South Shields hosts the fourth round of the six-round 2012-13 National Trophy Cyclo-Cross Series. It's a flat and exposed venue, close to the chilly North Sea and the 2011 race was heavily influenced by a strong wind. However, with a couple of freezing night already behind us and a very cold weekend ahead – top temperatures are expected to be around 4 degrees, with nights dipping below zero - the riders could well be faced with firm, frozen going.
Let's have a look at the riders who are in with a shout for the various series titles.
After his second win in three starts, at Southampton, Darren Atkins has opened up a useful gap of 16 points over his main rival for this year’s series, Ian Taylor. With none of the other leading riders able to string together any real consistency, Atkins is in a strong position. However, Jim Bryan, last year’s series winner makes his first appearance of the season and will be looking to repeat his win at this venue in 2011. Also worth a punt might be Andy Peace. A renowned runner, this season has seen him spend more time on his bike than usual and he was second in Southampton and beat Ian Taylor in last week’s Yorkshire points event. Particularly if it gets muddy, he could spring a surprise.
In the Over-50 category, Steve Davies has clawed his way to the front of the standing. After losing to Phil Roach in round one, he won the next two rounds and these two have moved clear of the opposition. Another win for Davies will leave Roach a lot to do if he is to claim the series.
The male category has rapidly become a straight fight between William Gascoyne and Tomas Franklin. Gascoyne has the upper hand after two wins and a second, so Franklin will be under pressure to make a move in round four if the series is not to drift away from him.
Similarly, Abby-Mae Parkinson has opened up a decent gap over Amira Mellor, whom she has beaten in all three starts so far. But Grace Garner won last time out and although out of the running for the series, she has the class to disturb the top two’s battle for the series.
Dan Tulett is arguably the most dominant rider in any category. His latest win – he has a 100% record so far this season – was by almost 3 minutes, a huge gap considering the short duration of Youth races. So, the interest really centres on the battle for second, with Thomas Mein, Mark Donovan and Harry Yates all locked within three points of each other.
Jessica Roberts and Emily Wadsworth have shared the top two positions on the podium in all three rounds, with Roberts just shading it, two wins to one. Expect this battle to go to the wire.
The Junior Men’s category is perhaps the most open and unpredictable of all. Jake Womersley leads thanks to his consistency that has brought his two seconds and a third. Billy Harding and Jack Ravenscroft are locked in second – these first-year Juniors both have great talent and have recorded a win apiece, but can have their off days. Meanwhile, Adam King lurks in fourth, just behind them, thanks to a consistent run of third and fourth places. Who will win in South Shields? It’s anyone’s guess!
There’s a relentlessness to the riding of Louise Robinson that speaks volumes both for her talent – undimmed though she is now a veteran – and for her confidence and determination. With three straight wins to her credit, all by decent margins, she has a handy 18 point lead over Adela Carter, who has been runner up on each occasion. Carter must now work out how to beat Robinson if she is to work her way back into the series. Of the other riders, Annabel Simpson looks the most likely to disturb the top two: her third place in Southampton suggests she’s beginning to translate her great road form from last summer into something useful off-road.
Senior & Under-23 Men
Paul Oldham and Oli Beckingsale will be in the spotlight in South Shields as, with only a small Belgian contingent likely to make the long trip to the North East, they will be expected to be contesting the win. Both have had their off days in the three rounds to date, but have still worked their way into strong positions, eighteen and twelve points respectively clear of third placed rider, Steve James.
For Beckingsale, so long dedicated to Mountain Biking, keeping form and fitness at this time of year is probably new territory and how he manages this may well dictate the outcome of the series.
Oldham, in contrast, has been through the process on many occasions and rarely has dramatic losses of form as the season enters its final two months. For that reason alone, he is probably the favourite and should have the know-how to begin to open up the gap at the top.
If you’re looking for riders to take the battle to the leading two, then Steve James is a contender. He’s having another strong season and leads the under-23 series by a comfortable margin from Adam Martin.
Watch out, though, for Belgian Floris De Tier, another under-23 . He led the senior race in South Shields last year before crashing in the closing stages and finishing fifth. He made up for that with a very impressive win in the Southampton round a few weeks later, but this is his first visit to the UK this season.
As ever, it’s also worth keeping an eye on a bunch of talented young riders, including James and Martin, who we’ve already mentioned, plus Ben Sumner, Nick Barnes and Jack Clarkson, who is returning to action after several weeks of illness.
There’s also a race at the same venue on Saturday. Please be aware that Sunday’s course will be significantly different, to avoid over-use of key areas of the venue.