Preview: 2012 National Cyclo-Cross Championships

Preview: 2012 National Cyclo-Cross Championships

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Venue: Suffolk Cricket Club, Chantry Park, London Road, Ipswich, IP2 0BP

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UPDATE 06/01/2012: Current Women's champion Helen Wyman '50-50' on defending her title

The National Cyclo-Cross Championships come to Ipswich's Chantry Park over the weekend of 7-8 January 2012 and mark the climax of the domestic season.

The venue will also host the 2012 European Championships. We'll be at the event reporting thoughout the weekend and below is a guide to riders to watch over the two days. We've also got a provisional Start List.


Steve Davies, Roy Hunt and Mick Bell

Veteran 50 (11.00)

Who can catch Steve Davies? The defending champion has been in great form all season, winning the last four National Trophy races on the bounce, after missing the opener. The only rider to have consistently challenged him is Mick Bell, but you have to say Davies is one of the hottest favourites of the whole weekend. Other riders who could get in the mix include Dave McMullen, who was second at Southampton and former champions Ian Wright and Roy Hunt.

Under-14 Youth Male (12.15)

Dan Tulett is another hot favourite, being unbeaten at National level this season. He’s a fast starter, which is a key skill in the short-duration Youth races and he has generally been well out of sight by the end of the opening lap. The only consolation for his rivals is that, in the National Championships, he won’t have the numerous “hares” of the under-16 category to chase: the under-16 riders set off just before the under-14 category in National Trophies, but have a separate race at the National Championships, so Tulett will be forced to make the pace alone. Look out for a fierce battle for podium places between William Gascoyne, David Barnes, Ewan Grivell-Mellor and Anthony Anderson in an otherwise closely matched field.

Under-14 Youth Female (12.15)

Charlotte Broughton has been the boss of this category for much of the season and more than a match for the under-16 riders too if you check out her lap times, However, a combination of circumstances left her sub-par at the Bradford National Trophy and perhaps she won’t be quite so confident going to the start line in Ipswich. However, given a clean run, she should win with a bit to spare. Of her rivals, Henrietta Colbourne, who won in Bradford, and Jessica Roberts look the most likely to cause an upset.

Ready for the off! Youth start line action from Bradford

Under-16 Youth Male (13.15)

The Under-16 male riders always put on a great show. High pace and a frighteningly short race, combine to make a fine spectacle. Jack Ravenscroft, a tall, powerful and tactically smart rider has gradually gained control over the Trophy series and has won the last two rounds. He will rightly start as favourite. However, Dylan Kerfoot Robson has emerged as a strong challenger, picking up second in both the last two rounds in the contrasting conditions at Derby and Bradford. Of the rest, Dan Fox has faded after a great start to the season, but has the class to come again at Ipswich. Similarly, James Shaw, a winner at Southampton, Billy Harding consistent before a bad day at Bradford and Arthur Green, who revelled in the Bradford mud on the way to third, all have the potential to challenge for medals.

Under-16 Youth Female (13.15)

Another race which should be a classic, this encounter brings together some talented young riders: there’s Grace Garner who has two wins amongst four trips to the podium in her four National Trophy outings this year; Jessica Wilkinson, currently leading the series after a win and a run of consistent rides; Sarah Lomas, who came good in the Bradford mud for a great win; and an interesting outsider, Ffion James, the tall, skilful sister of Track sprinter Becky, who looks very technically accomplished off-road and was a fine third at Bradford. Garner is rightly the favourite, but it’s one of the most evenly balanced fields of the whole weekend.

Jim Bryan, Noel Clough and Darren Atkins

Veteran-40 (14.30)

The big news in this category is that Nick Craig, champion for the last two years, has opted not to defend his title and will instead concentrate his efforts on the following day’s senior men’s race. Craig’s second place in the seniors at Bradford confirmed that he is still one of the country’s leading riders so it will be good to see him fully focussed on Sunday’s race.

That leaves a mouth-watering Veteran-40 race in prospect, with man of the season and deserved favourite, Jim Bryan, taking on the men who have dogged his every step in the National Trophy. Heading this list are Darren Atkins, who enjoyed back-to-back wins at Southampton and Derby and has yet to finish lower than fourth; Noel Clough who, apart from an 8th at Deby where he crashed rolling tub on the first lap, has been in his best form since winning the national title in 2009; and Chris Young, still competitive as ever and a three-time visitor to the podium this season.

