Despite torrential rain in the lead up to Round Three of the HSBC UK | National Cross Country Series in Cannock, Annie Last and Cameron Orr held their nerve to taste victory.
The four-mile course suited a good all-rounder, with a number of punch climbs interspersed with rooty, slippery singletrack, fast-rolling fire roads and a smattering of technical sections.
Annie blazes a trail
Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing) made a welcome return to the Elite women’s racing scene after knee surgery sidelined her late last year.
She was up in the mix, giving Annie Last (KMC Ekoi Orbea) a real battle in the first lap.
Last, however, is in the form of her life this season, and soon opened up an impressive gap on the rest of the field after the opening lap, soloing to her second victory of the series with ease.
Despite Richards being nearly two minutes and 30 seconds adrift in second, she was more than delighted to be back in the race and on her way back to battle for that top step both home and abroad.
Kerry MacPhee, having taken her first elite win at the last round, battled hard to stake her claim on third, with Ffion James (Hope Factory Racing) closing in fast for fourth, just a handful of seconds behind.
Amy-Jo Hansford (TORQ Performance) finished off the podium in fifth.
No catching Cameron
Seasoned campaigner Grant Ferguson (Hope Factory Racing), fresh from racing in Europe, faced his nemesis from Round One in youngster Orr (Team Inspired).
The first lap saw a group of five riders quickly form a breakaway as the field splintered behind them.
Orr, noting that Ferguson wasn’t on his wheel as he hit a section of singeltrack, took full advantage and turned the screw, leaving Ferguson to fight to get back on terms with the Team Inspired rider.
Despite pithing hard, Ferguson didn’t have the legs to match Orr, who forged on to take the win over 80 seconds ahead of Ferguson.
Another minute later, Frazer Clacherty (Team Inspired) crossed the line in third, narrowly defeating Erno McCrae and Tom Bell.
Harnden shows steel
With the junior women setting off two minutes behind the elites, it was impressive to see Hattie Hardnen (T-MO Racing) quickly get in the mix of the senior race.
Over her four laps, she had moved herself into the fourth senior spot as she soloed to victory.
Series leader Anna McGoram (Peebles CC) did all she could to keep herself in points, coming home to grab another second two minutes adrift.
Fellow Scot, Anna Flynn (Edinburgh RC) took third another minute down.
Three cheers for Charlie
Another impressive junior performance came from Charlie Aldridge (Stirling Bike Club).
His nearest rival Harry Birchill (Mid Devon CC) fought hard to stay with Aldridge but soon found himself unable to keep up the punishing pace over the unforgiving course.
Aldridge made short work of the four laps to take his third consecutive win, consolidating his series lead and looking all-round favourite to pick up the junior championship jersey in July.
Birchill eventually conceding nearly four mins in second place, with Rory McGuire (Leslie Bike Shop Bikers Boutique) leading his teammate Jamie Johnston to third and fourth respectively.