Great Britain Cycling Team Olympic Development Programme rider Evie Richards took a superb third place against world-class opposition at round two of the UCI XCO Junior Series in Haiming, Austria on Sunday.
For Richards it was in many ways an improvement on the silver medal she secured in the first round in Montichiari, Italy earlier in April, pitted as she was against more comprehensive opposition including current junior world champion Nicole Koller of Switzerland.
The 18-year-old from Malvern led through the first lap and pushed Koller and Swiss teammate, 2014 world championship bronze medallist Sina Frei, hard throughout. With half a lap to go Richards was just five seconds behind Frei and hoping for a second successive silver medal.
At the end, Richards was narrowly pipped for second by Frei, with the win going to Koller. But her late charge saw her cross the line just behind multiple world champion Marianne Vos, who started a minute ahead in the elite women’s event.
The result leaves Richards leading the series after two of six rounds, on 70 points.
"With Evie it shows the progression closing that time gap. We're moving forward,” said Olympic Development Programme mountain bike coach Simon Watts.
"We weren’t coming here necessarily for a result; we were coming here as a development experience and to keep backing up those performances.
“To show speed to lead the first lap and then to be in a battle with Sina for second like that is just a massive move forward from last year.”
Richards’ teammate Ffion James battled through the field to finish 12th.
Earlier, Tom Craig finished 11th in the junior men’s event, with teammates Frazer Clacherty and Mark McGuire 17th and 23rd respectively.
Craig was up to fifth after two of five laps and still held sixth place with half a lap to go, but ran out of energy to finish just outside the top ten.
McGuire impressed with his speed on the first lap, holding second place before a crash spoiled his chances of a top result.
Clacherty struggled to match his Montichiari performance, where he finished eighth, suffering the effects of a crash in course practice on Saturday.
"The guys are showing that they've got the speed of anybody in that bike race,” said coach Watts.
“It's now just small margins - making the right decisions about pacing, riding well technically and putting it all together.
"We're just around the corner from a real big result with the lads. I think that will start the whole group believing.”
Saturday saw more success for Great Britain, as Dan Tulett took the win in the under-17s event, while Emily Wadsworth took fifth in the under-17 girls.
"Dan and Emily's performances set the marker,” commented Watts. “It shows that we've got good talent coming through and we're in a healthy place.
"It's really exciting - roll on next week."
Round three of the UCI XCO Junior series takes place on 2-3 May in Heubach, Germany. Report, results and reaction will appear on the British Cycling website.