Nikki Harris’ fantastic season in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup and subsequent inclusion in the Great Britain squad for the world championships has been cause for celebration at the Notts and Derby Cyclo-cross League.
For those involved in the Midlands-based competition – where Harris started racing as an under 12 – seeing the 27-year-old thrive on the world’s international stage this Saturday will be a satisfying moment to end a record-breaking season.
The league has enjoyed its highest participation in its 34-year history in the 2013-14 campaign, the number of riders racing increasing by more than 100% since 2010.
Helped by a home Olympics and a growing reputation within the area, around 400 riders attended each of its 14 events, including the Midlands Championships, 48% of participants under 16 years of age.
Harris isn’t the only international name to have learnt her trade in the league. London Olympian Annie Last, part of British Cycling’s Olympic Mountain Bike Podium Programme, grew up attending the events.
“It's been growing steadily for the last 10 years or so,” said Andrew Naylor, a keen rider and chair of the committee that organises the league.
“But within the last couple of Olympic cycles we've seen an upsurge in the numbers, particularly after the London Olympics and especially in the younger categories as well - the under 12s and the under 9s.
“That’s starting to filter through into the youths as well now. It's an amazing thing to see, it's great for the sport.
“The Notts & Derby Cyclo-cross League was formed in 1980. Locally in the Midlands region there were a couple of strong leagues, the Leicester league in particular was strong at that time.
“They had their racing on Sunday but then Notts and Derby clubs wanted to have their own league for local riders and they set up their own league which raced on Saturday to complement the Leicester league.”
With the league’s recent growth has come the need for additional space and resource to accommodate participants. Thanks to the hard work of the 15-person committee of volunteers and help from British Cycling’s regional event officers, the league has been able to welcome all ages and abilities.
“We have a great bunch of volunteers who run the committee and ensure the league happens,” Naylor said.
“We have a fantastic judging team as well. Without the volunteers there the league could not happen.
“The advent of the Regional Events Officers has given the league more ability to contact organisations, the council and others. Finding venues for the events as they get bigger is the challenge we face.
“Quite a few of the events we get have over 400 riders which is massive so it’s finding the space to accommodate all that, having help from British Cycling with that has been brilliant.”
Much of the league’s expansion has come in the form of riders new to competitive cycling. The league places a strong emphasis on ensuring it is inclusive and allows those with little experience a safe environment.
As an off-road discipline cyclo-cross’ accessibility makes it ideal for those wanting to try cycle sport.
“You do get a massive mix - folks who have never ridden cross right the way up to two national champions coming,” Naylor said.
“So you've got a broad range of abilities there but cross is so accessible that accommodating all those is possible and there is a good atmosphere there, it's a friendly atmosphere.”
Looking forward to the 2014-15 season, and expecting higher numbers than ever before, the aim for Naylor is clear.
“I think continuing to improve the standard of events and the experience people get at a race is important for us,” he said.
“We want to ensure that people have a good time and if that is their route into the sport of cycling, that they'll go away with a good impression and they'll want to come back.”