Southampton is the venue for the third round of the 2011-12 National Trophy Cyclo-Cross series. It’s a return to the venue of the 2007 National Championships, a major mud-bath: this year’s mild, dry Autumn means that conditions should not be quite as challenging as they were on that day! Now that the start list is out, we take a look at the riders who should be in contention.
Looking first at the Senior Men’s category, a familiar pattern has emerged after two rounds of the current series: Paul Oldham and Jody Crawforth have renewed their battle for supremacy. One or other has won the series in six of the last seven seasons and in the last three they have annexed the top two spots. Oldham holds the advantage so far, with two runner-up spots (behind visiting continental riders Thijs Al and Jelle Brackman) to Crawforth’s brace of thirds. In truth there has been little to choose between them, the only certainty being their superiority over the rest of the home riders.
Brackman is back for round three, along with Kenny Geluykens, who was fourth at both South Shields and Leicester. Also making the trip over the Channel are Floris de Tier, who led the first round before crashing and going on to finish sixth and top under-23; Xandro Meurisse who was fifth and top under-23 in round two; along with Kristof Cop, Kris Lapere and Kendric Van Grembergen.
It all adds up to the strongest field of the series to date. Crawforth and Oldham will be keen to take the race to the visitors, both for national pride and in the hope that they can distance each other. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.
In the Under-23 category, Xandro Meurisse and Floris de Tier aside, it’s been a very well contested series so far, with Steve James and Luke Gray the outstanding riders to date. James, in particular, is having his best ‘Cross season to date and is clearly enjoying his racing. His battle with Kenta Gallagher in Leicester was a classic and Gallagher too will be keen to force his way into the series, having missed round one. Gallagher’s fellow Scot and mountain biker, Grant Ferguson makes his first appearance of the season in the race. He is an extremely talented young rider, who finished second to Hugo Robinson in last year’s national Junior championships and will be worth watching. Finally, don’t dismiss the two first year seniors Luke Grivell-Mellor and Jack Clarkson. Both are strong athletes with considerable potential and both have a couple of solid rides behind them in this season’s series.
In the Veteran 40 Category, it’s all about whether anyone can stop James Bryan, who has won both rounds to date. His closest rivals have been Chris Young and Noel Clough, both of whom have had a second and a third so far, but Bryan has been the strongest when it matters most, dominating the closing couple of laps and winning alone. Last year’s series winner, Darren Atkins has been in the mix for the first few laps too and on his best form also comes into the equation.
Steve Davis gave warning to his rivals with a fine solo win in the second Veteran 50 race at Leicester. He missed the opening round, which was won by Mick Bell. With all six rounds to count towards the final series titles, Davis looked to have a mountain to climb to get back into contention, but in an otherwise tightly contested category (Bell was only 4th in round 2), should he win a couple more rounds he ought to be back on terms.
The Junior Men’s category is always a cracker to follow and sure enough, this season’s series is already intriguing, with Joe Moses winning the first round with such ease that all bets were off for round two at Leicester. However, a poor start there left Moses playing catch-up as Alex Welburn powered away to a gun-to-flag win. Moses eventually finished third. Welburn and Moses have got to consider Adam Martin, who was runner up in both races and trails them by only 2 points in the series standings. And throwing a bit of a spanner in the works in Southampton will be national champion Hugo Robinson, who has been riding on the continent this season and is making his first appearance in this year’s series.
The Women’s series has, so far, been something of a three way battle with Adela Carter and Hannah Payton both taking a win apiece and Jessie Roberts two consistent third places. World Junior Road Champion Lucy Garner makes her first appearance in the series in Southampton and, bearing in mind her ‘Cross pedigree, not least two wins in last year’s series as a first year Junior, she should be in contention.
In the Under-16 Male category, we’ve saw two very similar races in South Shields and Leicester: in both cases, Solihull CC duo Dan Fox and Jack Ravenscroft went clear in the company of Heanor Clarion’s James Shaw. Shaw has set the early pace but been unable to resist the Solihull pair’s attacks and has had to settle for third both times. Fox and Ravenscroft have shared the wins, working well together and only deciding the outcome on the last lap. Expect to see the same trio in the thick of it again, and watch out to see if Shaw decides to take more of a back seat this time.
The Under-16 Female category has been closely contested, but in both races to date Grace Garner (Lucy’s sister) has had a little too much all-round class for her opponents. The racing has been close, but a strong start and good stamina have given Garner both wins. Should Garner slip up, the trio of Sarah Lomas, Emily Nelson and Amira Mellor will all be keen to take their first win.
Both Under-14 categories have seen dominating performances: Charlotte Broughton has been in a class of her own, winning both races by a mile and actually lapping quicker than Grace Garner. Barring accidents, she should win again in Southampton; as should Dan Tulett, who cashed in on lightening starts in both under-14 male races to date to claim convincing wins.