For the first time in 12 years, Southampton will host the national cyclo-cross championships on January 6/7, 2007, writes MARTIN McCROSSAN.

The winner back in 1995 was Roger Hammond, who has progressed to a great pro career on the road with Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel Team.

The Southampton Sports Centre has such an array of terrain and obstacles that it always proves to be a hugely popular course.

Not wanting to give the home riders too much advantage for the championships, Sunday's Crabwood CC cyclo-cross race was run on a different circuit.

Stuart Bowers, pictured, of the Southampton based Hargroves Cycles-Trant-Next squad, has been at the top of the local cyclo-cross scene for many years.

And with the nationals on his doorstep, this is his major objective of the winter season.

Bowers confessed: "I am not really targeting any of the local races at all this year.

"Everything is for the national championships where I am confident I can gain at least a podium position."

With this in mind, a new ruling brought into cyclo-cross meant that Bowers had to start at the very back of the 60-rider field in the eighth round of the Wessex League.

Riders used to be able to start all spread out in one long line.

The rules now state that riders cannot start more than eight in line. With 60 riders, Bowers was six rows from the front.

Having completed a 50-mile training ride in the morning, he certainly had his work cut out if he was to make it to the front.

"My legs were pretty sore from my training ride in the morning, but it was an uphill start which suited me so I passed a fair few riders there," Bowers said.

By the end of the first lap, incredibly he had already reached the two leaders, teammate Tim Dunford and Adrian Lansley.

Bowers gave himself a lap to recover before putting the hammer down and dropping Dunford.

Lansley managed to hold on for two laps before Bowers made his move.

"There was a tough uphill section with a log at the top," he said. "I could see that Tim and Adrian were dismounting and jumping the log.

"I was sure I would be able to bunny hop it, so when I was with them I ran it. Once I was on my own I jumped it."

Bowers had opened up a two-minute gap by the time he crossed the line.

"I had a look at the course for the national championships and I really think it will suit me," said Bowers. "It's less technical than this one, but will make for a great race.

Crabwood CC Cyclo-Cross, Southampton Sports Centre: 1 Stuart Bowers (Hargroves), 2 Tim Dunford (Hargroves), 3 Adrian Lansley (Pedal On), 4 Phil Smith (Hargroves), 5 Andy Shaw (MI Racing/EAS/Thule) Ist Vet.