Grant Ferguson (Superior-Brentjens MTB RT) defended his British Cross-country Championship title on Sunday as he cruised to victory in Hopton Woods.
Ferguson, a renowned climber, set off up the starting hill at a furious pace and had opened up a healthy gap by the time he reached the top.
The chasing group, led by Paul Oldham of Hope Factory Racing, was some way behind and fell further back as the race wore on with Ferguson easing out with each passing lap.
He was never in any danger as he continued to lap quicker than anyone else on the circuit and secured the jersey once again with more than a minute and a half back to second-placed Liam Killeen.
Killeen was riding only his third race back after a long lay-off through injury and started at 36 on the grid.
After the first lap, he had managed to pick his way through the crowd and was up to eighth and his charge to the front continued on the third lap as he managed to get into third place, in hot pursuit of Paul Oldham.
Not happy with a place on the podium, Killeen pushed even harder and overtook Oldham before pulling out a minute gap.
Although he couldn’t catch the dominant Ferguson, he did lap quicker than the defending champion a few times and must surely be happy with his progress.
It was a tough course, wet from the torrential rain on Saturday and Orange Monkey’s David Fletcher crashed out early on.
Speaking after the race, Grant Ferguson said: “It was a hot day but a good track and I’m really pleased to defend the title.
“I wanted to take it on lap one to see who came with me but kept some in the tank in case it came back. By the end I was flat out. I’ve enjoyed wearing the jersey for the last year and I’m pleased to defend it.”
Liam Killeen commented: “If you’d asked me six weeks ago, I’d be hesitant to say this could happen. I had no expectations this weekend. Now, I have to try to get more races in my legs and then think about next season.”
Annie Last continued her triumphant return to competitive racing by becoming the 2014 British Cycling National Mountain Bike Cross-Country Championships in Shropshire on Sunday.
Last, who only made her return last week after missing two years through injury, showed that she is still a top class rider by winning the race by almost seven minutes.
By the end of the first lap, the Trek Factory Racing rider had a 30 second lead and she went on to maintain her blistering pace, putting more and more distance between herself and her chasers.
Kerry McPhee of Rock and Road Cycles took second and Jessie Roberts of Trek Bicycle Coventry completed the podium.
Annie said after the race: “I’ve been taking it one session at time and it was only a month ago that I realised that I could be racing again now.
“I’ve not done the National Championships for two years now. Just to be at the race and competing is amazing, but to win and get to get National Championship jersey is amazing.”
The Junior Men’s race looked set to come down to the wire when Dylan Kerfoot-Robson, Thomas Craig and Frazer Clacherty formed a leading trio early in the race and remained glued together for over three laps.
However, just when all three must have been starting to think about how to secure the gold, Kerfoot-Robson and Craig collided whilst vying for the lead. Clacherty was able to avoid the resulting accident and power away before the others could re-mount, going on to win the title by 25 seconds, with Craig second and Kerfoot-Robson third. It was an unfortunate end to one of the best races of the day.
Another race full of incident and drama was the Under-23 men’s. Early leader Iain Paton looked to be riding clear on the opening laps, before a major mechanical problem, requiring extensive repairs to his right-hand gear shifter, completely derailed his efforts, leaving him to finish a distant fifth.
Michael Thompson took advantage to ride into a commanding lead, only for defending champion, Steve James, who began his race very conservatively following a week of illness, to suddenly find his rhythm and close him down. James took the lead on the penultimate lap and opened up a lead of over a minute by the time he crossed the line to claim a win that clearly surprised him. Thompson, in his first year in the category, was second, with Isaac Pucci third.
Steve James was clearly a happy man when he spoke after the race, acknowledging he’d enjoyed a little luck, but also happy that he’d been able to push on in the second half of the race when others had clearly started to suffer: “I wasn’t going to race on Thursday, I wasn’t feeling at all well. I was really trying to play it safe the first couple of laps and see how I was feeling. I think it almost played to my advantage taking it easy for the first half of the race. It’s been fantastic to be able to successfully defend my title.”
Dan Tulett opened the day’s racing with a blistering 14 minute thirty second lap to open up a big gap at the head of the Youth Male race and justify his status as one of the strongest pre-race favourites at the 2014 National XC Mountain Bike Championships.
Tulett, though only a first year Youth, was always in control of his race, winning by over three minutes from William Gascoyne, who got the better of an almost race-long battle with Chris Rothwell, who was third.
After the race, Tulett explained his race strategy, which took advantage of the high percentage of climbing in the first half lap: “The plan was to give it a big kick up the first climb to try to get rid of some of them. Towards the first transition I got a little gap and then pushed really hard.”
Despite slowing on his subsequent laps, Tulett’s blistering opener effectively won him the race before his rivals could really react.
Despite winning a number of national titles, Tulett was clearly pleased with the win: “Getting the national jersey is above anything else. It’s a feeling you can’t really get from winning any other race.”
The Youth Female race was somewhat closer, with Emily Wadsworth and Ella Conolly locked in a very close battle for much of the three laps before Wadsworth finally broke free and come in with a winning margin of just under 90- seconds. Conolly was second with Sophie Wright third.
Like Tulett, Wadsworth is a first year Youth and was chasing a third national title on the trot, having won the Juvenile title twice. After the race she admitted she nearly got into trouble trying to control the race from the front: “I found it really tough, I went a bit too deep up the first climb, but I got into control and settled into the race. On the last hill I got into a rhythm and got a gap and just went from there. Winning is really cool. I wasn’t so confident about this one!”
