Great Britain’s Olympic Programme mountain bikers will begin their World Cup campaign this weekend in the season opener of the UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup series in Albstadt, Germany.
Above: Coach Phil Dixon is looking for consistency in the run-up to Olympic qualification.
After a gruelling winter of cyclo-cross racing under their belts along with some career best performances in the British and Swiss cross country series events for the under 23 riders, Phil Dixon has selected a large squad for the first round of the UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup series which takes place on 18–19 May.
Olympian Annie Last (representing Trek Factory Racing) will contest the elite women’s category, whilst Grant Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher (both representing Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team) and Beth Crumpton will compete in the under-23 categories. Missing from the line up is Olympic Podium Programme rider David Fletcher who is rehabilitating with a broken wrist and elbow.
The Olympic Development Programme will be well represented in the junior category, with Alice Barnes, Billy Harding, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson, Iain Paton, Michael Thompson and Samuel Stean all selected to compete under the guidance of newly appointed coach Simon Watts.
This is the first time the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series has visited Albstadt, and it will run to the usual format of the World Cup Eliminator Sprint (XCE) taking place on Friday 17 May, with Kenta Gallagher the sole GB Olympic Programme entrant.
Commenting on Gallagher's selection for the Eliminator, coach Phil Dixon said, “In the World Championships last year, Kenta qualified third in the Eliminator event and I think he’s got a strong chance to do well in that. The Eliminator discipline has been put forward to be a part of the Olympic Games at Rio and we’re still waiting on confirmation on that so we’ve made it a target for him for this season.”
The Cross Country (XCO) will then be contested on Saturday 18 May for the junior and under-23 women plus the under-23 Men and Sunday 19 May for the junior men and elite men and women.
"For the under 23 riders, I want to see consistency across the whole season – both Kenta and Grant have moved on in their development during the winter period and are now at a higher level so we want to maintain that and improve their world ranking going into the Olympic qualification year which starts in May 2014."
British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme Coach Phil Dixon
Expectations aren’t too high for Olympic Podium Programme rider Annie Last who suffered an injury whilst competing with Trek Factory Racing in the USA. Dixon explains: “Annie unfortunately picked up a lower back injury over the winter which meant she had to take time out of training to do some rehab in order to get to the start line in Germany. This round of the World Cup for Annie is about seeing how her back copes and putting a marker down to move towards the World Championships in September which is her season target.”
With the current Olympic and World Champion Julie Bresset from France out of action with a broken collarbone, the women’s race looks to be an interesting one, with Beijing gold medallist Sabine Spitz (Germany) no doubt wanting to make an impression at her home World Cup, whilst Marianne Vos (Netherlands), who holds world champion titles in road, track and cyclo-cross disciplines, is turning her hand to mountain biking and will start in her first elite Mountain Bike World Cup.
The elite men’s race looks also to be hotly contested with Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech) and current world champion Nino Schurter (Switzerland) expected to take to the start line.
For the rest of the squad, Dixon has an eye on the Olympic Games in Rio and defines consistency to be the key: “I’m expecting strong performances from the U23 and the new junior set up. We’re four years out from the next Olympic Games and so typically for our programme we are in a development cycle where we are trying to get more athlete numbers to help with the qualification process for Rio, where we are hoping to qualify more male and female places than we did for London.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Dixon continued: “Annie’s obvious target for the season is a strong performance in the World Championships in South Africa and I’ll also be looking for her to perform well in the second half of the World Cup season and also at the National Championships in Glasgow. For the under 23 riders, I want to see consistency across the whole season – both Kenta and Grant have moved on in their development during the winter period and are now at a higher level so we want to maintain that and improve their world ranking going into the Olympic qualification year which starts in May 2014.”
From Germany, a reduced team of Annie Last, Beth Crumpton, Grant Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher will go straight on to the second round of the UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup the weekend after in the Czech Republic. The juniors will miss this round due to school commitments.