A squad of seven British Cycling Olympic Performance Programme athletes travel to round three of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup this weekend, competing in under-23 and junior categories.
The final race before the start of Olympic qualification takes place in Nove Mesto Na Morave, Czech Republic, where coach Phil Dixon is fully focussed on ensuring the squad reach the two year period in the best possible shape.
That required Beth Crumpton and Alice Barnes to miss the opening two rounds of the world cup series and instead train from October for eight months.
Both now encounter the same situation - their first international race of the season – although they face differing challenges as Dixon explains.
“Beth is now in her second year as an under-23 and knows what is coming at her, she will have more experience, whereas for Alice it’s her first under-23 world cup.
“They will turn up with the aim of laying a marker down against the best in the world, before very rapidly going back to basics, getting some work done and moving on.”
In the men’s under-23 category Grant Ferguson starts the race having won the latest round of the German cross-country series, which while encouraging, forms an essential part of his learning process for 2014.
“One of the key things for Grant is learning how to win bike races” Dixon said.
“Winning at Heubach was important because when he moves up to elite from the under-23s he’ll be chasing the race and will need to re-establish himself at the front.
“This year he’s got to learn to live at the front of these bike races. In Nove Mesto a realistic target would be for him to back up what he did at South Africa and I think he’s capable of doing it.”
Ferguson’s flying start to the season is in contrast to Kenta Gallagher who crashed on the start line of the opening world cup in South Africa and is still recovering from the injuries sustained.
The enforced break has been equally tough for Dixon, who not only knew Gallagher’s form, but is also acutely aware that Kenta could play role in scoring points to qualify a place for the Olympic Games.
“Kenta is struggling. I looked at his form going into South Africa and I was pleased with where he was at, I think he was good for one of the best results of his career.
"But he crashed and since then he’s struggled. But we’ll get him back into competition as soon as we can, because he could be a key part of the jigsaw when it comes to qualifying for the Games.”
Ferguson and Gallagher are joined by first year riders Mike Thompson and Iain Paton, with junior Dylan Kerfoot-Robson also competing in the first of two back-to-back world cup weekends.