Great Britain’s Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman will lead a team of 14 riders contesting the 2014 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands on 1-2 February.
British Cycling spoke to Great Britain cyclo-cross team manager Phil Dixon a few days ahead of the event, who assessed the course, the team and the opportunity for Great Britain’s women to elevate both the profile of cyclo-cross in Britain and the nation’s international stature in the sport.
The Hoogerheide venue has been a regular stop of the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup for the past decade but has hosted the world championships only once before in the event’s 64-year history, back in 2009. The 2014 course uses a mixture of tarmac roads, woodland tracks and predominantly grassland and is a venue where the conditions can change the race to a great extent.
"I think the conditions will play a part in the results,” said Dixon. “Some riders go better in the wet, muddy, draggy conditions. Some riders like the more fast, crit-style, road conditions.
"Every rider has their favourite (conditions) but ultimately they're going to get dealt a pack of cards and they need to play the hand. They won't have a choice on the day."
Nikki Harris has had her best-ever season
Great Britain’s challenge in the elite women’s race will come from Helen Wyman, Nikki Harris, Gabriella Durrin and Hannah Payton.
"The elite women are going to lead the team,” said Dixon. “They're the number one ranked nation in the world and have got quite a few podiums under their belt as a group.
“Helen and Nikki have proved that they're going to lead the team in terms of medal hopes."
Dixon is however under no illusion that competition will not be fierce, with reigning champion Marianne Vos defending her title on home soil.
“I think, barring incident, she's got a very, very good chance of winning that bike race,” said Dixon.
“Then it's Katie Compton - she's had a good year - she's not far off and then I think there's kind of a pack of women going in for that bronze medal, of which Helen and Nikki are part of."
Dixon went on to acknowledge the Wyman and Harris’ current form and in particular Wyman’s structured approach to the season.
"She's been quite clever - she's won the national title a number of times. She's been European champion and I think she really wants to crack the worlds.
“She took a step back at the start of the year and looked for a double-peak approach of Europeans and worlds and she won the European champs convincingly.”
The 2014 season sees Great Britain in the enviable position of having two elite women riders at the top of their game; Wyman finishing fifth in the world cup, winning the European championships and the iconic Koppenberg cross, while Nikki Harris had her best-ever world cup season, finishing as runner-up behind Compton.
“Nikki had a bit of a bad start at the weekend (at the final round of the world cup in Nommay) but she came through really strong,” said Dixon. “The fact that she's come through strong shows that she's got good legs.
“She could be the woman who stands on the podium if she gets it right."
That scenario, Dixon went on to point out, would be a key moment for British cyclo-cross.
“Those two (Wyman and Harris) really are the standouts for the team in terms of getting a medal for us which would be good for the individual but I think would also be good for the sport."
"It would be massive for cyclo-cross in the UK and off-road in general really.”
The women’s team is rounded-out by seasoned international campaigner Gabriella Durrin and international debutant Hannah Payton, winner of the National Trophy.
"It's a learning experience for Hannah really to go there and get the best result she can and try to get it right on the big stage,” said Dixon.
"Gabriella had a stronger start to the season that she's having at the minute,” continued Dixon. “I believe she wasn't very well around the national champs so hopefully she's on her way back up since then."
Ian Field is Britain's top male cyclo-cross rider
Ian Field and David Fletcher will fly the flag for Great Britain in the elite men’s race. Field took his third consecutive national title in Derby in early January after finishing 13th in Koppenberg after leading the race in the early stages.
The British champion finished the world cup campaign in 22nd position overall and is looking for a solid ride in Hoogerheide.
"Ian's early season had some breakthrough rides,” commented Dixon. “A particular highlight was Koppenberg - he was off the front, leading the bike race with the likes of Sven Nys. For me that's quite a breakthrough for a British cyclo-cross rider."
"For three or four laps Ian was off the front, which is really good progression. He has shown potential in terms of progressing in his world cup results.
"The back half of his season isn't as strong as the front half. After the nationals Ian was ill and had six days off his bike but he feels like he's on his way back to form."
"He feels like he's in a better position at the worlds that he was at Nommay."
David Fletcher is the second Brit to contest the elite men’s event, selected after finishing in silver medal position in the British championships.
"Dave's a little bit of an unknown,” said Dixon. “He's got better and better throughout the season and put some strong domestic performances in in this late period and wasn't too far off Ian at the national champs.
"He's got all the experience and he knows what he's doing within a national setting. He's raced at the front of under-23 mountain bike world cups, he's got a medal at the junior world championships so he does know how to step up to the big day.
"If he's got his preparation right Dave could be a bit of a dark horse in terms of challenging towards the top 25 of the elite men's field."
Ben Sumner gets his first world champs ride
The under-23 men’s race will see four British riders take part; National Trophy winner Ben Sumner, Steve James, Adam Martin and Jack Clarkson.
"You've got an interesting group of lads there that domestically have performed really well and got themselves in a good place,” said Dixon. “It will be really good for those to push themselves and make that international transition.”
Absent from the squad are British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme riders Grant Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher, who won gold and silver respectively at the national championships.
Dixon explained: "You've got Kenta and Grant in the mix who, unfortunately because of the Commonwealth Games, aren't in that squad going to worlds. It's a big deal for themselves, Scotland and their teams."
Thomas Craig will make his worlds debut
The junior men’s team will be headed up by British junior champion Thomas Craig, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson, Jack Ravenscroft and National Trophy winner Sean Dunlea.
Dixon assessed the junior challenge.
"It's great to see Thomas in there as a national champion, first year junior - he's got a lot of potential.
"There's Dylan in there from Wales - it's nice to see a Welsh off-road guy coming through - something we haven't seen for a while.
"Jack Ravenscroft - a 15th place in a world cup this year - you've got some good talent in that junior squad. As a group they're the least experienced but I think the lads will surprise a few people.
"I think Thomas has done some really quality rides in the last couple of rounds and it will be interesting to see how he transitions for the first time in his career in an international setting.
Racing will begin on Saturday 1 February with the junior men’s and elite women’s races before the under 23 men’s and elite men’s competitions on Sunday 2 February. Reports, results and reaction will appear on the British Cycling website.