British Cycling Olympic Mountain Bike coach Phil Dixon has identified the latest round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup as a defining moment for the performance programme.
Dixon takes a squad containing five junior men, two junior women, four under-23 men and two under-23 women to Albstadt, Germany this weekend, which represents the biggest number selected since the 2007 world championships.
That was Dixon’s first event in charge and in the seven intervening years a new generation of British mountain biking talent has been formed.
Annie Last was the first product of Dixon’s ambition to create a group of young and internationally competitive British cross-country racers.
Last could have made her racing return this weekend in Albstadt as part of her progressive comeback from injury, but a bout of tonsillitis counted her out of competition.
Despite the absence of the Olympian, Last’s piers will continue their journey to realise Dixon’s vision.
In the under-23 category Grant Ferguson again aims for a podium position, having finished third in the opening round of the series and ninth last weekend despite a puncture.
Kenta Gallagher’s immediate return to the top twenty in Nove Mesto, despite missing six weeks of training following a crash in South Africa shows his potential, while Iain Paton will hope for a repeat of his last ride where he moved from 77th on the grid to finish 22nd.
Alice Barnes completed a similar feat, coming from the back of the pack to finish 18th, while Beth Crumpton’s participation is to be confirmed.
The under-23 British champion crashed while in the leading group of three in Nove Mesto, sustaining a haematoma on her right leg, but has ridden her bike since, with medical staff making a decision on her participation before Saturday’s race.
Joining the under-23 squad will be seven junior athletes who, guided by Olympic Development Programme coach Simon Watts, will look to gain experience as six of the riders are in their first year.
Analysing the position of the squad in light of an eight month winter break, the first string of international results and the large squad selected for round four of the world cup, Dixon was in positive mood.
“Although we didn’t come away with a podium last week, for me it was a strong set of results and I think there’s a lot of belief in the squad.
“This winter we’ve gone away and we’ve worked really hard towards the start of this Olympic qualification period. The girls have had a different strategy to the boys but I think they are both in a good place. We’re getting a strong set of results and Annie Last isn’t involved in that group. This will complete the generation of youngsters coming through.
“When I step back and look at the last weekend, there are a few disappointments, but I actually thought, I’ll take that. We’ll go again and if we improve this weekend then it will be another good marker for the team.”
Great Britain Cycling Team selection for UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round four, Albstadt, Germany
Grant Ferguson (representing Betch.nl/Superior Brentjens)
Kenta Gallagher (representing Betch.nl/Superior Brentjens)