Ffion James and Braam Merlier got their first wins of the HSBC UK | Cyclo-Cross National Trophy season as the fourth round rolled into the Gravesend Cyclopark.
Belgium’s Merlier rode clear in the closing stages while James won in a dramatic finish in the women’s race on a course new to the National Trophy, featuring a steep bank with off-camber technical descents.
The Welshwoman also won the U23 race as Emily Ashwood took the juniors, with Yentl Bekaert winning the men’s U23 and Cameron Mason the juniors.
James wins a thriller
Abergavenny Road Club’s James came from behind in the final lap to take victory ahead of Sophie Wright and Beth Crumpton.
After being beaten into second late in the previous round, James was strongest on the final lap and caught lone leader Crumpton before riding away to victory.
Hannah Payton, of Team Kinesis UK, took the lead through the opening sections with her rivals in close attendance as the top five riders all managed to ride the tough climb.
Series leader Crumpton attacked on the second lap and had a few seconds lead over the chasers while James crashed into one of the course markings and went down.
Renvale RT’s U23 rider Wright kept Crumpton at arms-length as EDCO Continental’s Anna Kay and James chased hard behind with two laps to go.
James bridged across to Wright and had Crumpton’s gap down to a handful of seconds as the bell rang.
With half a lap to go James made her move and Crumpton had no answer as Wright, finishing strongly behind, also overtook the series leader.
So happy to get my first ever National Trophy win today https://t.co/GnsT0TxosA— Ffion James (@FfionJames97) November 26, 2017
“The last lap I could just see Beth in front of me and it just makes it easier when you’re chasing someone,” said James.
“I just went flat out and as soon as I caught her I knew I couldn’t mess around as both Sophie and Anna were chasing behind.
“I just didn’t look back and got a gap and managed to hold it. The whole race it was changing positions and there were just little gaps between us so it made for an exciting race.
“There’s a good group of girls who are all similar so it makes for really exciting racing.”
Magical Merlier leads Belgian dominance
It was a Belgian one-two in the men’s elite race as Merlier led Bekaert home ahead of series leader Ian Field.
The Belgians escaped in the opening section and were joined by Hargroves-Ridley-Montezuma’s Field and Beobank-Corendon’s Ben Turner.
After suffering a crash in the previous round Turner’s hopes of victory took a blow when his chain came off, allowing the leading trio to get a gap.
Turner fell back to chasers Jeremy Durrin and Roel van der Stegen, and the trio worked to try and catch the leaders but lost time each lap.
Five-time British National champion Field traded blows with Merlier and 18-year-old Bekaert through the opening half of the race.
But eventually, with three laps to go Merlier forced a slender four-second advantage over his compatriot, while Field suffered a puncture and fell further behind.
The gap grew to around ten seconds at the bell over Bekaert, with Field – who ended up increasing his series lead – a further ten behind, and the gaps remained that way until the finish.
“It was really hard and with four laps to go I had a flat tyre, but I changed the bike and then I went faster and I took ten seconds and won,” said Merlier.
“The race was difficult and Yenti rode good today, so it was not easy but I’m happy with the win.
“The course was technical, it is a very beautiful race here.”
Mason picks his moment
Cameron Mason, of Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique, timed his effort to perfection to take a lone victory in an action-packed men’s junior event.
Mason formed a gap midway through the race alongside Callum McLeod and the two traded blows until Edinburgh-based Mason rode away to victory.
With current series leader Ben Tulett absent due to World Cup duties, Mason took his overall leaders jersey with the victory.
“I’ve finished second and third before in the series so I’m really happy to finally get that win,” said Mason.
“It was a super tough race with Callum and we both made a couple of mistakes but I managed to get past him.”
1. Yentl Bekaert - Telenet Fidea Lions
2. Ben Turner - Beobank-Corendon
3. Roel van der Stegen - TWC MaaslandsterZuid-Limburg
1.Ffion James - Abergavenny Road Club
2.Sophie Wright - Renvale RT
3. Anna Kay - EDCO Continental
1. Cameron Mason - Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique
2. Callum Macleod - Pedalon.co.uk
3. Matthew Ellis - Steve Poole Plant Hire/Raleigh
1. Emily Ashwood - WXC World Racing
2. Xan Crees - Team Empella Cyclo-Cross.com
3. Abbie Manley - Hargroves-Ridley-Montezuma's