National cyclo-cross championships analysis
Until the final lap of Sunday's National Cyclo-Cross Championship in Birmingham, the win seemed like it might go to any one of five riders.
Alongside the clearly frisky, eventual winner Ian Bibby, there was defending champion Jody Crawforth, National Trophy winner Paul Oldham and Britain's best finisher in the World Championships, Ian Field. Then there was also the newly crowned veteran's champion Nick Craig. At times the evergreen Scott UK rider was hanging off the back chasing with Dan Booth. At other times he was mixing it with the four leaders and even ventured a couple of attacks on the race's ultimate laps. His dogged determination and never-say-die attitude delighted a noisy crowd already gripped by a race thrown open to possibilities. Was this the effect of the late season date or the absence of the often dominant Roger Hammond - otherwise committed at the Tour of Qatar? Either way, the battle was a corker.
Yeah, Bibby, yeah!
Perhaps it was Paul Oldham who had looked the strongest early on. After the fast starting effort by Stuart Bowers, it was the Lancastrian who set the pace in the early laps, thus defining the day's main move. Truth be told, Oldham was just trying to keep a consistent speed going.
"I like it to be a bit faster and sustained," he explained. "I don't like the surging."
Having collected a bronze medal, the Hope Factory Team rider admitted afterwards, he never really fancied his chances for the rescheduled title race.
"It's been a stressful month. It's three weeks ‘til we've got a baby due and I've been busy all week. On Monday we got back from the Worlds at four o'clock in the morning and then we were moving house at half seven! It‘s not ideal preparation. Everything's come at once. But you can't grumble. I'm sure everyone else had mega form on the 6th January [the original championship date] too."
Maybe the season has also been a bit too long for Ian Field. Having spent the entire winter based in Belgium racing top level races each week, it was widely speculated that he might have the better measure of his domestically prepared rivals. Having never won a national cross title before, he's also been desperately hungry for one.
But when the screw was turned mid-race on Sunday, the Hargroves man didn't quite look on top of his game. He let a couple of lengths open before responding to attacks; his face carried a sense of weariness.
But then again, perhaps he had just been biding his time. After Craig laid down the pressure through the woods with one and a half laps to go, Field moved to the front and pulled out a big artillery attack. The downfall of it was the immediate response from Bibby. As was the case when both Ians were junior and under-23 riders, Field's nemesis again looked to have the better of him on National Championship day.
So what of Crawforth? Wily, persistent and attentive, the Arctic-Premier RT may seem nonchalant when talking about his racing, but out on the course he has a killer instinct. Although not as attacking and pro-active as Bibby on Sunday, he couldn't be underestimated. He packs a good punch in the sprint and is a very hard rider to shake off.
Crawforth: conceded Bibby was stronger
But Bibby played his cards perfectly. He too "was pretty confident for if it came to a sprint...so didn't want to let anything get away". He had quite "a few digs to see who was responding, but nothing was sticking". Thus he made sure the group stayed together until the last lap. There, fresh from not having ridden a full cross season and psyched for his upcoming road season, Bibby put down the hammer.
"I thought if I could get into the technical bits and someone messes up a bit, I could get away over the top [of a bank] and they wouldn't really notice straight away."
This is exactly what happened when Field strayed into the tapes in the mid-lap section through a copse, baulking Crawforth while Bibby powered away. Crawforth voiced annoyance with Field's air of resignation after this incident and fought valiantly to try and recapture Bibby. At the finish line the gap between the two was just two seconds. But as Crawforth readily conceded: "Bibby was the strongest today and deserved to win."
An opportunist thief made off with veteran Gary Allen's distinctive Kuota cross bike from outside the signing on tent at the national cyclo-cross championships in Sutton Park on Saturday.
Anyone seeing or hearing of a medium Kuota Carbon Cross with carbon Spinergy wheels and yellow spokes should contact Sutton Coldfield police or call Gary at GA Cycles on 02380 636648.
The unique machine features Dura Ace gears, Rotor 3D cranks and TRP Mag brakes. Frame number; KUCC01MW090014.