This weekend the HSBC UK | National Cross Country Championships return to Cannock Chase. This popular venue used by racers and riders all year round will once again play host to the season finale where the best riders in the country will battle for medals and jerseys across 23 categories.
The course has been used already this year for a round of the national series so many of the competitors will be familiar with the route, the obstacles and the passing opportunities. With a number of riders eschewing the tarmac for the trails and many more returning from injury it should make for an exciting weekend of racing.
The championships kick off at 09:00 on Sunday morning with Race 1 – the Youth (Under 16) and Juvenile (Under 14) riders – taking on the same course used for all the championship races. The first wave out on track will be the 52 competitors in the Youth Boys race of which the favourite is Corran Carrick-Anderson of the Peebles CC. However nothing is guaranteed and any one of Joseph Blackmore, Benjamin Bright, Huw Buck Jones, Joe Thorp, Callum Thornley and Ben Chilton could depose him from top spot.
Following them in the next wave will be the Juvenile Boys with Max Greensill looking to retain the championship stripes that he took last year, and given he took the road title a couple of weeks ago it will take a special ride to deprive the KTM UK Factory MTB Team rider a second consecutive title. Any one of twenty or so riders could figure in the fight for second and third places with the key riders to watch out for being Yani Angelo Djelil, Harry Ellison, Thomas Wadsworth, Alfie Amey, Ioan Oldfield and Oil Akers.
The Youth Girls race is far less clear cut with a resurgent Ella Maclean-Howell of Cardiff Jif showing great form towards the end of the National Series looking to take away the title from early season favourite Elena McGorum of Peebles CC. Behind the two favourites pretty much anybody of the rest of the race field could be considered a podium contender, but it would be hard to discount Amelie Prior, Rosie Andrews, Charlotte-Louise McGreevy, Leah Clegg or Anna Wadsworth.
It looks to be a two way battle between National Series winner Emily Carrick-Anderson of Peebles and winner of the last round of the series, Libby Bell of Leicester Forest CC. Phoebe Roche and Christina McGorum should be in the mix for bronze but watch out also for a fast improving Evie Steed.
Race 2 contains the Men’s Masters (30-39), Veterans (40-49), Grand Veterans (50—59) and Super Veterans (60+) and is always an interesting and exciting set of races to watch. The Masters wave is only used once a year so is a real mix and hard to predict but the firm favourite is Matt Lawton of Macclesfield Wheelers who has made a habit of winning by minutes irrespective of what category race he is riding. Out to stop him will be Jules Birks, Sam Edwards, David Bone, Nathan Wilson, Stephen Corbyn, Christian Aucote and Gary MacDonald.
At the start of the season many would have said that the Veterans title was once again there for the taking for defending champion Paul Oldham of Hope Factory Racing, however in a season where Oldham has been injured, Adrian Lansley who stormed to the series win, along with Marc Chamberlain and Sam Humphrey, will ensure it is a real battle at the front of the race.
The Grand Veteran duo of Tim Gould of Zepnat and defending champion and national series winner Tim Davies of Abergavenny CC will have a lean looking Nic Craig of Scott to contend with. In a race of legends you have to appreciate just how hard the big race field have to fight to take on the top riders but there will be no shortage of competitors willing to have a go on the Cannock Course.
The Super Veteran category is if anything even more star studded and although Bruce Rollinson of All Terrain Cycles should have the jersey at the end of the race behind him any one of the 27 others could figure on the podium.
Race 3 could well be the most packed race of the championships with nine categories in the women’s race. In the Senior race Commonwealth Games champion – and defending national champion – Annie Last of KMC-EKOI-Orbea will take some beating as she attempts to win the championship for the eighth time. On current form Isla Short and Kerry MacPhee are the most likely contenders, with both riders also racing at international level.
One rider who is already very much considered to be world class will have to once again race in the Under 23 category. Evie Richards of Trek Factory Racing has been on the top step of podium repeatedly at Cannock as well as many other venues, and it is hard to see past the Malvern rider. Ffion James, Emily Ashwood, Helen Barron, Holly MacMahon and the rest of the field will also be in the hunt for the top spot.
Junior phenomenon Harriet Harnden of T-Mo Racing will be looking to keep hold of the national champion’s jersey she won last year and has shown she is almost impossible to beat whatever the course. Anna McGorum should be leading the challenge to Hattie but don’t discount Josie Nelson or Anna Flynn.
On form Julia Hamlyn from Bournemouth Cycleworks-Vitec-Fire Ford Civil is the favourite in the Women’s Veterans race after taking the national series this season, but with Verity Appleyard returning the race is too close to call. Alison Ruston will be looking to join the fight at the front and if there is one rider you should never discount when there’s a title at stake it’s Tracey Moseley making a rare but not unknown foray into XC.
The race for the Gold medal in the Grand Veteranss looks much clearer cut with Maddi Smith un-stoppable this season, and it would be a brave person to bet against the Bolsover & District CC rider taking the win at Cannock. Virginia Roberts and Lucy Rogers will once again be battling for the podium and will be joined by defending Champion Nicky Hughes who has raced out of category all season.
The final race of the weekend contains the Men’s Senior, Under 23 and Junior categories and defending Champion Grant Ferguson of Hope Factory Racing will be looking to make it an astounding seven titles in a row. However Ferguson won’t just have the known talents of Frazer Clacherty and Ben Wadey to contend with, but also the World Tour road rider Adam Blythe – after his lessons this winter from the guru of all things MTB Nick Craig. Regular podium riders such as Tom Bell, Jason Boutell, and Steve James will also need to keep an eye on the new faces.
In the Mens Under 23 Category national series round winner Cameron Orr of Team Inspired should have been hot favourite with Chris Rothwell snapping at his heels but that has all gone by the wayside with the entry of multi-discipline world champion Tom Pidcock. Pidcock stated this week that he couldn’t wait to get stuck into some really exciting racing and given his undoubted off-road abilities he could well come out on top. The rest of the field is packed with talented riders and given the right circumstances it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sean Flynn, Paddy Atkinson, Max Gibbons, Joseph Beckingsale, Tom Martin, Cameron Mason, Kieron Brown or James Pickering on the podium.
The Junior Men will be the final group of riders to leave the start this weekend with the all-conquering Charlie Aldridge – the most highly regarded men’s prospect to come along for a generation – looking to add another title to his already considerable palmares. The Stirling Bike Club rider has shown this season that he is not afraid of anyone and with his technical abilities, his strength and pace he could be unstoppable at Cannock. Jamie Johnstone and Marcus Holmes will be looking to challenge Charlie but will also have to keep a sharp eye behind as Harry Birchill, Rory McGuire and Tristan Davies all look to take a spot on the podium.