Thwaites Grand Prix (Tour of Lancashire)

It all adds up for Newton
By Martin Ayres. Photography by Rob Lampard

Chris Newton held off a determined challenge from the unlikely figure of Joe Bayfield to win the Thwaites Grand Prix in Lancashire on Monday by just four seconds

AFTER 345 miles of racing over five days, Chris Newton (North Wirral) saw off a challenge from surprise runner-up Joe Bayfield, guesting for the Gill AirwaysPeugeot squad, to score a mere four-second victory when the Thwaites Grand Prix ended at Blackburn on Monday afternoon.

Newton was a relieved man at the finish. After wearing the yellow jersey of leadership in four stage races this season without winning any of them, he had finally held on for a major race victory.

But Bayfield ran him close. The pair had started the final stage level on time, with eight more riders within 41 seconds. Newton's nerve held, and with some great teamwork from a depleted North Wirral squad, he collected two sprint time bonuses to open the all important four-second margin over his closest rival.

`Has it been confirmed?' was Newton's first reaction after being congratulated on his victory. He needn't have worried. `I can't thank my team-mates enough, particularly Paul Jennings who stayed with the break today despite being no mountain goat.

`They all deserve yellow jerseys,' he said.

Despite clinching victory on time bonuses, Newton is no fan of the format. `I can't see why you need bonuses in a race like this,' he added. `Maybe they're OK in a flat event, but here the terrain does the job of sorting out the field for you.'

Newton is now a full-time bike rider, having dropped out of a sports science course at university to concentrate on cycling. The Thwaites event was 22-year-old Newton's last major road race until August. In the meantime he will be preparing with the Olympic team pursuit squad.

Bayfield went to the Lancashire race with a reputation as a criterium specialist and emerged as a fully fledged stage rider. `My main aim this season was the Sky TV city-centre series in August, but I've been getting up there in Premier Calendar events, so I might be going for a high placing in that,' he said.

`Looking back, I wish I'd gone a little harder in the time trial, but at that stage I wasn't going for the overall, although I still got within 34 seconds of Chris.'

1992 winner Jonny Clay showed there is life in the over-30s by finishing third, just a second down on Bayfield. `I just wish I had this form a bit earlier, but I lost ground at the start of the season through illness,' he commented. The 13th running of the CC Lancashire promotion broke new ground. An extra day was added, taking it to five days. There were national teams from Ireland, the Netherlands and Slovakia. The result remained in doubt until the final sprint. And, incredibly, the sun shone every day.

Stage one: Manchester-Manchester, 40.6m

SCORING his first road race win in two years, Paul Jennings (North Wirral) outsprinted a 107-man peloton to take Thursday evening's brisk opening stage.

The out-and home dash along the East Lancs Road was tailormade for the big Lancastrian who benefited from a lead-out by team-mate Chris Newton. Jennings was first into the short finishing straight and kicked home a length clear of Mark Walsham (Gill Airways-Peugeot) and Will Wright (Marston's Low C-Wales). `That was my first win in quite a long time,' Jennings said. `Apart from time trials, I haven't won a road race since Commonwealth Games year, 1994.'

Manchester gave the race a chilly send-off as a biting wind made spectating a trial, but also assisted the 22-team field as it tackled the outward leg. There was no shortage of attacks, which increased in frequency as the race left the wide open spaces of the A580 for a loop through the suburban roads of Golborne and Bickershaw.

Will Wright, who rids for Wales but lives in Cheshire, used his local knowledge to stage a lone attack. It provoked last year's winner Chris Lillywhite (PCA Composite) to jump away from the front of the bunch and race straight past Wright.

Sensing the danger, Dave Williams (Ambrosia) moved forward to join Lillywhite. Paul Esposti (Marston Low C-Wales) made the break three strong. But when danger man John Tanner (Gill Airways-Peugeot) bridged the gap, the vigilant bunch rapidly closed the gap to end the only significant break of the stage.

A hot-spot sprint at the summit of the only `hill' on the stage - a gentle drag - was won by Joe Bayfield, guesting for Gill Airways-Peugeot.

Motorists were left in no doubt that cyclists took priority as police swept the major trunk route clear of all other traffic. But the headwind return deterred attackers, and teams turned their minds to manoeuvring for the inevitable sprint finish.

Some distance-to-go boards were missing on the run-in, so riders suddenly found themselves in Manchester's Castlefields with the finish banner in sight. However, North Wirral weren't caught out. Jennings said: `I was following Rob Hayles but he got blocked, and Julian (Ramsbottom) picked me up. Then Chris (Newton) led me out for the actual sprint and I nipped through the inside on the final corner to lead out all the way up the finish straight.

