Interview: Defending champion Nikki Harris keen to retain national ‘cross title in home county

Derbyshire-born rider races at the National Cyclo-cross Championships this weekend

British women’s cyclo-cross champion Nikki Harris is relishing the prospect of defending her title in her home county on Sunday.

Harris, 27, is originally from Derbyshire, not far from Derby’s Moorways Stadium, which hosts this weekend’s championships.

And Harris – who won the jersey for the first time last year to end the seven-year winning streak of European Champion Helen Wyman – admits it is a special feeling to pull on the prestigious blue and red striped jersey.

Nikki Harris, right, shows off the national champion’s jersey on the podium in Namur with world champion Marianne Vos and American ‘cross queen Katie Compton alongside her (pic: Balint Hamvas)

“I’m looking forward to it,” she told RCUK. “Obviously, being in Derbyshire, it’s where I live. It would be nice to try and win those stripes again.

“It means quite a lot. It really gets you recognised when you’re racing and it’s something that really stands out. It’s always nice to be British champion and to be able to show that at every race.

“Over the last few months as well, with getting good results, it has also been really nice to wear it on the podium. It does mean quite a bit.”

The Moorways course, a circuit of the sports fields and running track which also takes in part of Elm Woods, last hosted the national championships in 2011 when Harris was runner-up to Wyman.

And although she admits international commitments have prevented her from returning to the course since, she is expecting a course much more akin to those on the British domestic circuit than what she now tackles on the continent.

“I’ve not had a look at the course this week, but it will be quite a lot different to the Belgian courses, obviously,” she said.

“It’s a lot more grassland. It’s a typical English course around parklands and up banks with a bit of off-camber as well.”

Harris’ victory in last year’s race came while she was suffering with a knee injury, which ultimately ruled her out of the World Championships later in the year.

After showing impressive form this season, Harris is keen to retain the prestigious jersey at the national championships this weekend (pic: Balint Hamvas)

However, 12 months on she is fit and raring to go ahead of what she believes will be a tough battle with Wyman for the national title.

“This time last year I had so many problems with my knee. Now, touch wood, I’m feeling in good shape so hopefully I can put up a good fight for it,” she said.

“Me and Helen are quite similar at the moment – some races she’s been ahead, and others I’ve been ahead so hopefully it will be a good battle to the finish.

“Then you’ve got Gabby Durrin as well. I know she’s had a bit of sickness recently so I don’t know how she’s going, but you can’t ever count somebody out.

“I think that will be the major competition, but I’ve seen there’s something like more than 40 girls entered. It’s good to see so many girls entering from the UK.”

Harris, Wyman and Durrin have been in impressive form on the UCI circuit, with their performances placing Great Britain atop the nation’s rankings.

Harris’ achievements include a Bpost Bank Trofee victory in Ronse and Superprestige win at Hamme-Zogge, alongside a host of World Cup podium places – where she currently sits second overall.

Wyman, meanwhile, defended her European crown, won Superprestige races in Ruddervoorde and Gieten and won the prestigious Koppenbergcross to help her currently top the Bpost Bank Trofee standings.

Harris leads Wyman up one of Valkenberg’s leg-sapping hills, but the British pair have been evenly matched all season (Pic: Balint Hamvas)

However, Harris hopes a victory in Derby will provide the boost she needs to overhaul Wyman in the latter as both riders recover from a packed Christmas period.

“Obviously a win is always good for your confidence,” Harris admitted. “There is also the Worlds coming up and the final World Cup round in Nommay too – I really want to get a good result there as I’m second overall.

“Because of the intense programme over Christmas it has really just been race, rest, race, rest but with the rest not being any more than one day.

“This week I’ve got back into a good routine of being able to train well and then rest well in the afternoons, rather than thinking that I’ve got to be careful with a race the following day.

“Earlier this week I trained through Rome before a couple of days back here in Derby and then the last few I have taken steadier to try and freshen up a little bit for Sunday.”

She concluded: “I just think every good result you can get is good for the confidence and therefore it would be really nice to get the win on Sunday – especially in Derby.”

Click here for a preview of this weekend’s national cyclo-cross championships.

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