Dan McConnell, winner of the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is the star attraction at the fourth round of the British Cross Country Series at Margam Park this weekend.
The 27-year-old Australian will be the first world cup winning man to race a round of the series and in the absence of any regular world cup racers for competition should be in a class of his own.
However, a number of key absentees from the elite men’s and women’s provisional start lists means there’s more than pride to race for, with the potential for a series upset in South Wales.
Grant Ferguson, winner of rounds two and three and leading the standings will miss the race as he trains for the next batch of international racing.
Above: Australian Olympians Dan McConnell and Rebecca Henderson will give the domestic riders some serious competition in Margam.
In his absence, Dan Fleeman will look to reduce his 44 point deficit, with multiple British champion Oli Beckingsale also able to usurp Ferguson should he take the win in Margam. However, with only the best four of five results counting, Beckingsale and Fleeman will rely on an upset or further absence from Ferguson to steal the title.
Also in the hunt for a medal position at the end of the series is Nick Craig, currently lying in fourth place on 106 points. Another solid performance from the veteran multiple British champion could see him creep into the medal positions this weekend.
It’s a similar story in the elite women’s competition. Currently led by British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme athlete Bethany Crumpton, who contests the British Series alongside a world cup campaign, she lines up to extend her series lead following a fourth, third and second placings in the preceding rounds.
Above: Current series leaders Grant Ferguson and Bethany Crumpton.
Like Ferguson, Crumpton’s chances of a win in Margam will be hampered by the presence of another Australian big hitter, 21-year-old Rebecca Henderson. Leader of the under-23 world cup series and coached by McConnell, Henderson competed for Australia at London 2012. Present too is current British champion Nikki Harris – although not a series contender, Harris could take points away from those vying for series supremacy.
In terms of series honours, Crumpton will be more concerned with keeping Mel Alexander and Maddie Horton behind her. Horton was snapping at Crumpton’s heels in Hopton Woods with a third place, while consistent finishes for Alexander in the first three rounds have kept the Contessa Scott Syncros rider in close contention.
But looking further down the series standings, two names stand out. Hannah Barnes has taken second and fifth in the two rounds that she’s contested and will line up again in Margam. Whether Barnes’ road commitments will allow her to contest the final round remains to be seen but if the MG Maxifuel rider’s road form translates to dirt then she could do some damage.
Just ahead of Barnes in the series is Cannondale Racing’s Lee Craigie - perhaps Crumpton’s chief domestic threat. Third and second at the first two rounds, Craigie missed Hopton Woods, leaving her back in seventh place in the rankings. However another podium at Margam could see the Scot leapfrog back into series contention and with the final reckoning only taking into account the best four finishes, Craigie may well turn out to be Crumpton’s biggest series threat.