The national cyclo-cross championships comes to Peel Park, Bradford this weekend (January 10-11) with racing for all categories spread over two days, culminating in the senior men?s race on Sunday afternoon.
Riders will be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, with freezing temperatures currently predicted for both days? racing. Organiser John Rawnsley promises a tough course that will produce worthy champions, but the muddy slog that was the 2007 national Trophy event at the same venue seems unlikely to be repeated if the forecasts are correct. Staying upright on the frozen cambered sections may be more of an issue.
The men?s race looks wide open, with any of eight riders capable of topping the podium on the day, health permitting ? several of the main contenders have fallen foul of the colds and flu that have swept the nation over the Christmas period.
Saturday?s programme features youth, veteran and under-23 races, with the junior, women and senior championships the following day. Entry for spectators is absolutely free, so wrap up warm and get to Bradford to see the countries? top cross riders in action.
WHERE AND WHEN
Saturday 10 January
Veteran 50+ Championship 10:30
Youth Championship 11:45
Veteran 40-49 Championship 13:00
Under-23 Championship 14:30
Sunday 11 January
Women’s Championship 11:00
Junior Championship 12:30
Senior Championship 14:15
Roger Hammond The current national champion has only a handful of cross races under his belt this season, but that is usually enough for the former junior World Champion to be competitive. Whether the Bradford course will suit the Cervélo pro is debatable.
Paul Oldham Two wins in this year?s National Trophy see Oldham leading the series. One of those victories came at Ipswich, where the Lancashire-based man revelled in the muddy conditions and took the testing set of steps in his stride. Peel Park will be right up his street.
Ian Field Field won on this course last year and is in great form. The 22-year-old from Kent makes regular racing trips to Belgium that will stand him in good stead.
Jody Crawforth Another rider who spent most of the Christmas period in Belgium, finishing one place behind Hammond in Loenhout. Twice a bronze medallist, this could be the year Crawforth moves up a step on the podium.
Liam Killeen Something of an unknown quantity this year due to a lack of cross racing, but the runner-up at three of the last four championships rarely lets that hold him up. Will be there or thereabouts.
Ian Bibby Reigning under-23 champion Bibby was a convincing winner of the rescheduled North England cross championships last week, finishing over a minute ahead of Rob Jebb, and beat Killeen and Nick Craig in Macclesfield after Christmas. The SiS rider is clearly hitting form at the right time.
Rob Jebb A long shot for a podium position but if conditions are grim in Bradford, Jebb is your man. Runs quicker than most of us can ride and loves a hard course.
Nick Craig Three-time champion Craig can never be discounted. It may be his last year in the seniors but he is training hard for this one. Superb bike handling and a wise head put him firmly in the frame.
Cycling Weekly says
It is a tricky one to call this year. Course conditions will play a big part and freezing cold temperatures and rock-hard ground appear the most likely scenario.
I am plumping for Hammond for the top spot again, a position he has filled eight times since 1994. The spring classics may be his main priority for the next few months, but Hammond still has the class to take this race, with or without specific preparation.
After that, Oldham gets my vote for the silver. He will handle the Bradford course well and give Hammond a good run for his money.
I?m torn between Crawforth and Bibby for bronze. Bibby nicks it for coming into form at just the right time.
1. Roger Hammond
2. Paul Oldham
3. Ian Bibby
Helen Wyman The red-hot favourite?s form has been up and down over the last few weeks so there could be an upset on the cards. However, last time out she was back on song at Tervuren in Belgium, finishing third behind Holland?s Daphny van den Brand. Barring illness or mechanicals, Wyman should land her fourth consecutive title.
Nikki Harris Like Wyman and her team-mate Gabby Day, Harris has based herself in Belgium over the winter and the programme of top-class racing has seen her progress in leaps and bounds. Podium material.
Annie Last First year senior Last won the Mallory Park round of the National Trophy and took second at Ipswich. May need a year or two to get in the national medals, although the Bradford course agrees with Last ? she won there last year.
Suzanne Clarke Current leader of the national trophy series and best bet of the home-based women to step onto the podium. A consistently high finisher who relishes tough conditions.
Gabby Day Struggling to hit top form this season, Day was silver medallist for the past two years and, on a good day, has the legs to add to that tally.
Cycling Weekly says
Wyman has to be the winner here unless something goes badly wrong. The next two positions are, to my mind, between Clarke and Harris ? a close call, but I go for Clarke to nick it.
1. Helen Wyman
2. Suzanne Clarke
3. Nikki Harris