Rochdale Grand Prix (Elite Circuit Series)

Newton again
Courteousy of British Cycling, Larry Hickmott

The latest round of the British Cycling Elite Circuit Series held in Rochdale on Wednesday evening was won by Chris Newton ( who made his final winning move with half a lap to go to finish four seconds ahead of Russell Downing (Healthnet). Simon Gaywood (PCA/Evans Cycles) won the bunch sprint to clinch the final spot on the podium.

Town Centre Racing Comes To Rochdale
At 4pm in the busy town centre of Rochdale, it looked like being a repeat of 2006 when the rain put a dampener on the activities of the night and when arrived in the town, there was plenty of heavy precipitation going on. That didn’t deter the dancing going on near the finish area of the Grand Prix as various groups of young people were having a fun time dancing to the loud music.

At 6pm, it was the turn of the school kids to take centre stage in the Go-Ride competition and for 45 minutes, there was lots of fast paced action as schools went head-to-head to be the best as the multi-talented Matt Winston kept everyone informed over the microphone. The rain by this stage was easing off and only the odd minor bout of drizzle threatened to wet the competitors.

Many of the best British circuit race riders took to the line and among them, certainly two of the inform riders at the moment, former World champion Chris Newton and former British road and circuit race champion Russell Downing. A double Olympic medallist in Athens 2004, Rob Hayles was back after injury and illness has kept him out of racing for a few weeks and wearing the champions jersey, James McCullam to was there ready to race too.

Main Attraction
The rain had now all but gone and even the sun was making its presence felt from time to time and shining on the large crowd down the finish straight. The Elite race, an hour plus five laps, didn’t take long to get going and soon the young riders in the and Merlin teams were having their own personal battle at the front trying to get away. They didn’t succeed and within a few laps, a break had developed led by Chris Newton up the rather savage climb.

It was a powerful group and as well as Newton, there was National Champion James McCullam (PCA/Evans Cycles), Ian Wilkinson (SiS/Trek), Russell Downing (Healthnet) and Stephen Adams (Merlin). Paul Oldham (Hope Racing) was chasing and quickly found himself a place in the lead group whilst Gordon McCauley, who could also see the danger, was stuck in no-mans land, chasing hard but unable to close the final 10 seconds he needed to make it into the group.

Chasing too behind McCauley was Matt Brammeier (Profel Ziegler) who was looking strong and the bunch were only seconds away as the race went full gas and there was still 50 minutes of racing left. The lead group never stayed together for long, and after five or six laps of withstanding the pressure from Newton up the climb, the rest had to give best to the rider who has amazing form at the moment. Russell Downing wasn’t going to let him go though and he joined Newton and from then on, the two of them dominated the race.

They never looked in any danger and whilst the remnants of the break were eventually caught, the bunch was now a shadow of itself as the tough course took its toll on the riders yet again. Onwards the leading duo went and behind them, the young guns in the Recycling team took control of the chase and that is pretty much how the race stayed. Attacks from the bunch were quickly nullified and any group that did get away, only got a few seconds before being reeled in.

It was all down to who would win – Downing or Newton? Was it going to be a sprint or would one or the other get away on that tough climb? With a lap to go, Downing led past the finish and into the S bends that preceded the climb. On that hill, the one that proved so decisive in the race, Newton made his move and Downing had no answer and Newton led all the way to line to have plenty of time to raise his arms in victory whilst Downing crossed the line four seconds later, raising an arm to acknowledge the crowd.

The final podium place was being set up three laps from the end when the Plowman Craven/Evans Cycles riders took control of the bunch and set it up for their best placed rider in the series, Simon Gaywood. Sure enough, despite a slip in the final bend on the still slippery roads which had been the cause of a few crashes that night, Gaywood had the better of Ian Wilkinson in the high speed down hill gallop.

Post race reactions:

Chris Newton ( “The circuit is kind of like gas on, gas off. Once you get over the top, there are a few little corners which you need to punch through to keep the momentum going before you hit the headwind and down to the finish and back here. The hill comes round pretty quickly.”

“I went into the race wanting to take it steady to start with but I could see PCA with their numbers were going to try and put one or two up the road so I thought I need to force it for a while and then sit back. I could see it wasn’t happening in the break, I seemed to have all the gas on the climb so I forced it and I knew Russell was up for it. It was a bit far to go by myself, and I could see Russell coming across, so I waited for a little bit and we worked well together.”

