Great Britain’s junior mountain bikers will be out in force for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships taking place in Norway from 2-7 September 2014.
Junior riders will comprise six of the eleven-rider cross-country squad. Isla Short, Ffion James and Evie Richards will compete in the junior women’s event while Thomas Craig, Frazer Clacherty and Dylan Kerfoot-Robson will contest the junior men’s event.
British champion Annie Last will head the squad in the elite women’s category with Beth Crumpton and Alice Barnes representing Great Britain in the under-23 women’s race.
Men’s national champion Grant Ferguson will vie for honours in the under-23 men’s race with Iain Paton making his world championship debut in the category.
But it is the wealth of Great Britain junior talent on the Great Britain roster that is most striking, testament to the strength in depth in the British junior cross-country ranks, a fact that bodes well for future of the British Cycling and Scottish Cycling development programmes.
The six under-18 athletes will ride for Great Britain alongside their under-23 and elite teammates, giving the younger riders the opportunity to learn from their more experienced peers at the world’s biggest annual mountain biking event.
However, the wealth of junior talent in the squad creates an environment which benefits the whole squad, as head coach Phil Dixon explains.
"The six juniors will push the programme forward over the next few years for sure,” said Dixon.
"You want pressure from below in a programme. As a coach, pressure from below doesn't let the riders above get too comfortable and everyone works hard to hunt each other down.
"When you've got the likes of Annie (Last) performing like she is and Grant - he's had three podiums out of four world cups he's started this year - then your belief systems start to fall into place and the whole thing moves on fast.”
Belief, inspiration and peer-to-peer learning. Throughout the season the squad has sought to foster these three ideals, Dixon and his Olympic Podium Programme coach Simon Watts bringing the entire team together, from junior to elite, for training camps and high-level competition, each an environment in which process and development are as important as results.
"The influence of the older riders on the younger riders is massive,” said Dixon. “They see how they operate, the just have to watch and they'll learn in terms of how they carry themselves off the bike, how they approach the training. Peer-to-peer learning is a key part of the process.”
For Great Britain’s juniors, process is everything and Hafjell will provide an opportunity like no other to enact these holistic athlete skills.
"Simon and I talk about the process a lot. What we want to see is the guys turning up organised, on time, going through the warm-up process”, said Dixon.
"We want technically good bike riders, giving 100 percent, being smart in terms of when they move up and thinking about how they're going to maximise their result from their start-line position.
"If they do that, the end product takes care of itself. So we talk about the journey - we talk about the process a lot with the youngsters.”
This approach has already borne fruit in the run-up to Norway, with Great Britain’s past and present juniors recording some impressive results at world cup and European level.
Iain Paton is the third-highest-ranked first year under-23 in the world and makes his worlds debut in the category after a promising world cup season.
“He's really stepped up this year,” said Dixon. “The junior world champion from last season hasn't beaten Iain once this season and the inroads that he's made are massive.
"Iain was starting in the 80s (on grid position) in the early season world cups and was finishing in the points about eight to ten minutes down on the winner.
"Then he's gone on to Windham three or four months later. His grid position has improved because he's scored a few points and he's started in the 40s and he's finishing in the 20s.
“Iain's got a big future ahead of him."
Isla Short is another rider to have broken through in 2014. Under the guidance of Scottish Cycling's cross-country coach Paul Newnham, the 17-year-old from Peebles placed sixth at the world cup in Germany before repeating the result at the UEC MTB Cross-Country Championships in St. Wendel in June.
“Isla has had a really positive season so far and posted some great results,” said Dixon. “Out of all the juniors she's got the best chance of achieving a podium finish.”
Yet Norway will be Short’s world championships debut so managing expectations and focussing on process will be key for Great Britain coach Simon Watts, who will manage the junior squad in Norway.
"Simon will focus on the process of keeping in simple, making sure we get the course learnt and understood to the highest standard in the course training,” said Dixon.
“Making sure that the support is there in the background, making sure she's got the right nutrition, she's got her race fuelling strategy, she knows how she wants to approach the race to get the best out of herself.”
Short will be joined by Evie Richards and Ffion James in the junior women’s race, Richards and James taking silver and bronze respectively at the British championships behind the unstoppable Short.
The junior men will see more mountain bike worlds debutants, with Frazer Clacherty, Thomas Craig and Dylan Kerfoot-Robson representing Great Britain.
Clacherty took the British junior cross-country title in July ahead of Craig and Kerfoot-Robson but it is the latter that has shone at international level this season, with a top 30 world cup finish in Albstadt.
“For Dylan this will be his last junior world championships and he'll want to show himself, said Dixon.
“He'll want to get a good result for himself and to put into place what he's learned this season on the programme.
"He's had some good exposure to European races now but the worlds is a different level and all the things he's learned this season he can but into play.
"I'm sure that Dylan will step up at the worlds and be at the pointy end of the bike race."
Norway will make its world championships debut in 2014, with Hafjell and nearby Lillehammer hosting the cross-country, trials and downhill events.
Around 15-kilometres from Lillehammer, Hafjell is Norway’s third biggest ski resort but in the summer it becomes a mountain biking nexus, the venue having hosted the final round of the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
The Great Britain team will skip the cross-country eliminator (XCE) event taking place on the first day of competition and will make their debut in the team relay on Wednesday 3 September, with Annie Last, Grant Ferguson, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson and Iain Paton the likely line-up.
All categories will race on the 3.3-kilometre cross-country course starting and finishing at the Hafjell ski centre, featuring a long climb out of the start followed by two sharper ascents mid lap that lead to a steep descent back into the start-finish arena.
The junior men and women’s cross country will take place on Thursday with the under-23s racing on Friday before the elite men and women take to the course on Saturday.