Annie Last made a successful return to competitive racing, placing second in her first race of 2014.
The Trek Factory Racing rider’s back injury sustained in the United States saw her compete intermittently in 2013 and she had not competed at all so far this year.
In the men's elite event, Grant Ferguson took an important victory in round four of the British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series at Sherwood.
It was Ferguson’s first win of the series and it was a must win if he was to stand a chance of retaining his title.
The race was eight laps of a very fast course with little technical involvement and as a result, the contest was made up of a large group strung out throughout the race.
Dave Fletcher suffered a nightmare start as his chain snapped on the starting line, forcing him to retire before negotiating the first corner.
Velopro’s Jason Bouttell was involved at the front throughout the first half of the race with eventual winner Ferguson sitting back in the leading group.
Nobody was allowed much space to attack and it was as if the leading ten riders were joined by a piece of elastic for much of the race.
On the penultimate lap, Ferguson made his move and De Backer couldn’t respond leaving him to take first place.
The Betch.NL Superior-Brentjens rider crossed the line 30 seconds ahead of second placed Jonas De Backer (Vanmobil MTB) and Didier Bats was third another 20 seconds behind.
Liam Killeen rode in only his second competitive race since suffering an open fracture dislocation of his ankle in the London 2012 Olympic Games. The five-time British champion managed to finish in eighth place with a time of 1:54:17 and was cheered by the crowd throughout.
“To ride away with a couple of laps to go wasn't the plan,” admitted Ferguson afterwards. “I was making it up as I was going along because the whole race was close and tactical today.
“I knew the Belgium guys were strong and when we managed to get a decent gap on the others I thought we could stay away but no one wanted to work and it came back together, at times the race virtually ground to a halt just because no one wanted to put the effort in.
“Isaac (Pucci) took the race on a couple of times but whoever tried to work was wasting energy, it was like a road crit with the tactics, I couldn't wait for a sprint because I knew I wouldn't take a win from a sprint so it was a matter of trying to wear the others down.
“I managed to get away going through the feed with a couple of laps to go and got to the first wooded area on my own. I had a bit of luck when a couple of back markers ended up between myself and the two Belgium guys just as we hit the feed and I managed to get probably 10 metres or so then I knew I just had to drill it till the line.”
Beth Crumpton led the elite women's race early on and coming into the arena for the first time, it was a small group of Michiels (Trek KNC), Last, Crumpton, Barnes (T-Mo Racing) and Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing) who were competing for the lead.
On the second lap, Michiels and Crumpton upped the pace and opened up a gap back to Last. Barnes was yo-yoing and Craigie started to slip back and continued to do so throughout the race
Michiels then incrementally increased her lead until she was out on own but Last, Crumpton and Barnes were working hard in an attempt to catch her.
Halfway through the race, Michiels increased her lead to 40 seconds. Last managed to drop Barnes and Crumpton and was pushing on her own with Michiels far ahead.
Then, with one lap to go, Last started to catch Michiels and took 22 seconds off her lead on that lap alone. Although she couldn’t catch her, it was a strong finish for Last on her return from injury.
Although she cannot challenge for honours, Last enjoyed a successful return as she finished second only to Trek KNC’s Githa Michiels.
Michiels was comfortable in first, completing in a time of 1:34:52. Last was 54 seconds behind and T-Mo Racing’s Alice Barnes was third.
“I am really happy at the moment, my second visit to race in the UK and another win for me,” said Michiels. “The course doesn't really suit my style of riding and I thought today would not be my day, I prefer the heavy courses but the race today was fast and I am in good form with my speed, I did not really know what to expect on this course but my power is good and to win here was good.”
And Annie Last said: “I'm really happy with second place, this is the first race for me for a long time since I injured my back, to just be part of a race feels good and to race at the front today is an amazing feeling.
“I thought about my fitness before starting today and I knew if my back felt ok I could be up there, I know I have reasonable fitness but today I needed to know my injury was 'happy'.
“Being away from top class racing for so long it is hard to try and judge just how well you are going. It’s a different situation training on your own or with a group but a race situation is a totally different thing. It’s interesting to see how people have moved on with their racing. When I first got injured I followed every race closely just to see who was where but this year I've given 100 per cent to getting myself back to fitness.”
1 Grant Ferguson (Betch.NL Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team) 1:52:32
2 Jonas De Backer (Vanomobil MTB Cycling Team) at 30 seconds
3 Didier Bats (Goeman Scott Cycling Team VZW) at 50 seconds
4 Robby De Bock (Feenstra Felt PB Kenda Bike Team) at 1:06
5 Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles/Specialized/Trant/Next) at 1:07
6 Isaac Pucci (Mountain Trax RT)
7 Kenta Gallagher (Betch.NL Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team)
8 Liam Killeen (unattached)
9 Jason Bouttell (Velopro)
10 Gareth Montgomerie (unattached)
1 Githa Michiels (Trek KNC Trade Team) 1:34:52
2 Annie Last (Trek Factory Racing) at 54 seconds
3 Alice Barnes (T-Mo Racing) at 1:40
4 Beth Crumpton (Unattached) at 1:44
5 Nicky Healy (Mammoth Lifestyle Racing Team) at 5:05
6 Jessie Roberts (Trek Bicycle Coventry)
7 Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing)
8 Mel Alexander (Contessa Scott Synchros)
9 Maddie Horton (Fully Sussed)
10 Claire Oakley (XMTB McConvey Cycles)