While the domestic cyclo-cross season is drawing to a close, the international campaign is reaching its crescendo with this weekend's World Championships in Valkenburg, where Ian Field will be part of a 13-strong British contingent racing in the Netherlands.
Field will be Great Britain's sole entrant in the elite men's field and the 31-year-old has valiantly flown his nation's flag in cyclo-cross since taking his first British title in 2013. Having moved to Flanders and immersed himself in cyclo-cross culture in a country where mud and knobbly tyres are almost as iconic as frites and beer, Field earnt the nickname 'Field de Brit' from Belgian fans, going shoulder-to-shoulder with the sport's best riders in World Cups and Superprestige races, week-in-week-out.
If you've been following this series through the season, where I've been taking my first steps into the world of cyclo-cross, it's been a disappointing end to the campaign for me, with what was due to be my final race being cancelled. I'll use my final blog to re-cap the season, including a windswept race across the badlands of Gravesend, but with the worlds fast-approaching, it seems a good opportunity to catch up with Field, who this year won the National Trophy Series for the fifth time in a row.
Indeed, with a number of rising stars coming through the under-23 ranks, including Evie Richards, who we caught up with earlier this week, and Tom Pidcock, Field has a better understanding of the rise of British 'cross than most. Where once he was the sole British man on the European circuit, at a time when Nikki Brammeier and Helen Wyman were making significant in-roads on the women's circuit, Britain's young riders are now expected to come back from the worlds with medals.
Read on for Field's thoughts on his season to date, the worlds and the future of British 'cross.
How would you describe your 2017/18 season?
"It’s been a mixed bag. I wrapped up the National Trophy Series quite early on actually and then I suffered with this flu that a lot of people have had - it rumbled on for two weeks and left me struggling for fitness for the National Championships in January. It didn’t leave me much time, and I lacked a little bit on the day [Field finished second behind Grant Ferguson], but I’ve been getting better and better since then. Hopefully I can finish the season well with the World Championships this weekend."
What are your targets for this weekend's World Championships?
"I don’t normally put a figure on the World Championship result. I just want to execute a good ride on the day, not make any silly mistakes and get it all out - that’s all I can do, and if I ride to my potential then the position I get will reflect that."
You chose to prioritise the National Trophy Series this year over World Cup races - is that a sign the domestic scene is getting stronger?
"The British scene is getting better and better each year. Especially with a lot of overseas riders coming over this year, it was a high standard. It was good racing and good to support the UK scene. It made sense, what with riding for a British team, for British sponsors, and getting coverage in the British press."
"Cyclo-cross is definitely getting bigger and bigger each season. It’s been growing for several years and each year the organisers really step it up with how professional races look"
Have you seen a noticeable rise in the popularity of cyclo-cross and participation in races?
"It definitely gets bigger and bigger each season. It’s been growing for several years and each year the organisers really step it up with how professional races look. It’s really good for the sport and there are also so many people participating on a local level. That eventually comes through to the national level, with more people racing to a higher standard, as we’ve seen with the younger guys and girls at the moment. It’s great for the sport of cyclo-cross - and also for the sport of cycling in general."
There's a whole crop of talented British riders coming through the ranks - Tom Pidcock, Dan Tulett, Evie Richards etc. Is that just a coincidence or a sign of things to come for British cyclo-cross?
"Everything filters down. You need those role models for the younger guys to look up to and it sets a standard. The first year juniors are stepping up, and racing against those talented second-year juniors and it brings everyone along a little bit. It provides a bit of knowledge as well - those guys pass it down, and it creates an environment of success breeding success."
What is your own role within that?
"Looking forward, I need to keep competing on the world scene and trying to improve on the results I’ve had in the past. Then it’s just maintaining that position, trying to show you can be a cyclo-cross rider and to be a little bit of an inspiration for the kids to go abroad, spread their wings a little bit and jump in at the deep end as such."
Nikki and Matt Brammeier's new Mudiiita Project is encouraging similar, trying to give young riders a pathway to the European scene...
"I think it’s as good a time as any to race abroad. It’s never easy going abroad and racing but it’s great the project Nikki and Matt are doing to make it easier. And the GB setup is actually doing a really good job with the cyclo-cross side of things, taking them to races throughout the season so they don’t get to the World Championships and feel like a fish out of water. It’s a good setup we’ve got now."
"We need these young riders to stay in the sport, filter up into elite level and have success there. That’s the real role model figure we need"
How can the British CX scene keep growing and move on to the next level?
"We need these young riders to stay in the sport, filter up into elite level and have success there. That’s the real role model figure we need. We’ve got it at the women’s level with Nikki and Helen, and we need other people to really carry on. If there are two or three guys racing the elite races then it makes it look a bit more achievable for the younger guys, so they will stay with the sport and it grows from there."
The 2018 UCI World Cyclo-Cross World Championships will take place in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, on Saturday February 3 (men's junior, women's under-23 and women's elite) and Sunday February 4 (men's under-23, men's elite)