It’s that time again. Time for the big event of the year –
the one by which standards are judged and ad’s are written, yes the National Championships
are here again.
Innerleithen close to the town of Peebles in the Borders provides the venue for both
the Mountain bike Downhill and Cross-country title races that take place this coming
weekend, the 5-6 August. And what better venue could there be. The forest at Innerleithen
spans thousands of acres and has every ingredient present to present the perfect
test in the battle of the Champions. Team Raleigh shall be there in force as ever,
and clearly going for gold!
Barrie Clarke is no stranger to taking a title – he’s won three mountain bike and
two cyclo cross Championships in the past five-years and he’s coming back on top
form once again at precisely the right time. Arguably the number one cross-country
rider in the country, Clarke was enjoying a great season with some of his best aver
form in the opening rounds of both the World Cup and the National series. However,
a nasty crash in round three of the World Cup – on the famous course of Houffalize,
Belgium left the Raleigh Pro with a broken wrist that required pins, and six weeks
out of competition to fix it. But even worse, the dream of Olympic glory diminished
dramatically as Clarke was unable to compete in the remaining events that would have
qualified him of the race of a lifetime.
Still with the leaders jersey of the Rav 4 National Series firmly on his shoulders,
his comeback ride saw him hold on to the lead with a fine sixth place. The penultimate
round of the competition took place at the famous Plymouth World Cup venue. Bad
luck with punctures has dogged Clarkie on this course in the past…….and unfortunately
his luck didn’t get any better this time. A puncture when he held a share of the
lead with Diamondback’s Nick Craig saw him relegated to 4th place and lose the jersey
to Diamondback’s Craig’y by just a few points. So the final race of the series in
September will be a great battle for sure and this weekend in Scotland could well
provide a preview of what’s in store for that final event.
So it may well be a Raleigh Vs Diamondback battle once again. Clarkie has something
to prove – that he’s still the best. Craig’y will be looking for a second title
to the one he won in ’97, and they’ll be plenty more opposition besides. It will
be a tough race for sure….and one that might, just might see the title coming home
to Raleigh once again. Iwouldn’t bet against it!
It was also the cruelty of a puncture that put paid to Raleigh’s Matt Farmer from
donning the leaders yellow jersey at the penultimate round of the DH competition
in early July in South Wales. Holding second place overall behind World Number Two
Steve Peat, Farmer hoped for a result that would place him at the top as Peat was
forced to miss the event due to stateside commitments. The final event of the series
at Nannerch in North Wales will see Peat back and Farmer going for that prestigious,
series podium finish that is still well within his grasp.
But it’s the National’s right now, and Farmer is hoping to avoid any problems as
he battles for a second podium appearance – he took the Bronze medal two years ago
– and he aims to go even better this time. As the UK has some of the best riders
in the World nothing will be easy, but he’s in good form, the course is great, his
bike’s working great. He’s ready for it!
Also in the medal hunt will be Team Raleigh’s Elliot Baxter. Lining up against the
other cream of the Under 23 cross-country riders in the country (of which Elliot
is one!), he’s looking to again improve on his bronze medal of twelve months ago.
As well as Baxter representing Raleigh in the Under 23 battle, Raleigh Factory Racing’s
(RFR) Dan Lloyd will also be taking to the grid looking for a top six placing as
will Oli Cox also of RFR. RFR’s Paul Lally is looking for gold in the junior XC
event, as is Petra Wiltshire in the Masters downhill – to add to the title she won
for the first time in ’99.
An action packed weekend of great racing is in store – that’s guaranteed. If you
can escape for the weekend, then get yourself up to Scotland to witness the action
first hand. The downhill drama happens on Saturday and Cross-country holds it’s
traditional Sunday slot. Innerleithen is a village situated six miles east of the
delightful town of Peebles on the A72, and you’ll find AA signs to direct you to
Gary Coltman Team Raleigh Manager