Beyond this quality quartet, Sean Williams, Greg Simcock and Mike Young have all been at the sharp end of Trophy races on a number of occasions this season and with a little luck could easily pick up a medal. Finally, don’t count out Darren Atkins’ dangerous team-mate Steve Knight, champion in 2008 and an unknown force this season having avoided the Trophy races. If he’s on top form, he will be in contention.


Steve James, Jack Clarkson and Kenta Gallagher

Under-23 Men (10.15)

The second day’s action begins with the Under-23 men and although it generally features one of the smallest fields of the weekend, it’s always a race full of interest as the rising stars get a rare chance to ride free from the “distraction” of the other senior male riders.

Steve James has been the outstanding rider in this category throughout this season. The tall mountain bike specialist has enjoyed much his most impressive ‘Cross campaign to date and has been consistent and competitive throughout. A good starter, he has always been well placed after the opening laps of Trophy races and then used his endurance and technical ability to bring home a succession of fine results.

Behind James, there are several riders likely to be in the mix for medals. Hope’s recent signing Jack Clarkson is aggressive and has shown his potential with some confident rides: he was as high as seventh mid-race in the mud of Bradford and seems to be getting over his tendency to crash under pressure. Kenta Gallagher has thrilled fans all season with his party-piece of bunny-hopping hurdles, but he has also backed this up with several solid rides, culminating in 9th at Bradford, when he came through strongly in the closing laps.

Another bunny-hop specialist, Rob Watson, is also coming into good form and he and the consistent Lee Westward could both be potential medal winners. Finally, don’t discount defending champion Luke Gray, who will be looking to put his recent poor form behind him and Luke Grivell-Mellor, a tall, powerful rider who hasn’t contested the full Trophy series, but who has shown himself one of the leading riders in the category when he has raced.

Helen Wyman and Louise Robinson

Women (11.30)

The Women’s race will be, without a doubt, one of the most eagerly anticipated of the whole weekend and this is the strongest ever field assembled for the championship.

Helen Wyman will going in search of a remarkable seventh straight title and would ordinarily be regarded as odds-on favourite when she lines up on the grid. However, days before the event Wyman released a statement on her blog stating that she was '50-50' to start the race on Sunday, following a persistent illness (more on this here). If she does line up on Sunday, she will be joined on the front row of the grid by a number of riders all of whom have the ability and self-belief to dethrone her.

Foremost amongst these will be Nikki Harris and Gabriella Day, both of whom race on the European circuit, like Wyman. Harris, in particular has been in the form of her life this season with a string of consistent and impressive rides which place her well and truly inside the top ten female riders in the world. Day isn’t far behind and recorded her first top ten in a world cup event in November and has clearly moved up a notch this year. Harris was second last year and Day third, both around a minute down on Wyman. They will be looking to pressure Wyman right to the finish this year and they may have some help!

Away from the European scene, Hannah Payton has been the most consistent riders on the home front and looks set tol take the Trophy title. Payton is reigning Junior champion and will be a strong favourite to retain her title (the other age category titles are also settled in this race). She will also be eager to pit herself against last year’s medallists, but she may just lack the firepower to take her challenge right to the line.

Two more riders stand out as significant players: Louise Robinson, a veteran and former champion who has not raced regularly for several seasons but who has made a spectacular come-back this year winning the 3-Peaks and winning at Derby and finishing second at Bradford. If she can cope with the inevitably fast start, she may have a say in the medals.

Then there’s Annie Last, Britain’s best female Cross-Country mountain biker for a generation. Annie cut her teeth in Cyclo-Cross and although she won’t necessarily be in the form she will take to the 2012 fat tyre season, she has immense class and the all-round ability to get herself into contention. She won at Bradford in her first ‘Cross outing of the season and with a couple more weeks of racing and training under her belt, should be even sharper at Ipswich.

So, with Wyman in doubt the door is left open for Nikki Harris, Gabriella Day and Annie Last, in particular, to claim a trophy that has almost become Wyman's personal property.

Hugo Robinson, Joe Moses and Adam Martin

Junior Men (12.45)

There are two stand-out candidates for this race, defending champion Hugo Robinson and Trophy series leader Joe Moses. Robinson won the title as a first year Junior and has gone on to race predominantly on the continent this season. His three Trophy races brought him two convincing wins, but Moses responded by defeating him with a remarkable ride at Bradford on a day when Robinson acknowledged he could find no answer to the Yorkshireman’s skills.

