World Under-23 cyclo-cross champion Evie Richards (100% ME) and Italian national champ Marco Aurelio Fontana (Canondale Factory Racing) powered to victory in round three of the British Cycling MTB Cross-country Series in the Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire on Sunday.
But while Fontana took the win in the elite men’s race by just one second, Richards was over four minutes clear of her nearest rival in the elite women’s race.
Italian national champion Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing) took a fine victory in the Elite Men’s race, showing why he secured a podium finish at the 2012 London Olympics with a masterclass on a mountain bike.
Second was Grant Ferguson (Betch.NL Superior Brentjens) who proved to be Fontana’s equal throughout the race, the British National Champion crossing the line a mere second off the winner. Anton Cooper (Cannondale Factory Racing) took third, the World Under-23 Champion holding off Liam Killeen in the final few metres to take the points.
It was Cooper who led the race out on the opening lap. Along with Fontana and Ferguson the trio opened up an early lead from the chasing pack, a lead that didn’t look like it would be caught.
The three took the second lap alone, neither giving an inch to the other. Liam Killen (Malvern Cycle Sport) and Iain Paton (100% ME) were working to move up to the leaders but ultimately to no avail whilst Dave Fletcher (Pines-Felt-Enve) was a few bike lengths behind. Torq’s Alex Welburn and Phil Pearce (Specialized) were flying back across the Boardwalks trying to get back in contention for a podium place.
By mid-race it was Ferguson and Fontana who attacked Cooper and were away off the front, the pair sharing the load and increasing their time over the rest of the field.
Elite men's gallery
Killeen had attacked Paton and was up to Cooper, and the pair would be touching tyres until the finish line. Fletcher was holding fifth while Paton dropped off the pace a little and Pearce and Welburn were nudging the 100% ME rider’s wheel.
The penultimate lap was about holding steady as the top five kept their advantage over a tiring field ready for the bell.
Ferguson and Fontana looking to ease up as they crossed the line for a final time, the pair eyeing each other up, both wanting to hit the switchbacks on the front of the race.
An effort by the Italian saw him leave the arena just ahead of the Scotsman, the ideal position for the drop, but Ferguson had every move covered and the gap was no more than a bike length. Paton put in an effort to get to Fletcher but it would be too little too late.
The two leaders entered the finish straight together and it would be too close to call. They took a line on opposite barriers but it was Fontana who just had enough in the legs to squeeze out a last-gasp effort to take the victory. Cooper also left things to final few metres to claim third from Killeen while Fletcher held on to complete the podium.
“We all know Grant is a strong dude and I think he showed at the World Cup he can do even more,” said Fontana. “He was strong, especially in the long climb he was really quick.
“We rode together strong at a good pace, and I enjoyed it. I love it here at Dalby and the UK in general, and the passion you have for the sport.
“The atmosphere is good here, everyone is enjoying it and it’s not just about the racing. In Italy you see the professional scene and everyone is into it. It’s more relaxed here but it’s still a strong scene and people enjoy it.
“Grant made my life difficult, and I told him so! After the finish line I told him that he made my life harder than my wife does!”
And Ferguson added: “We were just alternately trying to smash each other on the last lap! I felt alright, and it was good to have a race with him. I like this course it’s really nice.
“I would’ve liked to have won but it was good to have him here because it brings the level up.”
Evie Richards (100% ME) took her second win of the series with another attacking performance over four laps of the Dalby course.
Richards, fresh from winning bronze at the recent European Championships, took less than the first lap to stamp her trademark attack on the rest of the field.
Annie Last (OMX Pro Team), returning from illness, took her first start line of the 2016 campaign and although she looked a little jaded took a welcome second place to Richards.
An ever-improving Lucy Grant (Bicycleworks RT) rode a brilliant race to take third whilst foujrth and fifth spots went to Kerry Macphee (Rock & Road Cycles) and Isla Short (OMX Pro Team).
It was Richards, Last and Beth Crumpton (Boot out Breast Cancer) who took the early initiative on the opening lap, the trio getting an early lead on the rest of the field.
But it was Richards who upped the pace and as the race came back across the Boardwalk at the end of loop, the Malvern rider had dropped both Last and Crumpton.
Grant and Short were both still in contention with the head of the race and were up to Crumpton who looked to be struggling a little. Macphee was keeping her pace high and holding a good gap to Jane Barr (Velocity 44).
Elite women's gallery
Richards, again, was on a mission and heading into the second lap, the gap back to the National Champion was increasing. But Last had made the time in the opening lap and barring any incident looked safe in second.
Both riders opting to take the B Line on the Boardwalk decent, the battle behind was now between Crumpton, Grant and Macphee, the three having their own battle. But Crumpton would soon retire with a sudden asthma attack which saw her having to abandon the race.
Richards increased the gap on the penultimate lap which was now almost two and a half minutes. Grant had attacked Macphee and was nudging Last’s wheel but the National Champion had the measure of the Scottish girl and wasn’t going to allow her any quarter.
Macphee had attacked and was a handful of seconds off the wheel of Grant, the first four looked uncatchable and would take the first four places on the podium. Short had enough time on Barr to complete the quintet.
"I just wanted to get in front for the descent because from watching Annie when I was younger I knew she’s great at descending, so I wanted to get in front from the start and slow the rest down and make my break on the hills," said Richards.
“I’m in quite a big training phase at the moment pushing towards the Worlds, so I’m trying to go into races a bit fatigued just because the Worlds is my goal. It’s hard mentally going into races a bit tired, but it’s great to come away with the results.
