Lancaster Grand Prix (Premier Calendar)

Words: Martin Ayres for Snowdon Sports Editorial / Pictures: Phil O’Connor

An early-season diet of Continental racing paid off for Chris Newton when he beat off strong opposition to win the Lancaster Hertford Grand Prix, round three of the Premier Calendar series.

MAKING his first appearance in this season's BCF Premier Calendar competition, Chris Newton (Castelli RT) raced to a solo victory in the Lancaster Hertford Grand Prix, contested over 104 miles at Welwyn Garden City on Sunday.

Newton, the overall Premier winner in 1998, jumped clear of a 13-man leading group with just seven miles to go. It was a quality group containing the Ribble-Pro Vision duo of John Tanner and Mark Lovatt, as well as Julian Winn (Welsh CU) and Premier Calendar leader Anthony Malarczyk (Atom Elite RT).

They had no answer to Newton's late charge. He rapidly gained ground to finish 26 seconds ahead of Tanner, who had escaped from the group on the run-in to the finish.

Mike Jones (Robert Grinsell Travel) took the 11-man sprint for third from Rod Ellingworth (SKDC-Universal Guards) and Phil West (Middridge CRT).

Malarczyk finished near the back of the group, but 12th place ensured the Welshman retained top spot in the Premier Calendar by just one point from Lovatt.

The flat, mainly dual carriageway course favoured team pursuiters in the Newton mould rather than out-and-out roadmen like Tanner and Lovatt. Last year's winner, Jon Clay, went on to take Olympic and world team pursuit medals, as did Newton, who placed third in the 2000 event.

A chill wind swept across the exposed A414 as 92 starters embarked on the first of five 18mile laps based on Welwyn and Hertford. With one lap completed, nine riders escaped the bunch in the twists and turns of Welwyn. Three miles later a 13-man chasing group which included Newton moved across to the leaders.

This was the decisive move. Only one rider, Andy Gibb (Team Quest), managed to bridge the gap, joining the leaders after a lone chase with 40 miles covered.

The 23 stayed together for the next 46 miles. Steve Cummings (SG Bollington) broke the deadlock after the leaders had sprinted for a prime outside the premises of Lancaster, the Hertford-based Mercedes dealership which sponsors the event.

Cummings' attack split the lead group in two. Twelve riders broke clear and caught Cummings at the 89-mile point. This baker's dozen was still together as the race switched to three laps of a 3.8-mile finishing circuit.

Newton made his move with just seven miles to go. He went away from the group and hung tantalisingly in their view, just six seconds off the front. But the group had lost the will to chase and while his rivals dithered Newton was fully committed. With half a lap to go, it was clear he could not be caught and he crossed the line with 26 seconds to spare over Tanner, who gained 15 seconds on the rest of the group in the final lap.

Sunday's Whitewebbs CC promotion had the rare luxury of a police escort, enthusiastic support from the Hertfordshire Constabulary ensuring the race had a smooth passage despite heavy traffic on the finishing circuit.


CHRIS Newton was able to relax after Sunday's win, content in the knowledge that he has the backing of the National Lottery-funded World Class Performance Plan

It was a very different story 12 months ago when Newton declared that, without a sponsor, he would have to quit the sport. A few weeks later he was drafted into the pursuit squad and went on to collect bronze at the Sydney Olympics and silver at the Manchester World's.

"Last year I had to race to win in order to make the money and prove a point," he said. "But now I'm more settled and can just get on with it without having to worry. It's a fortunate position to be in. The sponsorship position in this country is pretty dire, but Phil Griffiths has helped me out for domestic races and things are going well with the WCPP.

"The coach is trying to hold me back a bit because my style of racing is to hit the season with a bang. I'm a bit behind where I was this time last year, but the plan is for me to get better as the season goes on.

"It's unusual for me to get away by myself in a race -usually end up towing people around. I jumped away and when I got to the finish I thought there was a lap to go - but there were two. I kept plugging away, and when we hit the headwind stretch it seemed to slow the group. I'd got my gap and that was it. I do a bit of time trialling, so managed to settle down into a rhythm.

"It was a good course, and with the foot-and-mouth situation I was glad to get a race in, especially with the police protection we had today, which meant everything was safe.

"It was like a Continental-style race - get along for the first 120 kilometres and then really start racing. Most of the races I've done this season have been that style. I did the five-day Tour of Majorca earlier this month and rode in Belgium over Easter."

The stage race menu continues for Newton, who left for the French Circuit des Mines on Tuesday.

John Tanner failed to catch the flying Newton but said: "At least I've had a race, it was a good workout. My last road race was the Archer Grand Prix [on April I], apart from that all I've ridden is a two-up with Kevin Dawson."

"It was so frustrating today because I had good legs. I was trying to get away all the time but I couldn't get anywhere. It was like we were racing for second place. No one would work and no one would let me go. I managed to escape on the last lap - it was just too late. But he did a good ride anyway."

Mike Jones has been around for some time but Sunday's third place was his best performance in a Premier Calendar event - one place better than his position in the 2000 Grand Prix of Essex

"I've always done quite well in this event, I was seventh last year. I'm a bit of a sprinter really, my build is against me in the hillier races," the well-muscled Shrewsbury-based rider said. "It's always a tricky sprint here, with the bollards and straw bales in the centre of the road, you've got to get your line right. I usually cock it up but I got it right this year, so I'm pleased."

Fourth-placed Rod Ellingworth admitted he was "scuttling" around, hoping to pick up something in the sprint. "I knew that either Newton or Tanner would go away, they were just pinging today," he said. "It's not an easy circuit to get away on unless you're really strong. But it was a good race, decent money and police protection."

Ellingworth's aim for the season is to get into the pursuit team. He's already ridden three stage races with the squad, and on Wednesday started in the seven-day Ruban Granitier event in France with a GB team that includes Tim Buckle and four mountain bikers.

1. Chris Newton (Castelli RT-Yellow) 104m in 3-58-09
2. J. Tanner (Ribble-Pro Vision) at 26sec
3. M. Jones (Robert Grinsell Travel) at 41sec
4. R. Ellingworth (SKDC-Universal Guards)
5. P. West (Middridge CRT)
6. A. McCaffrey (Sigma Sport)
7. J. Winn (WCU)
8. M. Lovatt (Ribble-Pro Vision)
9. H. Pritchard (unatt)
10. G. Baker (Angliasport)
11. M. Ford (unatt)
12. A. Malarczyk (Atom Elite RT)
13. S. Cummings (SG Bollington) all st
14. P. Crook (Liphook Cycles) at 3-56
15. P. Swettenham (Childline)
16. G. Bayton (Prestige
17. B. Steel (Team Chilwell)
18. S. Dring (Stilton RT)
19. I. Gilkes (GS Strada)
20. T. Gibb (Team Quest) all st.