`It's nice to have the jersey, it might take some pressure off Chris, Julian and Matt Stephens who are our main men for the overall,' added Jennings, who collected a 15-second time bonus and led North Wirral to the team prize for the stage.

Walsham had no excuses. `I made a big effort into the wind to get near the front and then, when I kicked out of the saddle nothing happened. I seem to make a habit of finishing second on this road,' said the Gill Air rider, who was runner up in last year's professional criterium championship on the same Castlefields finishing straight.

Three riders went down in a mid-bunch crash 100 metres short of the line. Ireland's Tommy Evans, Dutchman Bjorn Cornelissen and South African Ross Grant were all shaken up but managed eventually to continue and cross the line.

1. Paul Jennings (North Wirral 40.6m in 1-27-18
2. M. Walsham (Gill Airways-Peugeot)
3. W. Wright (Marston Low C-Wales)
4. J. Bayfield (Gill Airways-Peugeot)
5. P. West (Stein Pils-England)
6. T Post (Mitsubishi-De Hoekse)

Stage two: Scorton time trial, 3.3 miles

CHRIS Newton donned his fifth yellow jersey of the season after a stunning performance in Friday morning's hilly time trial. Newton was favourite to win the 3.3-mile test, but nobody could have predicted his wide winning margin of 13 seconds over runner-up Jonny Clay (GB Mountain Bikers).

Matt Postle (Team Energy) continued his run of good form by clocking third fastest time, 17 seconds down on Newton.

The time trial from picturesque Scorton village to the summit of Harris End Fell reshaped the general classification table, with only the previous night's runner-up, Mark Walsham, remaining in contention, albeit down in sixth place.

Newton knew all about the climb, having finished `about seventh' on a standard road bike in a previous edition. This time he rode a low-profile with a single 48 chainring. `I was really going for it,' said Newton, who caught his Dutch minute man just after half distance.

He finished in nine minutes exactly, ending early-starter Paul Curran's (Optimum Performance RT) 30-minute reign at he top of the leader board. Curran's time of 9-21 was good enough for eventual fourth place.

Newton refused to accept he was in yellow until last starter Paul Jennings, who had 15 seconds' advantage overall, had posted his time. Either way North Wirral could not lose. But Jennings disappointed with a time of 10-19 and dropped out of contention.

Clay, overall winner in 1992, was happy to be up among the leaders after a slow start to the season. `I was ill in February and took a long time to get over it. At times like that you just have to keep your head down and work your way through it,' he said.

Rob Hayles (Ambrosia) was left counting the high cost of a late start. He somehow misread the time and arrived at the timekeeper about seven seconds late. He still clocked 9-24 and without time added on would have been a candidate for a podium place.

Newton, yellow jersey wearer in the Tour de Langkawi, the Girvan three-day, the Land's Classic and the Chairman's Silver Spoon two-day this season without achieving a final overall victory, had been handed another overall lead thanks to his ability against the watch. Time would tell if he could hold it through three tough days remaining.

1. Chris Newton (Kodak-Adidas) .......... 9 00
2. J. Clay (GB Mountain Bikers) ........... 9 13
3. M. Postle (Team Energy) .............. 9 17
4. P. Curran (Optimum Performance RT) .... 9 21
5. R. Hayles (Ambrosia)................. 9 24
6. P. Manning (Carting-GB) .............. 9 27
7. J. Tanner (Gill Airways-Peugeot) ........ 9 29
8. K. Reynolds (CC Giro) ................ 9 32
9. R. Ellingworth (Ambrosia) ............. 9 32
10. M. Stephens (Kodak-Adidas) ........... 9 33

Stage three: Bolton Criterium, 25m

CHRIS Newton survived his first test in the yellow jersey, a high speed criterium in Bolton town centre. After being in the first half dozen for most of the race, Newton sprinted home safely in fourth spot behind stage winner Rob Hayles, Mark Walsham and Jonny Clay.

While everything went according to plan for Newton, the race ended in desperate disappointment for Tommy Post (Mitsubishi-De Hoekse). Post, born in South Africa but raised in Holland, was a certain winner after receiving a superb lead-out from team-mate Glenn Holmes. It left him two lengths clear of the bunch as he dived into the final bend. Within sight of the finish, Post lost control of his bike and hit the cobbles, destroying his helmet and cutting his left hand.

Hayles, who had been scrapping for second place with Walsham, gratefully accepted the surprise reprieve and sprinted home first by a length over Walsham, who collected his second runner-up prize in two days.

