The British cross-country scene will see its first ever 'class 1' race next year when the national points series round at Sherwood Pines, 12 May 2007, steps up to the UCI's second-highest category for mountain bike races. (The 'HC' category nominally tops it, but only a couple of races per year make HC status.)
"We're very excited," Cross-Country National Points Series promoter Martyn Salt told MBUK. As well as a being first for UK racing, the Sherwood Pines race will attract international riders, he hopes, who will then go on the ride the class 2 event at Fort William the following weekend. This will be a test event for the world championships, giving riders a chance to scope out the 2007 world's course
British Cycling performance manager for off-road, Simon Burney, admits that Sherwood Pines is not an epic, hilly cross-country course, but says it's nevertheless, "a very good racing course - you get a fast exciting race." Historically, tight bunch racing has been a feature of racing at Sherwood Pines since the first NPS round there in 1993, which saw Gary Foord emerge for the first time.
"You won't know who is going to win till the last lap," says Burney.
Salt says that there are also strategic reasons for the choice of Sherwood Pines over, say, Plymouth as venue for the class 1 event. It's close to airports, he says, and also a reasonable distance from Fort William.
Burney expects that the easy trip to Fort Bill will attract international riders, who will also turn up "chasing what they might see as 'soft' UCI points."
Those UCI points are the reason why Burney and Salt have been so keen to get a class 1 event in the UK. Class 1 races award points down to 20th place. "UCI points are a valuable commodity in an Olympic qualifying year," says Burney, "and it's nice to be able to get them without jumping on a plane."
As well as extra points, class 1 events have to meet higher standards for event facilities and prize money. Salt credits series main sponsor Trek with "committing their support to make this happen."
Salt says the remainder of the 2007 NPS calendar is nearly ready: "Just one or two details to sort yet." Watch this space.