Just a few weeks out from representing Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Grant Ferguson and Lee Craigie will defend their British Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-country Championship titles at Hopton Woods, Shropshire from 19-20 July.
With the nation’s finest already locked in the season-long British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series, the championships will be a true test of who can deliver on the day.
Defending champion Grant Ferguson is the odd-on favourite to retain his title. The 19-year-old Scot is in superb form this season, taking his first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup podium in Pietermaritzburg earlier in the year.
Ferguson’s form should be nigh-on perfect ahead representing Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a huge target for the Peebles-born rider.
And despite stuttering results in the national series, due to persistent mechanical woes, Ferguson will be the man to beat in Hopton.
His imperious win in Sherwood last Sunday, ahead of three international riders, shows that ‘the Frog’ is at the peak of his powers.
Paul Oldham currently leads the national series and the 36-year-old former national cyclo-cross champion, like Ferguson, will be in great shape ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
The Hope Factory Racing rider has been selected to represent Team England alongside David Fletcher and has been impressive so far in the national series, which sees its final round at Cannock Chase in August.
Metaltek’s Dan Fleeman is third in the national series after putting in consistent rides across the four rounds and will also vie for a podium place in Hopton.
Liam Killeen made his return to racing at the latest round of the British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series and finished eighth, one place behind international cyclo-cross star Ian Field. Despite a lack of domestic form, both are riders with international pedigree who can deliver the goods on the day.
David Fletcher is another man to watch. While struggling to make an impact on the national series, Fletcher has been racing an international campaign with his Orange Monkey Pro Team and will be fired up ahead of Commonwealth Games race at Catkin Braes in a few weeks’ time.
The under-23 contest is likely to see a pitch battle between Steve James, Kenta Gallagher and Iain Paton.
James is currently second in the senior national series standings, snapping at the heels of Paul Oldham, while Gallagher, who represents Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, will be keen to get a good result ahead of Glasgow.
Paton currently lies sixth in the senior national series standings and along with Michael Thompson, will hope to bring some UCI World Cup experience to bear in their hunt for a podium finish.
The 2014 domestic season has seen one of the tightest title fights in the event’s history, with the top five riders separated by just five points.
But the return to domestic competition of Olympian Annie Last might upset the status-quo on Sunday. The Trek Factory Racing rider finished second behind Githa Michiels at Sherwood last Sunday and will be a force to be reckoned with, provided there is no recurrence of her long-term back injury.
Of the domestic riders, defending champion Lee Craigie is perhaps favourite having scored two second places out of the three races she has competed in so far. Kerry McPhee will push her hard and will be buoyed by entering the event as national series leader.
However, Craigie has beaten McPhee head to head twice this season, so Hopton should see a titanic battle between the two Scots, who will both ride for Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.
Behind them, the scrap for podium honours should be equally fierce. Mel Alexander and Maddie Horton are separated by just three points in the national series and both start in Hopton with an eye on the medals.
Bethany Crumpton is the standout competitor in the under-23 category, currently lying second in the elite women’s national series and with a win in Redruth under her belt.
Alice Barnes will be her nearest challenger but will need to rely on misfortune for Crumpton to be in with a chance of the winner’s jersey.
With two wins under his belt in the national series, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson will be a hard man to beat in Hopton.
Kerfoot-Robson currently lies in third position in the season-long British series behind Mark McGuire and Jack Ravenscroft. However, at the nationals, it’s all about the result on the day and Kerfoot-Robson is the proven winner of the 2014 season so far.
Behind them, Thomas Craig has impressed with his consistency and has shown that he can produce the goods at the big occasion, having taken the British junior cyclo-cross title early in the year, in his first year in the category.
Having already wrapped up national series honours with a round remaining, Isla Short is the clear favourite for the junior women’s title.
The Team Thomson Cycles’ rider has won all four of the events so far and cannot be beaten in the series, a scenario that is likely to be repeated in Hopton Woods.
However, in racing, there are no certainties and the four riders who have been runner-up to Short this season will all be poised to take advantage.
Evie Richards has been a model of consistency this season, finishing on the podium in four out of four rounds. However Amira Mellor, Ffion James and Sarah Lomas have all scored second places this year and will push Richards hard for a medal spot.
Racing will begin in Saturday 19 July with the fun, open and sport categories starting from 2pm. Sunday 20 July will see the youth and juvenile male and female races start from 9am.
The Masters, Veteran and Grand Veteran races will begin from 10:45pm while the junior, under-23 and elite contest for men and women will start in waves from 2:45pm.