Nikki Harris and Ian Field were the best placed Brits as the UCI World Cup cyclo-cross series received a superb welcome at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes on Saturday.
The venue was packed as the best riders in the world came to the UK for the first time in years – and the GB team rode strongly in front of an enthusiastic and vocal home crowd.
Belgian national champion Sanne Cant took the victory in the elite women’s race at Milton Keynes, while Great Britain’s Nikki Harris was greeted with cheers as she stepped onto the podium in third spot.
Cant eased away from America’s Katie Compton in the dying inches of the slippy testing circuit to take the win and the World Cup Series lead. Harris’s third place finish – just 32 seconds down – came to the obvious delight of the noisy home crowd.
A fast start across the tarmac drive and literally off the edge and on to the first off camber saw British national champion Helen Wyman take a fall, hitting the floor hard and losing precious time on the leaders. Though she went on to finish eighth the Kona rider never seemed to find the right rhythm to make any inroads to the front of the race.
A slow start from Compton looked to have taken her out of the reckoning, and Cant was pulling away, chased by Harris and Ellen Van Loy, and it was the Derbyshire girl Harris who got across to the leader and nosed in front for a short time.
Compton started the diesel engine and soon was picking off riders, while Wyman had regained her stride and was also coming back through the field. Both were soon up into the top 10.
Cant was back at the head of the race and was making a useful gap on Harris, looking for the clean lines on the now challenging ground.
Yorkshire's Amira Mellor was looking impressive in the main field. Starting on the fifth row, the 17 year old was riding above her age and taking it to the rest of the riders around her.
Ffion James was a little way back but looked comfortable on the bike, while Hannah Payton didn't look to be having the best of times on the course but was holding her own amongst the World's best.
The second lap saw Compton find her feet and was soon up with race leader Cant, the two swapping the lead for the remainder of the race. Van Loy and Harris were also wheel to wheel in third and fourth respectively, the team-mates not giving each other an inch.
Mid-race the action looked to be settling down but with two laps to go Harris, swayed on by the ever-growing crowd, found another gear and got across to the two leaders. But the effort looked to have taken it out of her and she was unable to hold the leaders’ wheels.
The GB trio of Mellor, James and Payton looked to be suffering but rode sensibly and held on to finish the race while at the front the two leaders were still fighting it out, both attacking each other throughout the final lap.
Ascending the final time up the steps, they were still together and the race could have gone either way, but with Compton coming onto the tarmac for the final time it was Cant who had the work to do. In the sprint to the line it was Cant who just had the final burst to steal the win.
Kevin Pauwels secured the victory in the men’s elite race as the UCI World Cup came to Campbell Park in Milton Keynes on Saturday.
But it was the old master Sven Nys who proved to be the most impressive rider on the course, after the Belgian national champion slipped a chain on the opening lap and rode virtually the whole race from the back of the field to finish a remarkable eighth.
Ian Field was Great Britain’s best finisher in 12th place.
Again, as in the women’s race, the opening off-camber section proved to be the undoing of a few riders with deep ruts from the previous races. It was here that Nys watched the whole field go by while he struggled to get his chain back on the front ring.
GB riders Jack Clarkson, Ben Sumner, Nick Barnes and Jack Ravenscroft navigated the tricky section and all looked comfortable in the World class field.
But Pauwels looked so strong and was away well before the end of the opening lap, with the rest of the field strung out. Ian Field was sitting in the first 15, the Hargroves British national champion being egged on by the large crowd.
Germany's national champion Phillipp Walsleben was riding well and fought his way to the head of the race. But the fast pace he set eventually proved to be his undoing and he was unable to keep the pace high in the final couple of laps.
It was Walsleben and Pauwels though who set the pace during the middle of the race, Lars Van Der Haar chasing hard but, just coming back after two weeks of illness, it would be a big ask of the Dutch youngster to attack the leaders.
Francis Mourey was in with the leaders, the Frenchman mixing things up and was arguably a favourite for the race win. Cross can be a game of luck and with four laps to go the Telenet duo of Van Kessel and Meeusan both crashed, Morey and Walsleben using the confusion to slip away.
Nys was still chasing back and was knocking on the door of the top ten. A group of five got together and looked as though the winner would be from that group as Vantornout, Pauwels, Walsleben and the two leaders had a march on the rest of the field.
Van Der Har was slipping back but fought well to drag himself up to the early leader with Walsleben and ride past. It was Pauwels and Vantornout who clambered the steps together for the final time and came onto the finishing straight together, but Pauwels proved to be the strongest of the two to take a fine win.
Jack Clarkson was the best finisher of the Great Britain Cycling Team riders, the Yorkshire rider, in-between breaths, praising the tough course.