British National Criterium Championship
NEWTON BACK IN TOWN
ENDING his recent lean spell, Chris Newton (Pinarello RT) scored a resounding victory in Sunday's National Criterium Championship, sponsored by British Sugar and staged over a town-centre circuit at Newark.
Newton hurtled across the finish line in Newark's cobbled market square three lengths clear of his closest challenger Dean Downing (John Saey CT), who took the silver from Bryan Steel (Team Chilwell), with Tim Morley (Team Y2K) in fourth spot.
These top four had escaped the field after 35 kilometres of the 60-kilometre race. Despite massive chasing efforts by ex-champion John Tanner (Ribble-Pro Vision) and then Martin Ford (Brooks England), the breakaways' lead never looked in danger.
It was left to Ian Wilkinson (Team Y2K) to stage a brave solo pursuit in the closing stages. He failed to catch them but clinched fifth place, 31 seconds down. Rod Ellingworth (Team McEll) took the 17-up bunch sprint for sixth at 51 seconds.
Newton, the current BCF time trial champion, explained why his name has been out of the headlines since his victory in the Circuit des Mines two months ago. "I had a foot problem that set me back quite a bit," he said. "Also, I started track training so I was going a bit low-key on the road. Then just before the national road race I had food poisoning, but then I felt the form coming back."
Downing was determined to wipe out the memory of last year's criterium championship at Birmingham, when he had the chance of a medal but crashed and was disqualified for missing out part of the course.
Now Downing is living in Belgium, where he has come under the wing of veteran star Etienne De Wilde. "It's quite surreal to find myself training and going to races with someone like him," he said.
Downing finished with his headset on the verge of falling apart after taking a battering on the cobbles that comprised about a quarter of the 850-metre circuit. "I thought the two team pursuiters [Newton and Steel] would work together, but they didn't," he said. "Everybody did their own thing."
Third-placed Bryan Steel had, like Newton, benefited from four days of road training in South Wales, where the team pursuit squad put in four to six hours a day preparation for the German Sachsen Tour (July 23-29).
"It was a good course today, quite technical," Steel said. "Any one of us could have won it at the end, although Downing was the one we all feared."
Mountain biker Tim Morley was the animator of the race. Early on, his aim was to chase prime points. By half distance he had amassed enough to take the £100 sprints prize before instigating the race-winning break.
"It was a good workout for the National Mountain Bike Championships," he said. "I didn't want it to come down to a bunch sprint, and at least everyone did their fair share."
The real racing started just after half distance as Newton and Morley opened the first decisive gap of the day. Downing and Steel joined forces in pursuit and soon caught the two leaders.
The quartet's lead over the bunch hovered between 10 and 20 seconds, depending on who was driving the chase behind.
With five laps to go, it was clear the top four were uncatchable, and they started attacking each other. First Newton opened a gap, then Downing made an all-out effort to chase him down and take a short-lived lead.
The bell was the signal for Steel to launch a final victory bid. Morley brought him back, playing into the hands of the two sprinters Newton and Downing.
Joint organisers Dave Miller and Nigel Redmile, for Newark Castle CC, breathed a sigh of relief as light drizzle eased just before the start. A good crowd vindicated the organisers' decision to switch the event from a Premier Calendar road race to a criterium, and afterwards Redmile was making optimistic noises about a repeat next year.
1. Chris Newton (Pinarello RT) 60km in 1-26-36