Dutch visitor Michiel van der Heijden (Giant Pro) drew first blood in British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series, winning the opening round at Codham Park in Essex on Sunday.
The Dutch champion crossed the line 32 seconds ahead of his nearest rival after seven laps, clocking 1-31-26 to hold off Jonas de Backer (Vanomobil) into second. Meanwhile, Robby de Bock (Feenstra Felt) took third spot, edging first Brit Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) off the podium by 16 seconds.
It was a solid opener for the series on a course that was fast and flat with few technical sections. There was a BMX pump track halfway through which threw a bit of a curveball for the riders, although it didn’t prove to be a problem for the majority of them.
Dan Fleeman (Metaltek) was the early leader, although he was part of a large group and the big talking point of the first lap was the crash of Grant Ferguson. The accident resulted in his front wheel puncturing and he never really recovered, eventually finishing back in 18th.
Heijden teamed up with de Backer on lap two and they began to control the race, building up a gap of 10 seconds over de Bock and Oldham.
With six laps to go, Heijden found a second wind and started to pull away from de Backer. He managed to get five bike lengths out in front of his opponent but could never shake him off and going into the final lap, de Backer was back with him.
But Heijden really showed his class for the remainder of the lap and managed to open up a gap of over 30 seconds, crossing the line unopposed.
Following his victory Van Der Heijden said:
“That was a good win today. I really like to come over to England to race; I came over here a few times last season to race but I didn't get the results I was hoping for because of mechanical problems but today everything was good.
“I felt strong all race, I raced in Cyprus recently and went well there also so I think I am getting in a good shape for the season. The course today was very similar to a Dutch course, I don't really like the grass but I think the course suits my racing.
“The BMX track was different for a cross-country race. Sometimes I don't think you need big jumps so it made a change for the race.
“Jonas(De Backer) has the same power as me I think, I didn't feel too strong in the first half of the race but I knew I could ride with him so I waited until the last part of the race before I felt good enough to make a gap.
“I knew I had to make a chance at some point so I tried with two laps to go and managed to make enough gap so he couldn't go with me.”
Paul Oldham was first British rider across the line and spoke to British Cycling after just missing out on the podium.
“I think today went pretty well for me. Van Der Heijden and De Backer checked out pretty early but me and De Bock kept the gap pegged all race.
“Would have been nice to get top three obviously but I'm happy with that result considering it was a class field.
“I went through the start list beforehand; Dutch champion, Swedish champion and British champion so it was a serious field but like I said I'm very happy with today.
“We go to South Africa next week for the first World Cup round.
“I'm in good shape, probably the best I've been for a while so should go well there and with the Commonwealth Games not too far away I'll be hoping to get qualification which is the aim of the early part of the season.”
In the elite women’s race there was another foreign winner in Githa Michiels (Trek KNC), the Belgian national champion who crossed the line more than three minutes ahead of anyone else.
She took the win ahead of defending series champion Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing) who was 3:06 behind, while Jessie Roberts (Trek Bicycle Coventry) completed the podium in third, 37 seconds behind Craigie.
Michiels was involved from the gun, getting away to a quick start. With Jessie Roberts needing a good result in order to secure a commonwealth place, she kept pace with the Belgian, as did Beth Crumpton.
From then on, Michiels pulled away from the Brits and set about increasing her lead, lap on lap.
But there was plenty of battle left in the race for the other positions and Lee Craigie was especially impressive, moving up from fifth to secure second spot.
Roberts grabbed third place after Crumpton suffered a puncture on the final lap and a special mention goes to junior rider Isla Short who mixed it up with the top seniors for long stretches of the race.
After the race winner Michiels said:
“Today was a good win for m. It was my first big test of the season and I am happy with my form already.
“I was a little nervous before the race; I didn't know how strong the competition was and I didn't really know how good my form was. I struggled at the start of the race - I missed a pedal which put me back and the race was a quick start.
“I knew I had to get back to the front but I had to wait because the pace was so high. It really took me the opening lap to get into a rhythm but once I had got to the front I was able to ride my race and start to make good time.”
Dylan Kerfoot-Robson carried his form over from the cyclo-cross season to take the win in the junior male race, just beating Mark McGuire in the sprint after a close race between the two from the gun.
2013 youth winner Thomas Craig rode-in third after a last lap puncture and by his own admission not having the legs to take him to the line with the first and second place riders.
Isla Short dominated the junior female race taking the victory almost five minutes ahead of second placed Amira Mellor. The Team Thomsons rider spent her race in the top ten of the elite women completing her opening lap quicker than any of the elite riders. Evie Richards rode to a fine third place, moving up from the youth category last year.
Phil Pearce took the win in the expert male race while Joe Griffiths held off Nicholas Corlett to secure second spot on the podium. Hollie Bettles got her 2014 campaign off to a good start in the expert female race holding off Vanessa Holmes for three seconds to take her first victory, Mel Paddington completed the podium, finishing in third spot a mere six seconds off Holmes.
Dan Tulett opened his season with a win in the youth race, holding off a strong challenge from Will Gascoyne. The pair made good ground in the early part of the race but it was Tulett who had the power to ride away from the chasers with the majority of the race still to run. Chris Rothwell took third after beating Matthew Fratesi in the sprint.
Emily Wadsworth took the honours in the female youth race with a fine win, the 2013 juvenile champion continued her winning ways holding off Ella Connolly and Hannah English who finished second and third respectively.
Mid Devon CC's Harry Birchill crossed the line ahead of Sam Culverwell and Craig Rogers to claim the win in the juvenile male race. Megan James made her intentions known with a dominant win over Kim Baptista and Lucy Horrocks in the juvenile female race.
Robert Purcell opened his account with a win in the masters’ race. Fourth in the 2013 standings, the Neon-Velo rider took the sprint from Matthew Barret after a race-long battle. Paul Lloyd crossed the line to take third place. Lichfield City CC's Helen Clayton took the honours in the female masters’ race.
Ian Taylor was a force to be reckoned with in the veterans’ race, the Jedi Cycle Sport rider won the sprint from Marc Chamberlin to take the victory in the opening round. Crispin Doyle rode to a fine third place keeping the 2013 series champion in fourth spot. Clare Leaver kept Alison Holmes in her wheel to take the victory in the veteran women’s race by a mere two seconds completing her three laps in a little over an hour; Helen Macgregor took the final step of the podium.
Mark Chadbourne out-sprinted Peter Turnbull to take the win in the grand veterans’ race after a hard-fought four laps. Nigel Brown crossed the line alone to secure third. Ian Petherbridge took the super veterans’ race completing three laps in a little under an hour, while Lynn Lines took second and Vic Barnett was third.
Lichfield City CC's Elizabeth Clayton took the win in the female super veterans’ race.
1. Michiel van der Heijden (Giant Pro) 7 laps in 1:31:26
2. Jonas de Backer (Vanomobil) at 32sec
3. Robby de Bock (Feenstra Felt) at 1:24
4. Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) at 1:40
5. Matthias Wengelin (Kalas) at 2:48
1. Githa Michiels (Trek KNC) 5 laps in 1:29:13
2. Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing) at 3:06
3. Jessie Roberts (Trek Bicycle Coventry) at 3:43
4. Kerry MacPhee (Velosport Pasta Montegrappa) at 4:23
5. Mel Alexander (Contessa Scott) at 5:31