Grant Ferguson and Sally Bigham were the elite winners as the British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series brought thrilling action to Fforest Fields on Sunday.
Grant Ferguson took a fine win to maintain his first place in the series, holding off Liam Killeen as the pair showed their superiority.
The Scotsman, riding for Betch NL Superior Brentjens, had taken command by the end of the opening lap and gradually increased his lead, finishing 31 seconds ahead of Killeen and taking his second consecutive win of the series.
Some four minutes down Phil Pearce took third - his best result of the series to date - while David Fletcher - who won the opening round in March - lost further ground to Ferguson in the overall standings as he finished fourth.
Ferguson once again had a shaky start, sitting towards the rear of the race as Iain Paton took the field up the Terrible Hallow climb for the first time. Steve James and Killeen, along with Fletcher, pushed the early pace stringing the field out in a single line.
But as the opening lap progressed and the raced settled it was Ferguson who had the measure of the course and had worked his way through the field to bring the race back into the arena for the first time.
Killeen was ten seconds behind and along with Fletcher, Alex Paton, Pearce, Hugo Briatta and Jason Boutell looked to have the race sewn up.
Meanwhile, Ferguson was looking comfortable on the long drag out of the arena and began to ease out a useful gap back to the chasing bunch.
Killeen was alone chasing hard, with a small group working well just behind. Pearce, Fletcher, Briatta, Boutell, Dylan Kerfoot-Robson and Ian Field was the formation, as Paton fell out of contention for a podium place.
Ferguson was climbing well but was making time on the fast descents. However, Killeen had the measure and was keeping a check on the time gaps. The two were now away from the chasers, the gap increasing to a little under three minutes on the penultimate lap.
Back to the battle for third between Pearce and Fletcher, the remnants from the original chase group were tapping out a steady rhythm and were getting caught by Alex Wellburn and Giles Drake.
As the last lap approached it was Ferguson in front, still commanding the race. Killeen regained three seconds, but Ferguson found an answer on the final lap to take a confident win.
Some four minutes later the battle for third was still raging and it was Pearce who won from Fletcher to take his second podium of the series. Hugo Briatta completed the podium.
“Today wasn’t an easy race with Liam [Killeen] breathing down my neck, it made it more exciting to be honest,” said Ferguson. “I didn’t get a good start, I didn’t clip in, I missed my pedal and drifted back, I came out of the arena probably sitting around 20th so I made it quite hard for myself on the first lap to get where I wanted to get.
“Liam was climbing quicker than me and I knew he was reeling me in so I had to try and make some time up on the descents. They were flat out. We seemed to be riding into a headwind on the fire roads on the second part of the course so I had to really grit my teeth on those.
“The result was good for me today, my forms pretty good, We have two World cup events over the next few weeks which is good, it has been a long wait for the season to really get going and now it gets really busy.”
The anticipated clash in the woman's elite race wasn't to be, with series leader Annie Last not starting through illness and Nikki Harris missing too, but nonetheless a top quality field took to the start line.
Alice Barnes capitalised on Last's absence and a fourth place secured the series lead, but it was Sally Bigham who took the race victory in a dominant performance.
Second for Kerry Macphee elevated her to second in the series standings, overtaking non-starter and defending champion Beth Crumpton, who will need two excellent results to retain the title.
South African champion Mariske Strauss led the field out of the arena and up the first climb of Terrible Hollow, Barnes was on her wheel with Isla Short in third. But as the gradient steepened Barnes went away, leaving Strauss and Short having to find something to stay with her.
As the opening lap finished Barnes crossed the line with Kerry Macphee and with Sally Bigham, the three holding a ten-second gap from Strauss. Lucy Grant was followed by Short and Cherie Vale a further ten-seconds later.
By lap two Bigham had taken a 24-second lead with Macphee second and Barnes.
Strauss was still in fourth with team mates Vale and Short tapping out a rhythm a handful of seconds back. Lucy Grant had quietly worked her way into sixth place, passing Short on the following lap. Strauss made her move on Barnes on the penultimate lap but the gap was too big to challenge for second.
The final lap saw Bigham increase her lead over Macphee, Strauss had to be content with third but increased her lead over Barnes.
“This was my first cross country this year, I don’t tend to do very many, one a year maybe,” said Sally Bigham. “I came here to get some really good training in, I’ve had a lot of disruption to my training during the last couple of months so I thought I’d do an interval session in a race then sit at home.