`I panicked,' said Post, as he congratulated Hayles. `I braked hard in the corner, my back wheel kicked and I went down.' Hayles said: `I was waiting for the crash. I thought that if he stayed upright he would deserve the win.'

`He was crazy,' said shrewd professional Clay, whose one-second bonus for third place reduced his deficit on Newton to 12 seconds. Hayles, meanwhile, collected five seconds to leapfrog over Paul Curran into third spot.

Earlier, ex-mountain biker Post had shown a fine turn of speed in the mid-race hot spot, which he won from Jeremy Hunt (Banesto) and Joe Bayfield (Gill Airway-Peugeot) to share equal first place in the sprints contest with Bayfield.

Main aggressor of the night was Keith Reynolds (CC Giro), who was active in two short-lived breaks. His second attack, in partnership with Dave Williams (Ambrosia), shook out about a quarter of the field, who finished half a lap down.

The GB Mountain Bikers showed they are no mean criterium riders by placing three men in the first nine to take the stage team prize.

1. Rob Hayles (Team Ambrosia) 25m in 51-39
2. Walsham
3. Clay
4. Newton
5. C. Lillywhite (PCA)
6. B. Fleming (PCA)

Stage four: Lancaster-Morecambe, 90m

A TACTICAL battle through the Trough of Bowland gave a new look to the top 10 overall as Chris Newton strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey. The stage victory went to Dave Williams (Team Ambrosia), who finished alone after breaking away on the run-in to Morecambe's windswept seafront.

Ben Wilson (Stein PilsEngland) escaped the leading group to snatch second place, while Newton won the sprint for third. It was an important result for the North Wirral rider, for it carried a five-second time bonus, stretching his overall lead from 12 to 17 seconds.

Williams deserved his victory, having figured in the day's two main breakaway moves. The first came after 27 miles of racing. After negotiating the flatlands of the Lune estuary, the bunch attacked the first hills of the race at Scorton.

Matt Stephens (North Wirral) and Mark Lovatt (Optimum Performance RT) joined forces in an attack. Within a few miles they were joined by Williams and Mark McKay of Ambrosia, Mark Walsham and Byron Rienstra of Gill Airways-Peugeot, Paul Esposti (Marston's Low CWales) and Shane Baker (Guinness-Ireland).

Yellow jersey Newton missed the move, but with Stephens up front North Wirral were content to sit back and allow the others to do the chasing.

The climbs came thick and fast. Oakenclough (37 miles), Hayshaw Fell (43 miles) and Jubilee Tower (50 miles) were all conquered by McKay, who smoothly and stylishly collected maximum mountains points over all three summits. But by the time the leaders had completed the sunlit ascent to Jubilee Tower, the bunch was closing fast and the break ended after 25 miles of freedom.

Precipitous descents and steep climbs split the bunch into three main groups as the riders hurtled towards Caton (57 miles). Ben Wilson went into a lone lead, soon to be joined by Matt Postle (Team Energy), Speight, and Williams.

More riders jumped across the gap, including three more Ambrosia men - Gary Thomas, Rod Ellingworth and Rob Hayles - plus David Baker (GB Mountain Bikers) and, significantly, race leader Newton and Matt Stephens.

The alarm bells had rung for Newton when second-placed Clay escaped the pack. `I'd drifted down the back of the bunch a bit, and when I got back up Jon had gone, so I had to get him back,' Newton explained.

Baker romped up the hills at the head of the string, while his team-mate Clay took the last prime of the day at Whittington.

Confident they could stay clear, the 13-man breakaway rolled into Morecambe, waiting for one of the four Ambrosia men to make a move.

Williams broke the deadlock, jumping away from the group as they dropped on to the flat seafront road. Despite having to combat a headwind, Williams plugged away beside the Irish Sea to clinch a hard-earned victory.

Just over a minute later Phil West (Stein Pils-England) won the 40-up bunch sprint to claim 14th spot.

Hayles survived the hills in good shape to move up one place to third overall, while Gary Speight, Joe Bayfield, Gary Thomas and John Evans all moved into the top 10 for the first time.

A total of 14 riders were eliminated after finishing outside the cut-off time but were later reinstated on appeal, leaving 92 survivors from the original 107 starters.

1. Dave Williams (Team Ambrosia) 90m in 3-23-05
2. B. Wilson (Stein Pils-England) at 8sec
3. Newton at 12sec
4. Hayles
5. Clay
6. G. Speight (Optimum Performance RT)

Stage five: Burnley Accrington, 62.5m

CHRIS Newton collected his fourth yellow jersey of the race at Accrington, but it was touch and go for the Kodak team leader as he missed the winning break, punctured, and ended the stage with his advantage cut back to just four seconds.