In truth, there’s little to choose between them, with Robinson perhaps the better in drier, faster conditions and Moses edging it if the going gets wet and muddy. Whichever way it goes, the opening couple of laps should settle it.

Meanwhile, Adam Martin’s three visits to the Trophy podium this season suggest that he also has to be considered a strong contender now that he’s on-form again after a mid-season bout of ill-health and bad luck.

Beyond this talented trio, there’s a fine array of riders all of whom show podium potential: Alex Welburn, Tom Armstrong, Joe Kirkham, William Worrall and Jake Womersley have all at one time or another displayed the ability to win at National level and in several races the lower podium positions have been contested by a five to ten rider bunch right up to the final lap.

Paul Oldham, Jody Crawforth and Liam Killeen

Senior Men (14.15)

The final race of the weekend and almost always full of drama and excitement, the Senior men’s contest brings together the best domestic field of the season. These are the leading contenders and a few thoughts on their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Paul Oldham:

Pros: the best rider in the country this season, who looks like he’ll win the National Trophy with ease despite a bizarre run of bad luck. Incredibly strong and consistent, he’s not afraid to set a fierce pace and dictate from the front and if anything even more formidable when forced to regroup after a crash or mechanical. Very popular with the crowds.

Cons: Has endured a spectacular range of mechanical problems this season and, with no real pattern to them, he must be wondering what else can go wrong. Not a sprinter, he needs to drop the rest to win, just as he did taking the title in January 2011.

Ian Field:

Pros: on paper, Britain’s leading male Cyclo-Cross rider, with a solid season of European results behind him, Ian is not far off the top ten riders in the world at his very best and is regularly racing at a much higher level than British-based riders. He’s also a fine natural talent and an excellent bike handler.

Cons: Amazingly, he has yet to win medal in the senior national championships, which suggests his dedication to the European scene has tended to leave him tired and running out of form by the time the nationals come round. This lack of success may also add to the pressure to perform on the day.

Jody Crawforth:

Pros: Champion in 2009 and for a number of years one of our top two or three riders, Jody is technically excellent: he also has a fine tactical mind and a useful sprint which means he’s hard to beat if he’s in the lead group going into the last lap. Mentally strong and with a bit to prove this season, so should he be motivated.

Cons: Perhaps not quite at his best yet this season – he has clearly been second best to Oldham in the National Trophy and has openly admitted as much.

Liam Killeen

Pros: Close to winning this title on a couple of occasions, Killeen is an excellent ‘Cross rider with a great “engine” and fine technical skills.

Cons: As ever, he comes to this event with relatively little racing behind him as his priority will always be the summer Mountain Bike season.

Ian Bibby:

Pros: the ultimate dark horse. Bibby is now primarily a Road rider, but his strong mountain bike background and extensive experience of ‘Cross mean he’s well equipped to win the title, which he did in 2010. That season he shrugged off a lack of racing to win a thrilling race, out-sprinting Crawforth and Oldham after an epic battle. He will start under little pressure and will be feared by the rest of the favourites.

Cons: That lack of racing – it’s very hard to beat people who have been racing all season relying only on your freshness and talent.

Roger Hammond:

Pros: as an eight-time former champion, Hammond know better than anyone how to win this title. Strong, tactically astute and with a blistering finish, he has a top ten in the senior worlds to his credit alongside his famous Junior world title in Leeds in 1992, making him arguably our best male 'Cross rider of the last 25 years.

Cons: now 37, he hasn't raced 'Cross regularly for several seasons and his last national title came in 2008. He couldn't stay with eventual winner Jody Crawforth and Paul Oldham last time he raced this event at Bradford in 2009.

Of the rest, mountain biker Dave Fletcher has the ability to be up with the leaders. An injury during last summer meant he came to the ‘Cross season fresh and he has ridden more than he normally would through the winter. However, after a couple of excellent rides early in the Trophy series, his form has dipped a little in recent weeks.

And then there’s Nick Craig. At 42, he’s no longer quite a quick as he was in his prime, but he remains arguably the canniest rider on the scene. When he knows the conditions are in his favour, as at Bradford in early December, he can turn it up a notch or two and force his way into contention. He will be praying for wet, muddy conditions and if he gets them, he will exploit them better than any other rider in the field. Unlikely to win the title, but a medal is not beyond him. What a story that would be.