The British national cyclo-cross championships have been something of a duopoly in recent years. Only once in the last four editions have the names Ian Field and Helen Wyman failed to appear alongside each other on the elite men’s and women’s roll of honour.
Field has won the men’s title four years on the trot, while Wyman has the women’s nine times with a streak that began in 2006 and has only been interrupted once by Nikki Harris in 2013.
It follows, then, that the duo are favourites for the 2016 Championships, taking place this weekend in Shrewsbury, in the West Midlands of England near the Welsh border. However, it’s anything but a foregone conclusion, not least in the women’s race, where a duopoly has emerged in itself.
In the last six years, Harris has been runner-up to Wyman five times – the other occasion being when she claimed the title for herself. If Wyman has been trying to hold off this threat to her dominance, she has more cause for concern than ever this year, given Harris’ recent form. The 29-year-old clinched bronze at the European Championships in November and backed it up in December with a maiden UCI World Cup victory in Namur, Belgium.
Wyman herself had a strong showing on the international scene with fourth at the Superprestige Diegem between Christmas and New Year, and this weekend is set to see a pulsating tussle between the two.
If Field is to equal Roger Hammond’s record of five straight men’s titles, he’ll have to fend off competition from several strong candidates. Chief among them is Liam Killeen, a cross-country mountain biker primarily, who has won the silver medal five times without ever gracing the top step of the podium.
Killeen may be an old foe, but Grant Ferguson is a younger adversary, and moves up to the elite category after three straight national titles in the U23’s. The Scot shone on the world U23 cross-country mountain bike stage this year, with a World Cup win, World Championships bronze, and European Championships silver.
In addition to the elite men’s and women’s events, there will be an U23 men’s race and, for the first time ever, a U23 women’s category. The weekend will also see youth, junior, and veteran racing.
Course and conditions
The Shrewsbury course is based on a flat but technical three-kilometre loop. It will be familiar to many, given its place in the National Trophy series, but there have been some modifications ahead of its debut hosting of the Nationals, as organiser Dave Mellor told VeloUK. More steps have been added in a couple of areas of the course, and there is a longer run-off after the finish line.
With the wet weather that has blighted the UK in recent weeks, the races are set to be extremely muddy affairs.
“The ground is very wet and hence, very muddy” said Mellor, who reckons the elites will take seven to eight minutes over their laps. “Whilst that causes us problems with the clean up, the course should be fine although one section where the jet washes are, is expected to be the worst part when it comes to mud and water on the course.
“There shouldn’t be a lot of running on the course but the pits will for sure be very busy. It’s going to be a ‘low rev event’, a proper slog in true cyclo-cross style.”
Sunday 10 January
• Under-23 men: 9:30am
• Under-23 women: 10:45am
• Elite-women: 1:15pm
• Elite-men: 2:30pm