Wales suffered an Aussie invasion on Sunday as Trek Factory Racing duo Dan McConnell and Rebecca Henderson stormed to victory in the elite men’s and elite women’s races at round four of the British Cycling National MTB Cross-Country Series.
The 2012 Olympians dominated their races, with McConnell winning by 49 seconds, while Henderson won by more than four and a half minutes over a sweltering 4.9-kilometre course at Margam Park near Port Talbot.
Henderson stormed to victory ahead of Cannondale Racing rival Lee Craigie who was 4-36 behind, while Mel Alexander (Contessa Scott) took third, 5-15 off the pace set by the 21-year-old Australian over their six laps.
The winner of the opening round of the UCI MTB World Cup, McConnell’s winning margin was smaller in the elite men’s race, but he was still alone when he took the win after seven laps of the course.
Second spot went to Endura Racing’s Oli Beckingsale, 49 seconds back, while Hope Factory Racing’s Paul Oldham completed that podium with third spot, 2:18 behind.
Nikki Harris (Young Telenet Fidea) dominated the first couple of laps of the women’s race, but could never shake off Henderson who was sticking to her wheel. Lee Craigie was third early on with Maddie Horton, Mel Alexander and Beth Crumpton close behind.
Coming into the third lap Henderson finally started to pull away and got a lead of around 10-12 seconds over Harris, who tried desperately to stay with her rival.
But Harris crashed on lap four going into the Dragon’s Lair, and Henderson continued to plough on to victory. On the penultimate lap, Alexander had overtaken Craigie into second spot, but a late surge from the Cannondale rider saw them switch back.
“Today was a real climber’s course which suited me and I think I had a slight advantage with the hot conditions over the British girls," Henderson said.
"Today was about race preparation and the 45 minute delay at the start probably didn't help anyone, it’s a long time to be waiting around at a start but that is something you have to deal with.
“As far as my race went, I didn't have the legs early in the race, Nikki (Harris) soon got away from me and it was a matter of just holding the gap but once I'd caught her I was able to hold my pace and have a clean race till the finish.
“On the first climb I thought she was digging deep and my power metre showed me I was pushing too hard so I eased back into a smaller gear knowing it would pay off in the second half of the race.”
Quite literally the hot favourite, McConnell took the lead from the start and never lost it.
Oldham and Montgomerie were looking strong behind him, as was David Fletcher after injury, and Rab Wardell too – but none could match Henderson.
Further back, Beckingsale was sitting in the group with Dan Fleeman and Ian Field, biding their time.
At the start of the second lap McConnell had a 15-second lead over Oldham, while Beckingsale and Williams were further back and battling to stay in touch.
Beckingsale had moved up to join Oldham by lap three, but McConnell had extended his lead to around 30 seconds and was looking strong.
Coming into the final lap Beckingsale started to pull away from Oldham, but McConnell’s lead was nearly a minute and he held on for a comfortable win.
Alice Barnes took the victory in the junior female race and made it four wins from four in the series. Barnes rode another strong race and was sitting in the top ten of the race overall for her opening laps.
Isla Short again looked a threat to the race winner but on a borrowed bike she had the cards stacked against her from the off. Short took second spot to Barnes finishing some 25 seconds adrift. Nicky Healy was a cut above the rest of a small expert field taking an emphatic win from Julie Elder finishing her five laps some 25 minutes ahead in 1.35.26.
XC Racer.com Donna Morris took a lone victory in the Master female category completing her four laps in 1.26.15 The Sport category was a closer battle though, just over two minutes separating the top three, Fareham Wheelers Jennifer Thomson crossing the line first in 1.26.57 just over a minute to the good of Fiona Innes who got the better of third place Mel Paddington.
Caroline Goward took her third win of the series with a fine win in the veteran female race finishing her four laps just over six minutes to the good of second place Sarah Barnwell, series leader Helen MacGregor took the final podium spot crossing the line some eight minutes down on Goward.
Elizabeth Clayton took the win in the Grand Veteran race just squeezing out Kim Long into second, with both ladies taking two wins so far in the series the final round at Essex should prove interesting, Alison Linnell took third. Team Scott's Thomas Craig kept his series hopes alive with a fine win in the youth race holding off overall leader Mark McQuire into second place, both riders completing their four laps in under the hour.
