previous national champ, I’ll take second if I get second, but obviously you always want to win. But then if I’ve lost it by a millimeter it’s going to be so annoying. But to do it I am so happy and over the moon."
It was then over to the men to deliver an equally exciting race, and Joe Blackmore was on the front for much of the race before outsprinting Ineos Grenadiers rider, Connor Swift. The 20-year-old Blackmore waited for his rival to kick into gear before winding up his effort and winning fairly comfortably on the line with Swift unable to match his sprinting power.
Blackmore took the win over a stacked field beating a host of other big reputations in the hot, dusty conditions including current British cyclocross champion, Cameron Mason, six-time national time trial champion, Alex Dowsett, last year’s winner Jacob Vaughan and double Olympic triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee.
Scottish rider Cameron Mason finished fourth after a tight battle with Sam Culverwell, and Cameron had tipped Joe Blackmore to us as a possible winner in a chat we had on Friday saying that, "Joe Blackmore had a great combination of road and MTB form at the moment..."
The race was again defined by a rapid early pace and an early breakaway of three men with Culverwell, Joe Griffiths and Ben Thomas attacking early on the opening lap, building a lead of more than 30 seconds. As the second circuit began, Connor Swift led a group off the front of the main bunch, bridging to the leaders and the day’s main move was made, with Mason, Ribble Collective rider Tom Couzens, and Blackmore also present.
With their lead established and the chasers unlikely to bring them back, the attacks began, the group was reduced to four before, as the final circuit began, Blackmore and Swift went clear. They worked together in the final lap before Blackmore took the victory in a quickly decided sprint.
Blackmore said, "I feel great, it was a good race, a good event, a hard race, we just kept rolling through the last lap, taking turns and I was on the front with 500m to go, sent the corners pretty fast but Connor was still on my wheel, so I kind of backed off a bit into the arena and just kept looking over my shoulder until he kicked and then I didn’t look back."
Though this was Blackmore’s first gravel race he, like Crees, races more than one discipline. He represents the Team GB Under 23 mountain bike program, but also races cyclocross and was 10th at the U23 CX world championships last winter.
The King’s Cup is organized by RED:ON Events, a British company that also organizes Raiders Gravel and The Gralloch, the UK’s only Trek UCI Gravel World Series event.
Full results of all races are available at Kingscupgravel.com.