The best cyclo-cross riders in the world were in Milton Keynes last weekend for the third round of the World Cup series of cycling’s major winter discipline.
A 2.6km course threading its way around Campbell Park saw a full World Cup programme for Juniors, Women and Men on Saturday whilst the top British women and men riders - from under 14s to over 50s – raced on Sunday.
This was the first time a round of the World Cup had taken place outside mainland Europe and for it to be held in the UK and then in Milton Keynes was a huge coup for race organisers Simon Burney and MK Council’s Richard Duffill.
With Britain’s Elite women having topped the world rankings for months, the many thousands who crowded round the twisting course had high hopes of a British win in the women’s race and this year’s World Championships bronze medallist Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Racing) and Derby’s Nikki Harris (Telenet Fidea Cycling Team) – the 2013 National ‘cross champion - pushed to their limits not to let them down.
But on this occasion the winners of the first two World Cup races, Belgium’s Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) and American Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) had other ideas and it was these two riders who stamped their authority on the race from part way round the second of the five lap race.
Wyman was slightly delayed by a crash in the opening few corners caused by the thick mud that created problems for all riders but Harris, by keeping herself at the front of the race from the very start, avoided her British rival’s fate.
Although Harris was distanced by the race leaders, using the form that saw her win a Superprestige race in Belgium just 7 days before racing in Milton Keynes, she kept ahead of all the others, first consolidating and then retaining her final third place finish. On this occasion Wyman slipped back to an eventual 8th place finish.
But at the front Cant and Compton seemed to swap places with every twist and turn of the course until, half way round the final lap, the Belgian rider had a small problem gifting Compton the win.
“That was my closest race win of my life,” she said. “The crowds around the course were really amazing. It was like racing in a World Championship in Belgium!”
Harris was another to comment on the part played by the spectators: “It’s unbelievable, there was support all around the course. I never thought I’d experience in my cyclo-cross career a World Cup race here so that was such an honour to take part. I’m so happy to have got a podium finish.
“This really is a World Championships course and Simon Burney and the whole gang to have made this a spectator friendly course where they can see nearly everything, it’s an amazing course.”
In the men’s race, the name on many lips before the start was that of another Belgian, double World Champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink). But the ‘cross super-star was another rider to be out done by the Glastonbury-like mud where, in the first few corners, he dropped his chain and quickly found himself 30 seconds behind the race.
That left an open race and a group of 7 riders broke away after two laps that slowly reduced in number as the laps ticked by. Coming into the last of the nine laps, Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels of the Sunweb – Napoleon Games Cycling Team outfit were left, like in the women’s race, trying to outsprint each other for the win and it was Pauwels who took the chequered flag.
Britain’s Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles – Ridley RT) had his best ever World Cup finish in 12th place less than 2 minutes behind the winner.
Nys was left thinking about what would have happened if he’d not had mechanical problems as he eventually finished in 8th place but was another rider to talk about the city’s Campbell Park as a possible World Championship venue.
“Definitely this is a venue where you can hold the World Championships. It has everything to have an exciting and hard race, where you need to have a lot of skills. I’m really happy they decided to bring the World Cup here.”
In Sunday’s National Trophy races, some of the World Cup riders stayed for more British style racing and they again swept up the main prizes. But in the Juniors race there was an excellent 6th place finish for David Barnes (Team Corley Cycles) with Jacob Tresham, another Team Corley rider, finishing inside the top twenty in the massive field for the boys U16 race.