Will Gascoyne made the most of his turn of fortune and rode a great race to finish third just ahead of Frazer Clacherty and Paddy Atkinson. Ffion James took a popular win in the youth female race, the Abergavenny RC rider completing three laps in 55.10, Amira Mellor was second and with Sarah Lomas not finishing has probably done enough to secure the series win. Molly Williams took third place.
In the juvenile race Tomos Nesham took a fine win from Dan Tullet, the Cardiff JIF youngster taking some three minutes from Tulett to secure his first win of the series. Harry Shepherd took third place.
Emily Wadsworth continued her winning ways taking her fourth victory of the series. The Beeline Bicycles rider completed her two laps a second under 37 minutes, Patsy Caines was second and Rhianna Stoves completed the podium.
With the course cutting up on the early descents and with the temperature rising the second race would prove to be a battle against rider fatigue and bike damage, just over half the junior field finished their race and the expert and sport race didn't fare much better.
The junior race again proved to be a close run thing with the top three in the series fighting it out for the top three positions in the race but it was Iain Paton who came out on top completing five laps in 1.10.42, Sam Stean just held off Michael Thompson by 13 seconds to take second spot.
Isaac Pucci took the win in the expert race completing six laps in 1.25.12 and keeping his challenge alive for the overall the only rider in that category to have won three race. Lee Gratton finished second just a handful of seconds adrift of Pucci,
Third place Dexter Hurlock rode in third, the Mondraker rider just off the pace but still in with a realistic chance of series victory in the final round. Tom Hooper took the win in the Sport race then rode another lap just to make sure, the All Terrain Cycles rider crossed the line in 1.22.36 some three minutes ahead of Mark Byrne but misheard the race finish and raced another lap. Michael Moore took third spot just edging Lee Morgan into fourth.
As in race two, the final race of the day saw rider after rider abandon with fatigue and mechanical problems.
Jonathan Pugh once again took the victory in the Masters race although the Cycle-Tec rider didn't have an easy ride in the opening laps. As expected, a swift start by Pugh and Philip Morris soon had a gap from the rest of the race but with Pugh looking the most comfortable of the two it was debatable how long Morris could hold on.
Dan Wells sitting in third was chasing the lead pair and was only a few bike lengths adrift. Chris Lever along with Sam Humphrey and Edward Worthington were sitting in fourth, fifth and sixth but were already dropping away from the front three. Pugh and Morris upped the pace on the second lap and Wells started to feel the pressure and was losing his grip on the lead pair only to retire later on the lap.
Lever took his opportunity and began to move away from Humphrey and Worthington, arguably the Cookson Cycles rider barring any mishaps with the lead two riding for the final step of the podium. By the mid way point Pugh started to wind the engine up and pulled away from Morris on the tough climbs soon easing a thirty second gap over the challenger a gap that increased lap on lap to the finish line. Lever was unable to make any headway into Morris and consolidated his efforts to take third spot.
In the Veterans race, series leader Paul Hopkins didn't have the best trip to South Wales, first a jammed chain then a front and rear tyre puncture saw the Merida Factory rider have to retire early but Marc Chamberlain avoided any misfortune to take the win from a fast chasing Crispin Doyle, Steve Calland took a three man sprint from Simon Willats and Mark Spratt to claim third.
Grant Johnson got the better of Pete Harris to take the victory in the grand Veterans race after a hard fought five laps, Mark Ferguson was third. Denis Smith took the win in the super veterans race from Colin Murley. Vic Barnett rolled across the line in third spot some six minutes adrift of Smith after a mechanical problem.
1 Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing) 1:32:00
2 Oli Beckingsale (Endura Racing) @ 49sec
3 Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing) @ 2:18
4 Gareth Montgomerie (GT Racing) @ 3:54
5 Dan Fleeman (Dig Deep Coaching) @ 4:17
1 Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory Racing) 1:38:00
2 Lee Craigie (Cannondale Racing) @ 4:36
3 Mel Alexander (Contessa Scott) @ 5:15
4 Maddie Horton (Fully Sussed) @ 8:11
5 Beth Crumpton (Hargroves Specialized) @ 9:53
Please credit www.britishcycling.org.uk and link back if you use any of our race results.
British Cycling would like to thank the organising team, officials and everyone else who helped promote this event. Our sport could not exist without the hundreds of people, many of them unpaid volunteers, who put in many hours of hard work running events, activities and clubs.