The new challenger in second place overall was Joe Bayfield, who had arrived at the race start expecting to ride for a PCA team but was drafted into the Gill Airways-Peugeot squad when Neil Hoban pulled out through illness. It was a triumphant day for the Gill team who filled the first three places - John Tanner winning alone, and Rob Holden taking the group sprint from Bayfield.

Holden started the winning move after 21 miles and was quickly joined by Kevin Dawson (Optimum Performance RT), Ian Cuthbertson (Stein-Pils-England), Julian Winn (Marston Low C-Wales) and Bayfield.

North Wirral had no one in the break, and Newton's men also missed the chasing group that formed after 24 miles. Every one of the chasers - John Tanner, Gary Speight (Optimum Performance), David Baker (GB Mountain Bikers) and Dave Williams (Ambrosia) - was a contender for victory.

With the weather turning warm at last, the break, chasers and bunch were all in sight of each other as they negotiated narrow hill villages, twisting lanes and hump-backed bridges in a spectacular pursuit.

It all started to go wrong for North Wirral when Newton punctured. Paul Jennings gave him a wheel and then paced him back into the bunch after a two-mile chase. A few miles later Jennings crashed on a tricky corner. He never saw the bunch again and North Wirral lost a valuable team man. They lost another a few miles later when Matt Stephens suffered his second puncture of the stage and finished off the back.

By the time Newton regained the safety of the bunch, Tanner's chase group had caught the four leaders and the new 10-man break rapidly stretched its lead from 30 seconds to over a minute.

With less than 10 miles to go, the leaders swung round an acute right-hand hairpin and started the climb of York Hill, stretching 2.3 miles ahead of them.

They had barely settled into a climbing rhythm before Tanner attacked. With three team-mates in the 10-man group there was no fear of him being caught, although the acceleration did see Cuthbertson and Winn tailed off.

Newton still hadn't given up hope of retaining the leader's jersey, and if the leaders had looked back down the climb they would have seen the yellow jersey closing fast at the head of a strung-out peloton.

Tanner crossed the prime line 30 seconds clear of his former breakaway partners, who were led by Dawson. The bunch was a further half minute in arrears. That was how it stayed for the last two and a half miles down into Accrington where a large crowd applauded Gill Airways' clean sweep. Mark Walsham added a few more pounds to the team's prize haul by taking the bunch sprint for 10th place, with Newton just behind.

`We had nothing to lose so we went for it from the start and it went our way,' said Tanner. `At the end I decided to go for the stage win and cut my losses.' Tanner moved up to fourth overall after starting the day 16th at 1-29. Bayfield couldn't believe his luck: `I've never ridden this event before. I came here for a bit of training and chance to win a criterium, and here I am four seconds away from the yellow jersey.'

1. John Tanner (Gill Airways-Peugeot) 62.5m in 2-25-47
2. R. Holden (Gill Airways-Peugeot) at 34sec
3. Bayfield
4. Williams
5. D. Baker (GB Mountain Bikers)
6. Speight

Stage six: Accrington criterium, 29.5m

IF it's Bank Holiday Sunday it must be criterium day at Accrington. The town closed down again for its traditional full programme of racing, climaxing with the sixth stage of the Thwaites.

For once the circuit event had a vital bearing on the final outcome of the race as Chris Newton and Joe Bayfield scrapped for bonuses. Bayfield got the better of the encounter. After the calculations had been done, he had wiped out the four-second deficit and was level on overall time with yellow jersey Newton.

Bayfield, already wearing the white jersey of Co-op Hot Spots leader, knew that he could take the overall lead by outscoring Newton in the two bonus sprints on laps 14 and 28 of the 42-lap race. But Jon Clay (GB Mountain Bikers) was also chasing bonuses after slipping down the classification in the morning stage. It was Clay who took the first sprint, and the three seconds that went with it, while Bayfield was second and Dave Williams (Ambrosia) third.

Now Bayfield was only two seconds down overall. Newton had to score on the second sprint because Bayfield was in rampaging form, storming down the finishing straight to take the hot spot from Clay, with Newton a close third. It left the duo equal on time. For the rest of the race Newton shadowed his rival, determined not to let him escape and capture a finishing bonus.

The field was all together at the bell, but didn't stay that way. A crash on the back of the circuit slowed two-thirds of the bunch. It didn't delay Mark Walsham, who gave Gill Airways-Peugeot their second stage win of the day after a fiercely fought sprint with Rob Hayles (Ambrosia).

Craig Gillman (Carling-GB) punched the air with delight as he claimed third place after being drafted in at short notice as a replacement for the injured Justin Clarke.

