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Preview: 2012 National Cyclo-Cross Championships set to be a classic

RCUK columnist, Ian Field, is among the pre race favourites for Sunday (8)

This weekend’s National Cyclo-Cross Championships looks set to be a classic.

Four former national champions are due to fight for the senior men’s title, and yesterday (5) the defending women’s champion, and pre-race favourite, announced that recovery from a recent illness could rule her out.

Paul Oldham, Jody Crawforth, Ian Bibby, and seven-time champion, Roger Hammond, will go head-to-head for the men’s crown, while the battle for the women’s title has been blown wide open by yesterday’s revelation from Helen Wyman.

Defending champion, Helen Wyman, could be sidelined by illness

In a statement on her website, Wyman, a six-time national cyclo-cross champion, admitted that recovery from a recent illness could leave her sidelined on Sunday (8).

“It’s pretty disappointing but it’s just a case of not being healthy.  Eight or nine day consecutive days off the bike isn’t ideal preparation.  If I do start I know I’ll be fresh.  I hadn’t targeted the championships and still have all of my focus on being 100% on form for the World Championships at the end of the month,” she said.

Wyman had been expected to resume battle with World Cup rivals, Nikki Harris and Gabriella Day. All three women have chosen to compete in Europe on the most demanding of cyclocross stages, and currently hold respective rankings of fifth, tenth, and eighteenth from the UCI. Harris secured a top 10 finish in the most recent round of the UCI World Cup at Zolder on Boxing Day, finishing ahead of Wyman and Day.

The return to cyclo-cross racing of cross country mountain bike queen, Annie Last (Boardman Elite), is expected to add extra spice to the race. Victory in the most recent round of the season long National Trophy Series at Bradford a month ago showed her ability to switch codes and be as effective riding a drop bar bike off road as a mountain bike.

Wyman singled out Last as a serious contender for the title she has held for the last six years, and vowed not to give it up “without a fight.”

“Annie Last is on the start list and I think she’s going to mix things up a little.  Nobody has mentioned her as a contender, but she’s a classy rider who has proved what she can do at major championships,” Wyman said.

A further challenge could come from Hannah Payton (Kinesis-Morvelo) who has delivered five consecutive top five finishes in defence of the National Trophy Series title she won last year as a junior and which she looks set to retain at the sixth and final round at Shrewsbury on January 15.

Defending champion, Paul Oldham, one of the pre-race favourites on Sunday (8)

The senior men’s category could deliver the best race of the season. Paul Oldham’s dominant season has installed him as pre-race favourite, but with closest rival, Jody Crawforth, in attendance, alongside Ian Bibby and Roger Hammond, both former national cyclo-cross champions returning to the discipline amid successful road careers, and Ian Field having honed his skills on the world stage, nothing is certain about the outcome of Sunday’s showdown.

Oldham, has enjoyed an impressive season in the National Trophy Series, netting maximum points from second place finishes behind visiting foreign riders in the first and second rounds at South Shields and Leicester, and from fourth place at Southampton, where he finished less than 50 seconds behind a trio of visiting riders from Holland and Belgium. A superb recovery ride to finish fifth after a puncture at Derby showed his grit in the face of adversity, and was followed by victory in the fifth round at Bradford, requiring him only  to finish fifth or higher at the closing round in Shrewsbury a week after the National Championships to clinch the National Trophy Series.

Defending National Trophy Series champion, Crawforth, won the red, white and blue stripes of national champion in 2009, and was runner up in 2010 and 2011. Despite finishing behind Oldham in all but one of the five rounds held so far of this year’s National Trophy Series, he cannot be overlooked. Vastly experienced, and one half of a fast-becoming-classic rivalry with Oldham, Crawforth knows what it takes to win and could rip up the form book on Sunday (8)).

Ian Field (Hargroves) has embraced the ultimate cyclo-cross challenge by competing in Belgium’s SuperPrestige Series as well as UCI World Cup races and races in America. He recently finished fortieth in a world class field at the sixth round of the UCI World Cup in Zolder on Boxing Day. A runner-up in the U23 national championships during the 2006/07 season in which he also won the first round of the National Trophy Series, Field has since chosen to test himself against the world’s best, competing each year since in World Cup competitions and Belgium’s SuperPrestige series.

Premier Calendar champion, Ian Bibby (Endura Racing), has used cyclo-cross as a route back to peak fitness after the shoulder injury that ended a Tour of Britain campaign which had carried him to fourth on the overall standings. He rode the Macclesfield Supacross on December 27, finishing fourth behind Paul Oldham, Liam Killeen, and David Fletcher.

Killeen (Giant) and Fletcher (Boardman Elite) are also strong contenders. The duo are favourites for selection for Team GB’s cross country mountain bike squad for the London Olympics, and have made ample use of their endurance and bike handling skills when cross racing.

The British Cycling National Cyclo-Cross Championships will be held this weekend (Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 January 2012) at Chantry Park, Ipswich, Suffolk.

For further details, visit British Cycling.

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