For the first time, Liam Killeen (Specialized) has won the right to wear the British National Cross Country Champion’s jersey, following a thrilling race against outgoing champ Oli Beckingsale (Giant) at Crow Hill in the New Forest.
Even before the race started there was speculation about Killeen’s participation as in previous years he has concentrated on international duties, whereas multiple winner Beckingsale is a regular face at UK events, despite a packed World Cup schedule. Indeed, the last time Britain’s top duo raced together on home soil was 2006, and along with doubts as to whether Killeen’s sponsors would welcome a national jersey with less advertising space, there was uncertainty regarding the lineup until Saturday.
Thankfully spectators were rewarded with the presence of the two best cross country racers in the UK, fresh from top ten finishes in the World Championships just a month previous and now fully into preparations for the Olympic Games following their selection two weeks ago.
Five laps of a dusty, flat 8km loop mainly comprising singletrack and a few sharp climbs, meant there was little to separate the best on the initial circuit. By lap two though, only Killeen, Beckingsale and Ian Wilkinson (SIS) remained, the latter dropping off on lap three.
The result was the scenario everyone expected – the best two riders battling for position. With nothing to separate them it looked like it would take a sprint finish, unforced error or mechanical failure to decide final positions and sadly it was the last of these possibilities that proved decisive. In the final stages of the penultimate lap Beckingsale punctured and had to change a wheel, losing the best part of a minute.
On such a fast course there was nowhere to make up time and it was the red jersey of Killeen that appeared first from the trees, one minute ahead of Beckingsale, so he will now line up with the national champion’s jersey in Beijing.
Meanwhile Jenny Copnall (Subaru Gary Fisher) retained the women’s title which she has now won no less than five times in a controlled race, leading from the front. Copnall made no secret this was the big one which had demanded her focus in 2008 and it was an emotional celebration as she crossed the line.