“The climbs today are steep but I enjoy climbing, it’s a nice course here, a fun course to ride, not super technical but it may have been a different story if it had rained.
“Riding marathon events helped with the endurance today, I raced last week for just over three hours so I think that certainly helped today to be able to keep the pace high.”
Whoop whoop! Victory at the British XC Race Series at Builth Wells. Good interval session @TeamTopeakErgon— Sally Bigham (@IronSally1) May 17, 2015
Frazer Clacherty (Nutcracker Racing) made it three wins from three in the junior race, the current National Champion riding a pretty much faultless race to take the victory.
On a tough course, he held off strong challenges from Tom Craig and Arthur Green, and with Mark McGuire not taking to the start both riders will move up the standing to make an interesting final two events.
Abergavenny’s Ffion James took the win and the Series lead in the junior women’s race. James rode well to hold off Charlotte Broughton into second and Amira Mellor who took the start line for her first outing of the series.
The Series fight between Ben Tulett and Harry Birchall continued in the juvenile race. Both riders were locked together pretty much all race but Tulett had the strength to pull away on the final lap to take his third win of the series.
Lichfield’s Lewis Askey took third just a few metres off the lead two, with Charlie Craig taking fourth the leader board remains the same.
Harriot Hamden took her second win of the series in the juvenile women’s race. The Malvern Cycle Sport rider made light work of the hilly course to take a lone victory from Anna McGorum and Anna Flynne.
Malvern Cycle Sport’s Ross Harnden took a fine win in the youth race. A first lap scrap with Dan Tulett once again looked like the race would be a two-way fight between the National Champion and the series leader but with Tulett losing time on the second lap Harden made his gains.
Cameron Orr and Calum Fernie were having their own battle for third place and passing Tulett on the second lap went after Harden but with consistent lap times the win was only going one way and the two chasers had to concentrate on the fight for second, Orr taking second place six seconds to the good of Fernie.
Tulett regrouped and started the long chase back catching Thomas Mein in the final metres of the race to take fourth.
Sophie Wright took her third victory in the youth women’s race. The Strada Sport rider once again held off the challenge from Emily Wadsworth and Megan James who finished second and third respectively.
David Creber took the win in the Expert race making it two from three. Ryan Perry took his best result from the series, the Army Cycling rider taking the second step on the podium. Jonathan Pugh completed the podium.
Laura Sampson took her second win of the series in the expert female race after holding off Kirsty MacPhee into second and series leader Helen Wainwright into third.
The series challenge in the veterans race once again proved to be a close battle between Paul Hopkins and Marc Chamberlin, but with Hopkins making time on the opening lap it would be Chamberlain who had the work to do.
The national champion nibbled away at Hopkins’ lead over the five laps but the series leader had the measure of second place Chamberlain, Dan Howe took his best result of the series to finish third.
Maddy Smith took the win in the Veteran female race with a dominant show on the hilly course, while Alison Holmes took second and Jemimah Leach completed the podium.
Tim Gould took a fine victory in the grand veterans race from Grant Johnson. Richard Cross took his first podium of the series to take third.
Cycle-Tec’s Andy Firman secured the win in the super veterans race from Andy Roberts in second and Vic Barnett in third.
1. Grant Ferguson Betch. NL. Superior Brentjens 1.34.16
2. Liam Killeen Malvern Cycling at 31sec
3. Phil Pearce Banjo Cycles at 4.21
4. Dave Fletcher Pines Cycles-Felt-Enve at 4.56
5. Hugo Briatta Scott Creuse Oxygene Gueret at 5.32
6. Ian Field Hargroves Cycles - Ridley at 5.47
7. Jason Boutell Velopro at 6.17
8. Dylan Kerfoot Mountain Trax RT at 6.26
9. Giles Drake Leisure Lakes Bikes at 7.10
10. Steven Roach Cycle-Tec at 7.44
1. Sally Bigham Topeak Ergon RT 1.36.31
2. Kerry Macphee Rock & Road @2.36
3. Mariske Strauss Novus OMX Pro Team @3.36
4. Alice Barnes Betch NL Superior @3.54
5. Cherie Vale Novus OMX Pro Team @4.47
6. Lucy Grant Peebles CC @5.56
7. Isla Short Novus OMX Pro Team @8.59
8. Mel Alexander Contessa Scott Syncross @9.35
9. Jules Toone Torq Performance @11.21
10 Lucy Allan Mazing Tree IT @11.32