The Juvenile titles went to Harry Birchill and Megan James, respectively with both winning close battles as the rapidly drying course claimed a number of victims. Birchill did well to pull back early leader Ben Healy. Tim Shoreman was third, whilst Poppy Wildman and Kim Baptista completed the female podium line-up.
The second wave of races saw the male age category riders in action. Both the Master and Veteran races were extremely close affairs. Daniel Wells won the Masters by just 7 seconds from local rider Ed Moseley, with Warren Bates a couple of minutes further back in third. Marc Chamberlain had Ian Taylor on his tail for much of the Veterans’ race, but always seemed able to hold him off. Taylor also suffered a heavy fall, which can’t have helped his cause. Sam Humphry was third, a further minute and a half back.
The Grand Veteran champion was Mark Chadbourne, who moved clear of the field at around 30 seconds a lap to win by 2:25 from Grant Johnson, with Kevin Holloway third. Meanwhile, in the over-60 Super Veteran class, Roy Hunt made a spectacular debut in the category, winning by almost seven minutes from Ian Petherbridge, with Vic Barnett third, just 90 seconds further back.
The third wave of racing included the women’s age categories. Isla Rowntree, riding one of her own bikes, was a clear winner in the Veteran Women’s race, finishing four minutes clear of Kate Ratcliffe, with Alison Holmes third. Elizabeth Clayton was an even more convincing winner in the Grad Veteran category, winning by a clear ten minutes from Penny Allen, with Avril Milligan third.
Meanwhile, the Junior women’s race produced one of the outstanding rides of the day, with Isla Short recording the second fastest female lap of the day and lapping consistently faster than all but eventual senior champion Annie Last. In a high quality race, Short was a winner by almost two minutes from Evie Richards, with Ffion James just getting the better of Amira Mellor in a race-long battle for third that was only settled in the final few minutes. Despite her dominance, Short had two crashes and looked both emotional and relieved when she crossed the line.
Speaking a little later and asked if she’d expected to win, Short said: “I’ve been doing well in the national series, but it was really hard. I missed a pedal at the start and only got into first at the top of the climb. It’s not really hit me yet, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve wanted this a lot for quite a long time. I’ve been second at the national champs twice, so it’s really nice to take the win.”
In contrast, Under-23 Women’s title winner Bethany Crumpton didn’t get a gap at the front of her race until the third lap. Knocked off her bike by an elite category rider at the feed zone, she put the resulting adrenaline burst to good effect, breaking clear and going on to win by over two minutes in the end, with Barnes second and Rebecca Preece third.
Afterwards she revealed that her plan was to have a steady opening lap then push on. This didn’t really work until the incident, which she very successfully turned to her advantage, leaving her a happy woman at the finish: “I really wanted to defend my title today. It’s really great to win it again!”
1 Grant Ferguson (Superior-Brentjens MTB RT)
2 Liam Killeen (Unattached) at 1.32
3 Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) at 2.39
4 Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) at 3.50
5 Dan Fleeman (Metaltek) 6.16
1 Annie Last (Trek Factory Racing) six laps in 1:00.44
2 Kerry MacPhee (Rock and Road Cycles) at 6.50
3 Jessie Roberts (Trek Bicycle Coventry) at 7.18
4 Melanie Alexander (Contessa Scott Synchros) at 10.48
5 Nicky Healy (Mammoth Lifestyle RT) at 12.18
Under 23 men
1 Steven James (Hargroves Cycles)
2 Michael Thompson (Hope Factory Racing)
3 Isaac Pucci (Mountain Trax RT)
Under 23 women
1 Bethany Crumpton (North West MTB RT)
2 Alice Barnes (T-Mo Racing) at 2.27
3 Rebecca Preece (Contessa Scott Syncros) at 14.29
1 Frazer Clacherty (Nutcracker Racing)
2 Thomas Craig (Pioneer Scott Syncros)
3 Dylan Kerfoot-Robson (Marsh Tracks)
1 Isla Short (Thomsons Cycles)
2 Evie Richards (Malvern Cycle Sport) at 1.55
3 Ffion James (Abergavenny RC) at 5.05
1 Dan Tulett (Specialized Racing)
2 Will Gascoyne (Specialized Racing)
3 Chris Rothwell (Swindon Cycles)
1 Emily Wadsworth (Beeline Bicycles)
2 Ella Conolly (Ben Wyvis)
3 Sophie Wright (GT Forres)
1 Harry Birchall (Certini)
2 Ben Healy (Solihull CC)
3 Tim Shoreman (Deeside Thistle)
1 Megan James (Ilkley CC)
2 Poppy Wildman (Nottingham Clarion)
3 Kim Baptista (Mid Lancs BMX)
1 Daniel Wells (Unattached)
2 Ed Moseley (Malvern Cycle Sport)
3 Warren Bates (Track CT)
1 Marc Chamberlain (Unattached)
2 Ian Taylor (Jedi Cycle Sport)
3 Sam Humphrey (VC St Raphael)
Grand veteran male
1 Mark Chadbourne (Ridebike.co.uk)
2 Grant Johnson (Sunset Cycles)
3 Kevin Holloway (VC 10)
Super veteran male
1 Roy Hunt (Team Elite)
2 Ian Tetherbridge (South Downs Bikes CC)
3 Victor Barnett (Welland Valley CC)
1 Isla Rowntree (Isla Bikes)
2 Kate Ratcliffe (Three Valleys MTB)
3 Alison Holmes (Run and Ride)
Grand veteran female
1 Ellie Clayton (Lichfield City CC)
2 Penny Allen (Yogi Cycling)
3 Avril Milligan (Cambridge CC)