With the opening round of the UCI cross country mountain bike World Cup less than one month away, some of Britain's top young riders are getting a chance to preview their home World Cup course in Dalby in the United Kingdom. Current Under 23 British National Champion David Fletcher is among those training on the course throughout this week. Fletcher and the others are working on general fitness as well as specific technical skills as they familiarize themselves with the track before the big day, April 25.
"It's a good course. It's an all around course with some climbs with some flats and some technical bits. It'll suit the power riders and the climbers because the climbs are quite steep in areas," said Fletcher to Cyclingnews. "There are some nice technical sections with drops, too."
Fletcher raced in Dalby on a similar course for a British National Series round in 2009. "We did a camp before the race last year, too, but this is the first time I've come back to the course since then."
The 21-year-old Fletcher, who is a member of the 100% ME team, predicted that the race will split up quickly, with riders finding themselves in ones and twos, due to the hard nature of the course. "It's a fast course from the start - especially to get into the first singletrack section," he said.
The young rider, who finished third after Oli Beckingsale (Giant) and Lee Williams (Team Wiggle) in last weekend's British National Series opener at Sherwood Pines, is a part of British Cycling's Olympic Academy program. Fletcher explained that he cramped during last weekend's race and attributed the experience to a general lack of racing in his legs given the time of year. Prior to Sherwood Pines, he'd done only two races, both in Israel.
"We get help from nutritionists and mechanics," said Fletcher about some of the support he receives at the training camp as an Olympic Academy athlete.
"During the winter, we also went to Manchester where the velodrome is and trained and lived there for four months. At races, we get help with getting fed bottles and we get bikes and equipment. We get a lot of support. It's everything that we need to stay healthy and do our best."
Before being picked up by the Olympic Academy program, he was part of the Olympic Development program. "The Development Program is more about getting riders to the standard where they can compete in general races. The Academy is more toward bringing you on toward the podium finishes and focusing on medals in Olympic Games."
Fletcher, who considers himself an all around kind of a rider, began racing at a young age. "I started when I was six at a local event at Sherwood Pines and from then, I just kept racing. I did the national series and national championships, though I took my time stepping up to race the national series, where I got a kicking. Later I did a few international races. Then I got into the Talent Team."
His breakthrough performance came at the 2007 Junior World Championship cross country in Fort William, Scotland, where he won a bronze medal in the cross country.
Fletcher had a good 2009 season, including spending some time on the road - something that seemed to help his endurance on his mountain bike. He raced the Tour of Ireland and much of the British calendar. "I was riding for the team. I wasn't there for the results," he said of his road experience. The year had begun with his becoming Under 23 cyclo-cross champion.
Off road, he did well in the British National Points Series, finishing second in the first round and netting a few thirds and fifths. He was second in the national championship cross country race, too.
"Mountain biking is my favorite discipline," he said. "I like to cyclo-cross, but it's more of a hobby in the winter to keep some racing going and to bring the power up. The road is for fitness, it's more about endurance."
Fletcher is hoping for a solid performance in Dalby at the end of April. "I want to get UCI points and gradually work my way up," he said. "It's good to have a World Cup in Britain. Racing in front of the home crowd is amazing. Abroad, you don't get to see any of your fans. And compared to national series races, where a few hundred people show up, at World Cups a few thousand people come out to support you. The fans will be a big help."
Racing on British turf in front of big crowds is an experience Fletcher hopes to repeat in 2012 at the Olympic Games in London. In the meantime, however, he's focused on realistic, short term goals. "I want to get in a good, solid season - top 10 at World Championships and top 20 or 30 at World Cups. I have awhile left yet in under 23, so it's important to chose goals that I can reach."
"Every race I go to, I always try to win - obviously. I'll try to do the best I can," he said.