“I’m loving it at the moment! Travelling all over and really enjoying life!”
Nick Craig (Scott Racing) took his second win of the series in the Veterans race, dominating the race once again from the opening lap of the fast, flowing course.
Paul Hopkins (Merida Factory Racing) took a well-deserved second place after a race-long battle with National Champion Marc Chamberlain (Cotswold Cycles RT) who took the third step of the podium whilst Hope Factory’s Dave Collins worked hard to secure fourth and Scott Racing’s Stu Bowers had to be content with fifth.
“It was good racing!” said Craig. “I was with Paul and Mark, Stuart latched on and it was really close. I got a bit of a gap and the boys came back at me. I got a little gap and tried to make hay.
“The way Hoppy went at the end he was really closing in when he was attacking. It’s a brilliant track and a brilliant race.”
Tim Gould continued his dominance of the Over 50 Veterans with another fine win. The Zepnat.com rider took the initiative early in the race and didn’t look back until he crossed the line. Richard Cross held on to second by a slender three seconds after a late surge by Westbury Wheelers’ Nigel Brown.
Ray Crosthwaite (Pedalon.co.uk) was unstoppable in the Super Veterans taking almost seven minutes out of second place Nigel Herrod and a further two minutes to the good of Team Jewson’s Philip Stokes.
Bolsover’s Maddi Smith made it three wins from three races in the Veteran Women’s race but not with her usual winning margin. Second place Alison Rushton (Ribble Valley) kept that to a little over 20 seconds and could push Smith in the remaining two rounds. Nicky Hughes (Specialized Racing) completed the podium.
Sarah Bardwell (Club Beico Mynydd Dyffryn) secured the win in the Grand Veterans race. She took the lead on the opening lap and wasn’t troubled throughout the two laps. Marianne Heffron (Zepnat.com) took second and Carolyn Speirs (Horwich CC) third.
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Will Gascoyne (Pines Cycles-Felt-Enve) carried over his form from a fine 10th recently at the European Championships to take a well-deserved win in the Junior race. Gascoyne and second-placed Cameron Orr (SRAM Youth Development) took the lead in the opening lap and weren’t troubled for the rest of the race.
Malvern’s Ross Harnden took third after holding off the challenge from Calum Fernie (Nottingham Clarion) and team mate Stan Pritchard.
Ella Connolly (Ben Wyvis CC) overhauled Klaudia Bajolek (Scott/Eurocycles.com) on the second lap of three to claim the win in the Junior Women’s race. Anna Kay of the promoting club Nutcracker Racing took third.
Clee Cycles’ Ben Wadey broke away after a strong second lap to take a fine solo win in the Expert race. Jacob Phelps (Torq Performance), who jumped away on the opening lap, was reeled back in by Wadey and Calum Magowen (Peebles CC), Paddy Atkinson (Team Bikesoup) and Oliver Lowthorpe (Big Maggys), but fought back to take second. Magowen completed the podium.
Hannah Saville (cxmagazine.com) took the win in the Expert Female race. Saville started strongly and increased her lead over the three laps to finish some 40 seconds ahead of Erica Monks (Mountain Goat Coaching). Returning from a hard crash in the previous round, Rosie Brown (Westbury Wheelers) took a well-deserved third.
Sean Flynn (Edinburgh CC) outsprinted Sam Culverwell (Guernsey Velo) to take the race win and the series lead in the Youth Male race after three laps of hard racing that saw the lead swap and change throughout.
Flynn, who lost an early lead to Ben Tulett (Beeline-Gener8), then saw Harry Birchall (Certini) go off the front mid-race but fought back with Culverwell to the leader and the trio then working together to distance the rest of the field. Coming into the arena the three started a long sprint, Flynn having the legs to take the win from Culverwell on the line, while Birchill was one second behind.
Hattie Harnden (T-Mo Racing) took the win in the Youth Female race. Harnden took the initiative on the opening lap and was never caught, Poppy Wildman (SRAM Development) crossed the line in second carrying a broken shifter and third place Kim Baptista (Nutcracker Racing) didn’t fare much better after breaking her saddle on the last lap.
Certini’s Freddy Birchill took the victory in the Juvenile Male race. Birchill had a storming first lap and couldn’t be caught by second-placed Tim Freeman (Dreigiau Coed Y Brenin) and Jamie Johnston (Pro Vision Cycle Clothing) in third, and crossed the line over a minute ahead of the chasers.
Anna Flynn (Edinburgh RC) took the win in the Juvenile Female race but had to work hard for it. It was Maddie Wadsworth (Beeline Bicycles RT) along with Flynn and Charlotte-Louise McGreevy (WXC Racing) who made the early impression on the Dalby course but Flynn and McGreevy attacked on the last lap to drop Wadsworth the pair deciding the outcome with the first sprint finish of the day. Wadsworth crossed the line in third.
1. Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing) 1-25-18
2. Grant Ferguson (Betch.NL) at 1sec
3. Anton Cooper (Cannondale Factory Racing) at 36sec
4. Liam Killeen (Malvern Cyclesport) at 37sec
5. Dave Fletcher (Pine Cycles-Felt-Enve) at 3-12
1. Evie Richards (100% ME) 1-20-29
2. Annie Last (OMX Pro Team) at 4-12
3. Lucy Grant (Bicycleworks) at 4-48
4. Kerry Macphee (Rock and Road Cycles) at 5.26
5. Isla Short (OMX Pro Team) at 7-49