“I wanted a good hard work out what with missing last weekend after the Nationals was cancelled. I had a dodgy moment in the one of the corners when I grounded a pedal which high sided me a little bit and I clipped my knee on the bars. That shook me for a while but I got going again.”

“I am quite happy with the way things are going at the moment. Everything is going well and I am enjoying my bike riding and that doesn’t happen all the time. In this job which I have been doing for a while, you can’t expect to enjoy it year in, year out and last year I had a lot of set backs and crashes. This year I have stayed healthy though and looked after myself and seem to be reaping the benefits. I’m going to be a dad soon so I have to win as much as I can!”

It is also a ‘local’ race for the rider who has come across from the North East to settle near Manchester, the base of the Great Britain Cycling team for which he is an Olympic Podium Programme member. “I’m a few miles away so come here quite a lot after riding the Pendle course which I use a lot for training. So I know a lot of people around here and they all make me feel welcome and were shouting my name which gives you a lift.”

Russell Downing (Healthnet): “Going early can be easy in a way and not in others. It’s easier than having to keep going with everything, especially on a circuit like this. Chris knows it living down the road and I got in a group with him where there were five of us and then Chris went again and I got across and that was it. Chris was ripping my legs off on the climb which he would do each lap and I was doing the bottom bit. Chris is going really well and pressed on with a lap to go and I had nothing left. I knew we were well clear, so I’ll settle for second”.

Russell then explained the floods where he is near Rotherham have not been kind to him. “I couldn’t get to Brighouse last week as the flooding around us has been horrendous and have not been out on my bike. With the Nationals being cancelled, I lost a bit of motivation and then today, Dean’s car broke down on a roundabout and I was having to push that! So it’s been a bit of a nightmare and I didn’t think I was going to get here.”

Simon Gaywood: Asked if it was frustrating being stuck in the bunch, the PCA rider replied “it was a bit. It is quite tight round the back and Chris’s team were riding well in the bunch. For youngsters they are awesome riders and protected the race and did what they needed to do. We tried our hardest to get some boys up the road. Myself though, I was yo-yoing a bit and one minute I’d feel good, the next I’d feel quite bad.”

“Once we knew we weren’t going to catch the boys out front, it was really about trying to get myself up there for the overall and without my team I couldn’t have done that today. They gave me a great a lead out with about three laps to go, Gordon, JT, Gibby, Jimmy Mac and the rest all worked really hard for me.”

“Because this course is so tight, you can lead it out with a lap to go once you get into the formation if you get organised quick enough which our boys were. The rest of them find it hard to get round as we had a good strong line out and they kept the pace high enough that no-one could come round us. I think Wilkinson tried on the last descent but I think he went into a corner a bit to hot so I managed to hold him off and then it was just a few hundred meters to go and a couple of corners and I just went for it. The back wheel skipped out a little bit on the last corner but I managed to keep it all together. Hopefully that will put me back up there in the series.”

“The hill here is pretty nasty. I never came up to some of the crits up north last year because of the cost and so on but with PCA I’m going to all the crits and seeing a few new circuits. And this one is bloody hard with that hill. I think Guildford is probably the nastiest circuit but this is second!” As it happens, Simon travels to Guildford next week and although not part of the National Circuit Series this year, the race is sure to be hard fought with PCA again going there in strength.

Elite Race
1. Chris Newton,

2. Russell Downing, Healthnet @4 seconds
3. Simon Gaywood, Plowman Craven/Evans Cycles @1.04
4. Ian Wilkinson, SiS/Trek
5. Dean Downing, Rapha Condor RT
6. Jonathon Mozely, Merlin
7. Matt Brammier, Profel Ziegler
8. Simon Holt,
9. Graham Briggs,
10. Tom Barras, Merlin
11. Paul Oldham, Hope Factory racing
12. Andy Tinsley, Omnipex/Bioracer
13. James Moss, Inkland MTS Cyclesport
14. Warrick Spence, Cyclefit-Serotta
15. Lewis Craven, Wheelbase
16. Richard Wilkinson, Rapha Condor RT
17. Jack Pullar, Kinesis
18. James Stewart, KFS/Sunday
19. Ryan Bonser,
20. Gary Adamson, FP Mailing