At 10am on Monday, the gun will fire to start a day of international mountain bike racing, the likes of which Britian hasn’t seen for two years. The hallowed turf of Rivington Pike will feel the weight of a hundred wheels, as the competitors in the Commonwealth Games Cross-Country race pound their way across the Pennines.
Clear favourites for mountain bike glory are the Canadians, with the Aussies also fielding a strong team, but both England and Scotland have genuine medal hopes to fire up the home crowd. Using last weekend’s National Championships as a form guide, England’s Oli Beckingsale and Liam Killeen, and Scotland’s Caroline Alexander all confirmed their training was on course to peak for the Friendly Games. If they’re going to feel the weight of a gold medal around their necks, they’ll have to produce the ride of their lives, but with home advantage, and your support, they might just do it.
With a second place at the Belgian round of the Tissot/UCI World Cup earlier this year, Caroline Alexander is the best-placed rider of the trio to achieve a home win. The tough course at Rivington should suit the climbing prowess of Alexander, but the final rocky descent could prove her downfall should she puncture.
Going into the event, three-time World Champion, Alison Sydor, was the obvious pundits’ choice, but she declined her spot on the Canadian team to concentrate on the World Championships, leaving the women’s field wide open. Sydor’s decision leaves teammate, Chrissy Redden, to take over the Canadian helm, and with a strong sixth place at the Grouse Mountain World Cup three weeks ago, she looks like Alexander’s biggest competition.
Australian hopes for a mountain bike medal fall on the shoulders of Mary Grigson. Currently Mary sits 17th overall in the World Cup standings, but with a ninth in Spain earlier in the year, and a World Cup win in 2001, she has proved she can run with the best in the World.
The men’s event should be an altogether tighter affair, with more than a handful of racers who could ride away with the top gong. If we were to put our money on one man, it would have to be Canadian, Roland Green. Green did the double last year by winning both the World Cup and World Championship in a dominating display of power and consistency. 2002 has not been so kind, though, and Roland currently lies fifth in the World Cup standings.
Geoff Kabush and Seamus McGrath complete the powerful Canadian squad. Both men have layed claim to top ten World Cup results, and both men, on their day, could produce a performance capable of taking the gold.
New Zealander, Kashi Leuchs, is another solid bet to be in the thick of the medal scrap. Recent good form saw him take fourth at the Grouse World Cup in front of Roland Green, and last year he narrowly missed a World Cup win at Durango.
Hoping to place themselves at the thick end of the action for England are Oli Beckingsale and Liam Killeen. After a fantastic tenth place at the Durango World Cup last year, Liam Killeen is widely touted as the future of British mountain bike racing. In fact, taking away the riders who won’t be competing in Manchester from that result, would leave Killeen with the Commonwealth Bronze. Despite his proven international worth, he remains reticent about his chances; “I’m going to try and stay in the top five and see how it goes. I actually know the Canadians quite well. I have stayed with them in America and they are tough, strong riders. But, they’re not unbeatable”.
The 2002 Commonwealth Games Cross-Country events take place at Rivington Pike near Bolton, on Monday 29th of July. The Women’s race starts at 10am and the Men’s event at 1pm. Spectator entry to the event is free. For detailed directions and spectator information check the Commonwealth Games site.