The cyclo-cross season starts in earnest today with the opening round of British Cycling’s National Trophy Series in Abergavenny.
Many of the finest ‘cross riders in the country will line up for the senior men’s race, including defending series champion, Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Racing), national champion, Ian Field (Hargroves), and his teammate, Jody Crawforth, the national champion in 2009.
But the ‘cross specialists will face the challenge of three riders from Endura Racing, a British squad whose success on the road this season has been bettered only by Team Sky, and who, in Oli Beckingsale, have the overall winner of British Cycling’s cross country mountain bike series.
Beckingsale’s success has been all the sweeter for its achievement in the aftermath of serious injury: the Bristol rider broke his hip in a round of the world cup last year and suffered months of grueling physiotherapy to regain form and fitness. This season has been more rewarding.
“It’s been enjoyable,” he says of 2012. “Obviously, the injury at the end of last year was pretty horrific really, so to come back from that, and to win national mountain bike races – I was really proud of that,” he says.
Freed from the all-or-nothing pressure of a single goal by the dawning certainty that an extended period of recuperation would rule him out of selection for the Olympics, Beckingsale has this season ‘mixed it up’ and renewed his enjoyment in racing. To that end, the five-time national cross country mountain bike champion took to the road to contest the Beaumont Trophy and rode clear of the peloton at the national road race championship, as well as winning three rounds of the national cross country mountain bike series.
Today, he will compete at national level in a third discipline: cyclo-cross. Beckingsale says the need for a good start, to secure a position early in the leading group without sacrificing too much energy, is the key similarity between cyclo-cross and cross country mountain bike racing. The challenge of the former, he says, is as much psychological as physical: overriding the body’s desire to rest after about 20 minutes of effort, and summoning the mental resilience for a sustained effort of three times that length. The full 60-minute duration of today’s race will, he admits, present a challenge, and he expects to be “a little off the pace”. His ‘cross form, however, is good (he recently won a round of the Western League series) and success in the early rounds of the National Trophy Series is not without precedent: Beckingsale won the first round in 2005.
Time off the bike after last season’s injury will this year allow Beckingsale, for the first time, to stage a season-long cyclo-cross campaign. “A full series is something I’ve never done. It’s something I’ve wanted to do at some point and this is the year to do it,” he says. Traditionally, he has taken an extended break at the end of the mountain bike season and rolled out for cyclo-cross competition around Christmas.
He lists Oldham and Crawforth as contenders for today’s race, and identifies Field as the favourite, highlighting the national champion’s early start to his campaign on the other side of the Atlantic as evidence of his intent. “If he’s on the start line, he’s the man to beat, at any of the ‘cross races this winter, I think,” he says.
Beckingsale sounds in good spirits. When he takes RCUK’s call, he is preparing his bike for the weekend’s action. “Having had a major injury, I’m having more fun racing my bike at the moment,” he explains later in the conversation. It’s an approach that has served him well this season, and may do again before the year is out.