By Gerry McManus
Top level criterium racing returns to Otley in Yorkshire this Wednesday June 20 when the town hosts the men's British criterium championship. The town hosted the championship race two years ago when a young Mark Cavendish showed his emerging talent after the now T-Mobile professional took the gold medal. James Taylor returns to defend the title he won last year when team-mate Tony Gibb also took the silver for the Plowman Craven team. This year's Plowman Craven/Evans team also has talented sprinter Simon Gaywood travelling up from Leighton Buzzard.
The riders will have to be alert as the full 100-strong field contests the one hour event on a tough little circuit which starts as the light begins to fade at 8.30 in the evening. Whoever wins the national champion's jersey will have beaten the best criterium riders that Britain has to offer.
Russell Downing (Team Health Net - Maxxis) makes the short trip up from Rotherham following his victories in the Brentwood town centre race and the 'Northern Rock' Beaumont Trophy in consecutive weeks. Downing has already worn the national champion's jersey as criterium champion in 2002 and road race champion in 2005. There's even more chance that the name Downing could be engraved on the gold medal with Russell's brother Dean riding the event as part of the five-man Rapha Condor racing team.
Competition for the podium spots will come from Rob Sharman (KFS Special Vehicles), Tom Barras (Merlin RT), Malcolm Elliott (Pinarello RT), Chris Newton and Simon Holt (both Recycling.co.uk), Ian Wilkinson (Science in Sport) and Rob Hayles (Team KLR) to name but a few.
Steve Cummings (Discovery Channel) and Ben Greenwood (Bedogni Natalini Praga) also return home from their continental exploits. Greenwood has had a number of good results in Italy this year including second place in the GP Madonna Delle Grazie in April. Cummings rode a slightly larger Italian race in May when he was called up for the Discovery team for the Giro d'Italia. The 26 year-old from the Wirral used his British team pursuit experience to help the Discovery team to fifth place in the 25.6km team time trial opening stage.
Alas Warrick Spence's (Cyclefit) New Zealand nationality means he is ineligible here and his attacking style and speed through corners will be missed by the 4,000 fans expected to watch if the weather holds fair.