The 2014 British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series gets underway this weekend with round one at Codham Park with both Grant Ferguson and Lee Craigie defending their elite series titles.
The Essex opener is the first of five rounds in 2014, the series visiting Redruth (Cornwall), Margam Park (Wales) and Sherwood Pines (Nottinghamshire) before culminating in Cannock Chase (Staffordshire) on 16-17 August.
Reigning British champion and national series champion Grant Ferguson will line up at the start in Codham Park to defend the title that he secured just down the road in Hadleigh Park at the end of the 2013 series. Ferguson put in a dominant ride to secure the title in the final round ahead of Oli Beckingsale and Paul Oldham.
Oldham is also on the start list, looking to capitalise on the retirement of Olympian Beckingsale and climb a step higher on the podium in 2014.
Ferguson will be joined by his trade teammate and fellow British Cycling programme rider Kenta Gallagher, with Metaltek’s Dan Fleeman and Orange Monkey Pro Cycling’s David Fletcher also in contention for a top-five finish.
However, threatening to spoil the domestic party are former junior world champion Michiel van der Heijden from Netherlands and Sweden’s Matthias Wengelin.
The elite women’s category also sees the reigning series and national champion returning to defend her title; Cannondale Racing’s Lee Craigie keen for more glory in 2014.
Craigie was pushed close by Hargroves Cycles’ Bethany Crumpton in 2013 and, like Ferguson in the men’s contest, only secured series victory in the final round.
Crumpton will begin her challenge on Craigie’s series title at Codham, along with 2013’s bronze medallist Melanie Alexander. However, all may have to make way for a late entrant, the highly ranked Githa Michiels of Belgium.
Although fourth placed Hannah Barnes is missing from the start list, concentrating on the road this season, the quality is kept high by Merce Pacios Pujadó and Annabel Simpson, who both enjoyed a successful National Trophy cyclo-cross season as well as former downhill world champion Tracy Moseley, who showed her cross-country form in 2013 with a podium finish at the national championships in Catkin Braes.
The 2013 season saw a pitch battle between Iain Paton and Mike Thompson, with the pair inseparable on points after the Hadleigh finale, with the series win awarded to Thompson for winning the final round. However, both riders have moved up to the elite category for 2014, along with third-placed Sam Stean, leaving the door open for a fresh title battle.
And with Dylan-Kerfoot Robson, Billy Harding, Jack Ravenscroft and Thomas Craig all confirmed to start, the junior men’s series is sure to go to the wire.
Junior women will also see some fresh rivalries emerge in 2014, with Imogen Buick moving up to the elite category and 2014 series winner Alice Barnes still recuperating from the injury she sustained in the British Cycling National Cyclo-Cross Championships in Derby.
Third place in 2013, Isla Short starts at Codham Park as hot favourite, with competition likely to come from Gretel Warner, Rosie Crumpton and Ffion James.
Codham Park makes its British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series debut in 2014, having been a regular stop for the Eastern Region MTB series for a number of years. The venue, that sports a BMX track and is also known as an equestrian centre, features a wide variety of testing terrain.