Then attention switched to midway down the bunch and the battle between Newton and Bayfield. They came into sight, sprinting shoulder to shoulder, Newton forcing his wheel inches in front to win their private battle and retain the yellow jersey.

1. Mark Walsham (Gill Airways-Peugeot) 29.5m in 1-06-07
2. Hayles
3. C. Gillman (Carling-GB)
4. Clay
5. Lillywhite
6. G. Holmes (Mitsubishi-De Hoekse)
7. J. Hunt (Banesto)

Stage seven: Blackburn-Blackburn, 84.5m

CHRIS Newton and Joe Bayfield eyed each other warily before the start of the final day. Level on time, they knew that the five sprints - each carrying bonuses of three, two and one seconds - plus the stage finish bonuses of 15, 10 and five seconds would almost certainly decide the overall outcome.

There was no chance for a gentle lead-in. The first sprint, outside Thwaites' Royal Oak pub at Riley Green, came after just 1.2 miles. North Wirral were on the ball early, with Matt Stephens leading the string in a bid to get Newton into position.

Mark Walsham (Gill AirwaysPeugeot) took the prime, with Newton safely in second and Phil West (Stein Pils-England) third. Bayfield failed to score. `There was nothing in my legs,' he admitted later.

Advantage North Wirral, and it got even better a few miles later when a break went clear. It contained Walsham and Byron Wienstra of Gill Air, North Wirral's Paul Jennings and Julian Ramsbottom, Brian Fleming (PCA), Matt Postle (Team Energy), Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT), Glenn Holmes (Mitsubishi-De Hoekse) and Andy Lyons (Stein Pils-England).

Newton later admitted he would have been happy for the break to stay ahead for the rest of the day, snapping up the four remaining sprints, but Postle was in the move and he was a threat overall.

The first-category climb of Jeffrey Hill (45 miles) thinned out the break as the hard-driving Postle led the way over the summit. With the bunch 1-20 in arrears, the Team Energy man was race leader on the road.

But not for long. The peloton decided it was time to close in and the breakaways were overhauled at 62 miles after doing their bit to assist Newton by taking the hot spot bonuses at 18, 33, and 52 miles.

Now the attacks started. John Tanner (Gill Airways-Peugeot) and Keith Reynolds (CC Giro) were prominent, and Reynolds was the lone leader as the race roared past the final sprint of the day at 67 miles. Newton clinched second spot from Dave Williams (Ambrosia) to ensure that he entered the finishing circuit with four seconds' advantage over Bayfield.

A breakaway led by Chris Lillywhite (PCA) was snuffed out with five laps of the 1.1-mile finishing circuit to go, setting up a bunch sprint. Newton lapped steadily, with Bayfield shadowing his every move right up to the final lap.

Despite his earlier efforts, Lillywhite found the strength to score his 11th Thwaites stage victory since 1987. Overall winner of the 1995 race, he took the sprint from two more former winners, Clay and Tanner.

With all the bonuses gone, Bayfield had to concede victory to Newton, who crossed the line outside the Thwaites brewery in 14th place, punching the air in delight with his great rival some 20 metres behind.

1. Chris Lillywhite (PCA) 84.5m in 3-09-23
2. Clay
3. Tanner
4. Walsham
5. M. O'Reilly (Ireland)
6. P. Esposti (Marston's Low C-Wales)


1. Chris Newton (North Wirral) 12-33-36
2. Bayfield at 4sec
3. Clay at 5sec
4. Tanner at 14sec
5. Speight at 17sec
6. Williams st
7. Baker at 45sec
8. Evans at 1-04
9. Walsham at 1-15
10. A. Lyons (Stein Pils-England) at 1-18
11. Dawson at 1-21
12. Holden at 1-32
13. Reynolds at 1-34
14. Ellingworth at 1-36
15. Esposti at 1-39
16. S. Bray (Team Energy) at 1-44
17. Lillywhite at 1-46
18. Coltman at 1-51
19. M. Lovatt (Optimum Performance) at 1-53
20. S. Ramsay (Marston's Low C-Wales) at 1-54.

Science in Sport points.- Jon Clay 72 pts; 2, Walsham 68; 3, Hayles 55.

Lancashire Hill Country mountains.- Simon Bray 51 pts; 2, M. McKay (Team Ambrosia) 43; 3, Tanner 41.

Co-operative Wholesale Hot Spots.- Joe Bayfield 12 pts; 2, Walsham 9; 3, Clay 7.

Teams.- Ambrosia 37-42-28; 2, Gill AirwaysPeugeot at 30sec; 3, GB Mountain Bikers at 1-19.