The 2015 British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series begins this weekend at Sherwood Pines, where British champions Grant Ferguson and Annie Last join over 700 competitors to race for glory.
The five-round competition begins in Nottinghamshire, before visiting Plymouth, Wales, Glasgow and finally on 16 August Staffordshire to crown Britain’s best cross-country mountain bikers.
Elite men’s series winner in 2014, Paul Oldham will not return until round four due to an operation to replace his anterior cruciate ligament.
Grant Ferguson will look to regain the series he won in 2013 and starts as favourite, having already impressed on the road at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, becoming under-23 British cyclo-cross champion and taking a stage win at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup ahead of esteemed competition.
The British champion will need to use his versatility to full effect to win at Sherwood, as a host of international competition fills the front row of the grid.
Belgium’s Kevin van Hoovels, Jonas de Backer and Ruben Scheire; Portugal’s David Rosa and Oliveira Ferreira; Sweden’s Matthias Wengelin and Dutchman Hans Becking – all ranked top-100 in the world.
Row two sees the first domestic names line up; Liam Killeen, Steve James, Iain Paton, Jason Boutell, and Michael Thompson.
Last time the series opened at Sherwood was 2013 and Wengelin took the win on a flat and fast course that is famed for producing close, tactical racing.
Bethany Crumpton will hope for a strong start to the defence of her title but faces tough opposition if she is to repeat her win from the final round of 2014, at the opening round of 2015 in the elite women’s category.
British champion Annie Last returns from an 18-month period disrupted by injury. Yet to show this year, Last rode through the field to claim 12th at September’s world championships underlining her international pedigree.
Belgian champion Githa Micheils won the first round of the series last year and returns to test the best British riders, joined by Switzerland’s Nathalie Schneitter – who won a round of the world cup series in 2010.
Alice Barnes – second overall last year – completes the line-up of key contenders in an unpredictable field.
Elite races take place on Sunday, with the women’s competition at 10:45am and the men’s race at 1:00pm. Races last approximately 90 minutes, with riders taking a mass start before negotiating a series of 15-minute laps. Courses are designed to be spectator friendly and events are free to watch.
Want to start mountain biking? Check out our guide to getting involved.