British XC Series Round 1: Categorically Speaking
Words: Luke Webber Photography: Luke Webber and Joolze Dymond
While you'll be able to watch Olympians Liam Killeen and Oli Beckingsale rip up Sherwood Pines at the curtain raiser for British cross country this weekend, the start of the 2010 season proper will also see mountain bike racers from across the country pitch up to start their season.
Everyone from under-12's through to over-70's will race on the same course as the pros, with a chance to emulate the greats of British mountain biking.
Liam Killeen in action - see for yourself what makes him Britain's number one at Sherwood.
ROAD TO ELITE QUALIFICATION
For those in the Expert and Sport categories, 2010 will be a chance to gain Elite status in 2011. The British XC Series dishes out the highest number of British Ranking Points, and by achieving a British ranking the top five Experts will be promoted to Elite and the top five Sport riders to Expert - with positions six through fifteen getting an Expert invitation. However, if after promotion to Elite your season ends in the bottom five, you will be relegated to Expert, to once more battle for that coveted Elite racing licence, which allows you to compete for places in World Cup and World Championships events.
Riders expected to head the promotion battle from Expert in 2010 include ex-Elite riders Euan Adams and Nick Jones, while top Sport rider in 2009, Martin Delves will also be one to watch. For second-year Expert riders, Mateusz Wielgos is the biggest name, alongside 24-hour specialist Matt Page and Jon Cruikshank - who showed exceptional form at round three of the Gorrick Spring Series.
At National level, the competition is deep and the line of riders long.
Although the pre-entry list for the Sport category is considerably thinner, expect a significant number of on-the-day entries, boosting the field to well over 50 riders.
Due to the growing numbers in women's racing, the category promotion and relegation system works slightly differently; relegation and promotion taking place at the discretion of British Cycling. Rider to watch in the Expert category is surely Adella Carter. Following a successful campaign in the British Cyclocross Series, Carter is back to race mountain bikes on the biggest National stage.
THE OLD, THE OLDER AND THE OLDEST
While it is still possible to race in the Elite category when over 30 years, the majority of non-professional riders choose to compete in the age-based ranks which start at 30 and run through to over-70.
Masters (30-39) is often regarded as the old-pros category, with top racers now encouraged to move into Elite after a season of dominance. Always faster than the Expert race, the Masters to watch in 2010 include ex-Elites Phil Morris, Luke Smith, Scott Forbes, Paul Newnham, Simon Ernest, Ryan Henry and Geoff Beetham. This doesn't discount big names like Stephen James and Matt Dennis though - and with such strength in depth, expect the top ten positions to be pressured.
If Nick Craig can be removed from his coffee cup, he might just race.
One step up the age ladder are Veteran racers (40-49). The main question hangs over Nick Craig's appearance - the British mountain bike legend is sure to be favourite but is yet to show on the start list. Should his absence extend to raceday, riders from the south of England dominate the list of ones to watch. Mark Hutt, Mark Chadbourne, Paul Hopkins and Roland Tilley head the line-up, but don't discount cyclocross specialist Geoff Giddings on a course that suits his style.
Finally are the Grand Veteran (50-59) and Super Veteran (60-69) riders; traditionally dominated by Roy Hunt and Ian Wright neither are yet on the start list.
THE YOUNG, THE YOUNGER AND THE YOUNGEST
At the other end of the age spectrum are the under-18 riders who form the future of cross country racing in the UK. In 2010 the Junior riders set off in the headline midday race, alongside the Elite and Expert categories. British Cycling riders on the Olympic Development Programme Steve James, Kenta Gallagher and Grant Ferguson are expected to battle for the top positions alongside Luke Gray.
British Cycling Diarist Steve James destroyed the Juniors last year at Sherwood. Can he do it again?
Arguably the most important and most popular race of all however happens at the end of the day as the under-12 riders set off on a custom lap where parental aid is encouraged! Free to enter and guaranteeing a place on the mass podium there's no better way to get kids into mountain bike racing in a safe, fun and rewarding environment.
We'll have every category covered this weekend, so keep checking in with British Cycling Online for all the action as it happens!