Round three of the National Trophy Cyclo-Cross series brings us to Southampton, which is traditionally a muddy venue, though a relatively dry start to the winter and a decent weather forecast for the weekend of the race suggest the going may be sticky rather than overtly muddy.
The series reaches its mid-point with the completion of this, the third of six rounds and with every round to count towards overall series titles, the main contenders will have emerged in most categories by Sunday evening.
Senior & Under-23 Men
This season’s Senior Men’s competition is shaping up to be four-way battle between defending champion Paul Oldham, mountain bike ace Oli Beckingsale, perpetual contender Jody Crawforth and the best young rider of the moment, Steve James, who also leads the Under-23 category.
Beckingsale has added a new dimension to the competition – he has previously shown his ‘Cross ability in fits and starts, but mountain biking commitments have generally prevented him from racing week-in-week-out. Likewise, James, who has improved dramatically as a ‘Cross rider in the past season and a half, has helped to add depth to the field.
Paul Oldham remains the favourite for the series by dint of his matchless consistency over the past few seasons, however he has work to do if he is to retain both his title and his reputation as our leading UK-based rider.
As at round 2 in Ipswich, there’s also a strong European contingent, led by the winner of that race, Kevin Eeckhout and runner-up Tom Van Den Bosch. Watch out too for Angelo De Clercq, who brings with him both a famous name (his father Mario was three times world champion) and a growing reputation of his own.
De Clercq is still an under-23 and his presence strengthens a category already showing unusual strength in depth this season. Adam Martin and Ben Sumner have, like Steve James, played leading roles in both rounds to date and, along with James and the absent Hugo Robinson (racing in Belgium), mean that there are currently four riders from this category in the top ten overall standings.
The Women’s series has settled down into a two-way battle between veteran Louise Robinson, who has two wins out of two and Hope rider Adela Carter, who has been runner-up both times. Belgian visitor Karen Verhestraeten has the potential to upset things, but expect to see Robinson and Carter marking each other closely.
The Junior Men’s series is wide-open with Jack Ravenscroft and Billy Harding having won a round apiece, but with Jake Womersley and Harry Franklin also still well in touch. Of all the categories, this is the one perhaps most likely to go to the wire at the sixth round.
The Veteran Male category has the potential to become a straight head-to-head between former series winner Darren Atkins and first year vet, Ian Taylor. With a win apiece, they are already clear of the rest, with third and fourth placed Richard Lister and Michael Simpson the most likely to challenge them. Similarly, the over-50 category has settled down into a head-to-head between Steven Davis and Phil Roach, who have a win and a second apiece.
The Youth categories are always worth watching with the short duration leading to high speeds and close racing. The Under-16 male category is warming up nicely with William Gascoyne, Thomas Weeds and Tom Franklin sharing out the podiums. The Under-16 females are led by double winner, national champion, Abby-Mae Parkinson, with fellow Yorkshirewoman, Amira Mellow in second.
The Under-14 categories see Dan Tulett already in control after two convincing wins, but Emily Wadsworth and Jessica Roberts have shared the top two placings and are locked together on the same points totals. Tullett is a very hot favourite for his series: Wadsworth and Roberts appear to have a season-long battle for supremacy ahead of them.