Annie Last brought her Gold Coast form to the Dalby Forest as the Commonwealth Games champion rode to a triumphant victory in round two of the HSBC UK | National Cross Country Series.
The Team KMC Suntour rider didn’t have the complete monopoly of the race but the assured performance ensured Last comfortably finished first in Yorkshire.
She was joined atop the podium by another Australia returnee, Grant Ferguson executing the ideal game plan to take the win in the men’s elite race.
And the junior competitions also got into full swing as Charlie Aldridge and Harriet Harnden proved they cut it with the very best from around the country – regardless of age.
Last back in first with assured display
A successful run Down Under has certainly provided Last with plenty of confidence – an attribute she used to perfection to take an assured victory, relaxed and totally in control as she led out the race.
Thoughts of a whitewash were unfounded as both Sophie Wright and Kerry MacPhee stepped up to the mark to keep Last at least in their sights and give the Team KMC Suntour rider something to think about as she tackled the demandingly technical course.
A sharp burst of rain did nothing to dampen the racing, but the conditions caused Wright to slide out on a climb giving MacPhee an edge which she took full advantage of.
Relishing the technical sections and the downhills, MacPhee extended her lead to eventually take second behind Last while Wright battled home hard in third.
“I love coming back to race in the National Series, as I don’t get that many chances these days, it’s quite a busy season with lots of international races on the cards,” said Last, also the 2017 winner.
“And of course Dalby is a great course, a real old school type of course which makes a change these days.
“World Cup courses these days are much shorter and although Dalby is mainly man made it still has a much more natural feel to it than some of the World Cup courses.”
Ferguson back on form in Dalby
Meanwhile Ferguson returned from the Commonwealth Games in style as he swept to victory – putting behind him any previous disappointments to repeat last year's podium-topping effort.
Competition was once again fierce with six riders going clear on the first lap, including Ferguson, joined by Frazer Clacherty and Jason Bouttell among others.
Slowly that group whittled down to the aforementioned trio but Ferguson upped the ante heading into the fifth lap, attacking on the big climb and leaving his rivals to pick up the pieces.
Despite his valiant efforts to cling to third, Bouttell had to concede that spot to Alex Welburn and took fourth instead. Clacherty took second best behind winner Ferguson.
Ferguson said: “I had a bit of a game plan so just rode within myself with that in mind, until I felt ready to attack.
“I like this track and the climbing suits me down to the ground so making my move on the final big climb was how I broke away.
“I was saying earlier, we’ve done a few laps round here in our time, but it’s always a great venue to come back to and race.”
Aldridge shows his pace while Harnden shows her talent
In the junior men’s race, Charlie Aldridge showed his class, recording the fastest lap of the day of 18:13 – ten seconds faster than the elites to take the win.
The European junior cross-country champion rode away from the field, though a less than perfect start saw Aldridge have to pick his way through the field to the front, but from there he didn’t look back.
But hot on the heels of the elite women was junior rider Harnden.
Despite starting two minutes behind the elite race, the talented junior very nearly raced herself into contention with the elites, placing herself fourth overall as she sped to a commanding victory in the junior race, whilst the elite women battled on for one more lap.
Anna McGorum continued the good showing of Scottish riders on the podium as she claimed second junior, while Helen Barron took third.