Rochdale Grand Prix (Elite Circuit Race Series)

Courtesy of British Cycling and Joolze Dymond

Newton's The King of Rochdale...... Again!

Another excursion "up North" was on the cards for the pro Road boys for the latest race on their busy agenda, the Rochdale Grand Prix, the latest round of the Elite Circuit Series. It was the first of two visits to Lancashire, as they will be off to the home of candy floss and kiss me quick hats, sunny Blackpool, at the weekend.

Rochdale has a tough reputation for a town centre crit, as it has a with a nasty sting in its tail. The 1km course starts benignly enough, snaking its way from the centre of town, cruising past the bus station before a sharp left turn throws you into a leg busting gear grinding climb, a stiff, sharp shock that will make or break you every lap! Then it's a quick manoeuvre through a chicane before hurtling downhill, turning left to pop out in front of the majestic Town Hall, before flinging you into the start/finish funnel to do it all again... It's not a race for the feint hearted or for those adverse to hill reps.

As the riders started to prepare the signs were that they would be fighting the elements as well as each other, as ominously big drops of rain started to fall from the sky, making the atmosphere even hotter and stickier that it had already been. Fortunately, as the races got under way this threat of a downpour quickly evaporated as did the evidence of any rain.

Finally as the crowds began to throng around the barriers it was time to be introduced to the main contenders of the big event: the pros were in town with all their big guns packed, well nearly all.

Rapha Condor swelled the pack, sporting 7 riders, including newly crowned National road race Champion Kristian House, alongside the reigning National Crit Champion Dean Downing, not to mention Olympian Chris Newton who had already bagged 3 consecutive wins in this race: would 2009 provide number 4? We would just have to wait and see. Hoping to upset the apple cart were the men in gold, or orange depending who you see it: the Halfords boys were in Town fresh from their victory in the 10 long Tour Series. Fielding just Ed Clancy, Ian Wilkinson and Rob Partridge, the guys might have felt a bit out numbered.

Another team hoping for glory and a chance to right their disappointment at the Tour Series were the Candi TV squad with perennial racer Malcolm Elliott heading up the team, along side Graham Briggs, Simon Holt and Dale Appleby.

As the race got underway the huge colourful train of riders soon got up to speed, taking each corner in a blur of movement. First lap through and the boys seemed to want to make all the moves, but all the time, tucked in behind policing their every move, was a Rapha Condor rider. As the race unfolded it was soon apparent that Rapha wanted this one, as attack after attack, saw first Chris Newton take a flyer, before he was caught by an almighty effort led by Malcolm Elliott dragging the field behind him.

Madison rider Scott Thwaites then attacked, thinning the field out behind but with 3 Rapha riders and two Candi TV riders towing along he was on a hiding to nothing. Next Rapha were on the attack again and so the race unfolded with a concertina affect, riders stringing along, then bunching, stringing along until for some the elastic snapped.

Casualities of the punishing rhythm of the course included Ed Clancy, who summed it up nicely: "racing for 27th just wasn't worth". He climbed off along with Graham Briggs, the efforts of the last couple of weeks obviously catching up with them.

Soon it was Partridge the filling in a Rapha sandwich, as he got away with 3 Rapha riders including Newton. This party didn't last for long and was swallowed whole by the ever-chasing pack. Then, never one to sit on his laurels, Newton attacked again, this time Team-mate House came with him and soon these two started to open up what would be the deciding gap of the race.

With just 10 laps to go, these two were sitting pretty as the race behind went on in earnest to limit the damage. House was on a roll, recent form in the road Nationals where he bagged a jersey was utmost on his mind, but Newton was hungry for the win, a chance to make it 4 out of 4 in front of a home crowd and, more importantly, a great excuse to give celebrate his wedding anniversary: if he played his cards right he'd have a huge bouquet of flowers for Mrs Newton later.

Behind them the powerhouse Wilkinson buried himself to bridge that gap, he couldn't do it and had to float near the tail end of the pack recuperating. Meanwhile the Rapha onslaught continued, lap after lap, Newton and House keeping their hard earned gap. As the bell sounded we knew the race had been won by a Rapha rider and just a couple minutes later we were rewarded with a sprint finish with Newton taking the honours ahead of team mate House.

Just 17 seconds later a huge bunch of 21 riders came careering down the finishing straight eager for that remaining podium spot. Out in front was the flash of orange that is Wilkinson fighting for each inch of road between himself and the line with Candi TV rider Malcolm Elliott. Wilkinson got it, with Elliott conceding once again to the ‘Northern hardman', whist Dean Downing took 5th.

After the podium presentations we caught up with the 3 main finishers to find out how the race had gone for them:

Chris Newton: "That's 4 times in a row now, so yeah pretty pleased with that. It's a hard course that doesn't need any team tactics, there weren't any involved tonight really, it's just ideally suited for my style of riding, it's very much like a points race, it's not about one big effort it's about continuous little efforts which works quite well for me.

We did as a team try to control the other riders I guess but at the end of the day none of them could get across and we kept attacking from the front putting the pressure down.
From the outset I just wanted to ride the race from the front, it's worked every year so far for me and it worked again for me tonight. It's not a circuit where you can take a few laps out to recover as you've always got that climb to contend with and you've always got to stay near the front, it's quite tough.

Towards the end of the race that climb is a real leg breaker and to be honest I've not been too well the last week, I've had a bit of a stomach problem but I know my body quite well to know I have an hours worth of energy in there, fortunately it was a hour tonight. Winning the flowers is an extra bonus, which means I didn't have to bother getting any for my wedding anniversary today! But no really it's nice to do well in front of your home crowd and family as well and the fact it is my wedding anniversary well what a way to celebrate!"

Kristian House: We've got a pretty good crit team especially for a course like this: it's tough and it suits us. We kinda knew we were on to a good ride and Chris is always up for this event. He's a local lad so it's good to see him win. I would have wanted to win but at the same time he was always going to beat me in a sprint! There was no team tactics out there, no prior discussions, we just sprinted it and fought for it between ourselves. He jumped me on the second last corner and opened a gap and I just couldn't close it. I was feeling pretty tired all night truth be told.

Rapha were attacking all night, it's a bike race and we wanted to do this our way. We made the race hard; we know we can come out on top, that's the way it is. Like the boss said when you're on fire, well you're on fire and things are going pretty well for the team at the moment lets hope we can keep it going."

Ian Wilkinson: "We were quite outnumbered out there weren't we? Though I think we played a canny race, with Rob loitering out front for a bit. At the end of the day I think we did okay getting 3rd out of odds against I've got to be happy but I'm very tired at the moment. That was hell of a race out there it's not normally my cup of tea round here but I've got the form at the minute. They seemed to make a big, big effort with about 7 or 8 laps to go I tried to get across and split me kipper a bit and had to have a few laps on back and recovered a bit then for the end. It's been a nice easy week this week, just the 3 races. We're now gonna do some chilling and munch a big hot dog on Friday and bring out the big gun ready for the weekend."

1. Chris Newton - 1:00:03
2. Kris House - ST
3. Ian Wilkinson -:17 sec
4. Malcolm Elliott
5. Dean Downing
6. Tom Barras
7. Matt Cronshaw
8. Stephen Adams
9. Richard Hepworth
10. Scott Thwaites