Cycling: Hammond rides into unknown before hitting dizzy heights: Bikers seek mud and glory as the national championships come round again

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AN UNKNOWN spectator provided the biggest threat to Roger Hammond's relentless advance in the muddy realm of cyclo-cross. They met head on in the woods at Southampton yesterday, but Hammond was unstoppable as he raced on, somewhat dizzily, to add his first Open title to the 1992 Junior World crown and three British junior championships, writes Robin Nicholl.

For a lap after the collision he felt dizzy. 'It really jarred my neck and I made loads of mistakes but in the end it must have got my adrenalin going,' Hammond said after finishing 14 seconds clear of an unexpected challenge from Nick Craig in the 10.8-mile Open Championship.

'I was always worried especially when everyone was shouting, 'He is catching you'. I knew that if I could shake off Barrie Clarke early on I could take the lead but then Craig came storming through as I was beginning to suffer,' Hammond said.

Craig cut Hammond's lead in half in one lap of the 1.8-mile circuit as the anticipated challenge from the eight-time champion, Steve Douce, faded.

'My result may come as a surprise to many but not to me,' Craig said. 'I have trained specifically for this championship.'

Douce, who won his first title in 1983 when Hammond was nine, had to settle for the bronze. He had been given the all-clear to race following a liver ailment that has upset his season. Missing four weeks of training plus the severity of the circuit exposed the weakened title-defender.

'I don't think I am completely clear of this trouble and this course was for the fittest and strongest,' Douce said.

Clarke, the early challenger, attempted to match Hammond's pace and paid for it but his fiancee, Caroline Alexander, provided some consolation with victory in the first championship for women.

Alexander, a world-class mountain biker and British champion at that discipline, was unrivalled in her race, as was Surrey's Brian Curtis in the junior championship.

Hammond, later selected for the World Championships in Belgium on 30 January, will be pitched in with the top professionals as the amateur and professional championships have been merged.

A week before the world event he takes on a top- level challenge in Switzerland, thereby gambling his chances of winning Britain's other major honour, the National League title. He leads the standings but will miss the final round at Northallerton because of the Swiss trip. 'I just have to hope that my rivals have a bad day. That's the only way I can take that title, ' Hammond said.

Photograph: Robert Hallam

(Photograph omitted)

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31