Report: European XC Championships - Espoirs

Report: European XC Championships - Espoirs

Home » News

Annie Last produced a stunning ride in her rookie Espoir year to finish fourth in the under-23 competition, scoring Team GB's best result to date at the Championships. Riding most of the race in the big ring following mechanical issues, Last was not deterred and only finished behind big names on the World Cup Scene. Race winner was Poland's Aleksandra Dawidowicz ahead of Sweeden's Alexandra Engen and Frenchwoman Julie Bresset.

The indicators of a great performance were realised close to the Championships; two wins over Sabine Spitz two weeks previous and seven days later an instrumental supporting ride in the European Road Championships to help Katie Colclough take silver; but even on the day nothing was taken for granted.

Fresh from months of studying, Last threw herself into the race, coming through in an impressive fifth spot on the lap one. Anticipation in the GB camp was high, as the young rider smoothly kept apace. Then just as she neared the start of her third lap, she suffered chain suck. This meant dismounting and freeing the chain, as hard won places went whizzing by while keeping calm and setting off in pursuit, with only the big ring for company! Unfazed she kept pushing on and was close to a medal.

Unfortunately the race would end a little too soon and Last would finish a heart stopping fourth, to wild cheers from her Mum, Dad and the rest of the GB squad! After the race Annie was clearly in jubilant mood.

"That was amazing, I'm so pleased - until three weeks ago I'd been solidly studying for exams before going taking up a full-time cycling programme.

I had a reasonable start, back in the third row and on the first corner I felt there were loads of riders coming past me, but then we got into the singletrack and I got underneath about five riders, dropped them all and went from there. The end of the second lap I had chain suck so a few riders passed me there, but I got back into the race picking up places again. I tried pushing on to catch the third placed girl, she was about 30 seconds ahead, but I couldn't do anymore.

Going forward my confidence has taken such a boost with this and my other races I've done in the last couple of weeks, I can't wait to get stuck in again, we'll see what happens. I've got the National Championships to come before I can have a week off though!"

Coach Phil Dixon was equally impressed and delighted that a GB woman has finally turned the corner.

"Fourth place for Annie, when she didn't have the smoothest of races is fantastic. Her performance throughout the race was outstanding. Considering she's been full time school until three weeks, ago is amazing and there is so more to come from Annie Last. I think it's exciting for British mountain biking.

She got a good start, put herself in the race, listened and delivered everything we talked about prior to the race. She pushed herself on, really used the gears and kept it strong. Her plan was just to put herself in the race, redline on the climbs and used the gears over the top to pedal and push the transitions, most girls would have pushed over the top of the climbs, but if you keep redlining, then you're not going to be able to keep that effort up for six laps.

Annie did as she was told and it worked well for her. After two laps she got chain suck but she didn't panic and knew that her target was a single figure result so a top ten would have been fine. She dropped down a few spots, sorted her chain out then nipped onto the back of a group, used their wheels and started bringing the gaps down. The chain suck had also caused a problem with the front mech so then she was stuck in the big ring, which on a steep course like this isn't good.

I considered pulling her in on lap four to have a quick look at the bike but by that time she was riding with a Ukrainian and looked quite strong, she rode a couple of the steep climbs so I told her to keep on and treat it as strength training! I just said to her remember all that winter training we did!

Having to use that gear she started to catch riders and she got within 30 seconds of the third placed rider. I think by then her legs had had it on the last lap."

It was however another day of contrasting fortunes for team GB as in brilliantly hot conditions Lily Matthews underwent another baptism of fire. This young lady has achieved an awful lot in such a short space of time and every day and every race brings new challenges and learning experiences. Today was no different. Despite a good start Lily, just couldn't get to terms with the race and ended up in a disappointing 26th spot, but coach Phil Dixon was impressed with her commitment and believes that there will be more to come from this rider explaining:

"This is Lily's first major championship it's a very different animal to national events; the best riders in the world here. I think Lily has done well today, early 20's, she's gone out and done her best, you can't ask for more can you. Last thing I want Lily to be is disappointed because she has no need to be, her progression curve has been very steep, she's achieved a lot in a short time and I believe we will see a lot more from Lily Matthews."

Lily herself was gutted to have delivered a less than perfect race plan, but was reticent for the future:

"I'm so disappointed, I rode really badly out there today. I felt a lot of pressure but I have to keep reminding myself that this is my first year and this is all a learning curve for me and this race was a good experience. I know I've come a long way in a short time but I know I have a heck of a lot more to go yet. I got a good start; I'm quite pleased with that. I worked hard at the start bridging gaps over to other riders, but I couldn't sustain the effort, I just couldn't chase the wheels. Looking back I'm sure there will be some positives from this but at the moment I'm just so disappointed with myself that I didn't have my best race here, but to be honest I wasn't feeling my best today and hopefully I'll have a better race at the next one."

Later with the sun still shining brightly it was the turn of the men, this time it was Dave Fletcher wearing the GB strip that was on a mission to uphold our honour over eight laps. It was to be the day for the Swiss however as they dominated proceedings, leading from the early stages and wiping up all the podium spots between them with Fabian Giger taking the title. For Fletcher it was a day he'd much rather forget. A good start meant he was flying high in seventh spot on the opening lap and then he just started to slide backwards. His usual smooth style seemed to be at sixes and sevens, a possible result of his training as Phil Dixon explained:

"It just wasn't Dave's day today, he did put himself in the race to begin with and then slowly slipped back as the race unfolded. I think from the phase of training he was in he's not properly come out of that to deliver a mountain bike performance, he's in a transition period."

He kept plugging on but it was clear his usual spark just wasn't there. Couple that with a crash with just three laps to go saw Fletcher record a very uncharacteristic 39th spot. He explained his race to me later and his thoughts on his future:

"I got a good start and came out on the first lap in about seventh, I sat in for a bit and then lost a few places and came round in the top 15 and from on it just seemed to all go downhill. I don't know why, I didn't have the ummph that I usually have. I came off with three laps to go and just before that I just felt like I was coming back again I had a good spurt started making up a few more places and after that I just couldn't get back on terms really.

This year has been quite a hard year for me; I've been doing quite a bit of road and getting the mileage in. I've got a lot of strength when it comes to three-four hours but for short bursts like today, it wasn't quite there. From now on I've got a lot of mountain bike racing so I should be able to get back on terms with it. I see it all as building blocks towards the future I've a few more years to go yet, I'm just taking each day and each race as it comes and taking it all in my stride so that each year I can improve until eventually I'm contending for medals, especially in London 2012.

It was an alright ride today, I'm not overly pleased, you have good days and bad days and today was a bad day for me, but I'm sure the good days will be just round the corner."

Finally Phil Dixon was philosophical about long-term gains and also delighted that at least someone had noticed GB have pulled up their socks!

"The second half of the season is more mountain bike orientated and I think he'll benefit from that building block of endurance. We're building the bottom of the pyramid up and the roadwork is all part of that, he has the strength he's just not comfy off road at the minute, but he'll be fine. The major plan is looking at the bigger picture for the future.We must be doing something right as the French coach came up to me earlier and say that he thought that the GB riders were getting a lot better, I was quite taken back by that, somebody has noticed what we're about!"

Tomorrow, we unleash our big guns, in the senior women and men's races with Oli Beckingsale and Liam Killeen both in action, over we're told ten laps, and Sue Clarke tackling eight, unless it rains - which the forecast says is likely. We'll leave you with a couple of images of Oli and Sue, following a wet practice lap earlier in the week.

Click here to return to the European Championships coverage index.