Just when it seemed that Team Halfords Bikehut were about to stretch their lead and claim the big prize of the overall win in this first ever Tour Series, the teams are back together again in fact, after last night's action in Chester it's closer than ever at the top of the team standings.
After nine rounds, and almost 500km of racing the top three teams in this year's Tour Series are separated by one single point. The team of the early rounds, Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta packed a trio of Russell Downing, Malcolm Elliot and Graham Briggs into the first six positions and took the win by a whisker from Rapha-Condor - as Team Halfords Bikehut crossed the line a beaten team on the night. However they hold onto the overall lead going into the final race of this year's Tour Series in Southend-on-Sea on Thursday.
The previous week's intense racing had seen Team Halfords Bikehut take command of the overall leader's jerseys and seemingly have the momentum behind them as they closed on the series win. However, Rapha-Condor had their tails up after a strong week 5 with a team win in Stoke-on-Trent and a brilliant solo-effort by Tom Southam in Colchester and the lead for Halfords' men-in-gold was a mere four points after eight aggressive, tactical and highly-competitive races.
Barely two laps into round 9 it was time for another first in this year's Tour Series - rain. The circuit was made that little bit more tricky as the teams danced their way over the Chester cobbles and Candi TV chose the moment to dish out some extra pain for the riders in their wake as Graham Briggs and Russell Downing kept the early pace high.
As the hour's racing began three riders skipped off the front, led by Kristian House (Rapha-Condor) and followed by Malcolm Elliot and Andy Tennant (Candi TV) marking the move and ensuring that there was to be no repeat of the Rapha-Condor escape at Colchester. However, as the break was caught going into the first sprint Rapha-Condor's Darren Lapthorne launched a big attack taking the win by five bike-lengths. He held that advantage for two more laps and then extended it to almost 10 seconds as the race approached 20 minutes.
The tricky conditions did not slow the relentless average speed that has marked Tour Series races, as the riders tapped out 28 mph even in the rain. Former Australian champion Lapthorne was revelling in these wet conditions and continued to extend his lead over the next five laps to almost 15 seconds. Team Halfords and Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta were not going to let Lapthorne have his head for much longer though as Halfords' Ian Wilkinson and Candi's Graham Briggs drove the chasers.
Approaching the second sprint the Flying Dutchman Jerone Jenssen had skipped away in pursuit of the Rapha man, however the main field didn't want to let another danger-man escape and reeled in the Madison rider come the sprint.
Lapthorne wasn't giving up his lead easily and try as they they might the chasers couldn't pull the Rapha-Condor rider back and over the next five laps amazingly he even extended his lead to fully 40 seconds by the time 30 minutes of racing passed.
The team games were being played now as Rapha-Condor sat on the front of the chasing group riding tempo. In Blackpool a trio of Rapha, Halfords and Candi TV riders stole 45 seconds and looked odds on to lap the field, it didn't happen on that night, however with every lap that passed Lapthorne looked like he was going to achieve that feat on his own.
Sprint three was a highly significant - firstly Lapthorne had extended his lead to over 55 seconds and secondly there appeared to be pressure in the chasing field as Team Halfords grappled for wheels in a splintering peloton. One thing was for sure, the Rapha-Condor was soloing his way to another superb individual win. However, as all of the teams in this year's series know it is all about getting three riders across the line ahead of your competitors, and Candi TV were highly vigilant behind the Australian and they shuffled four riders into the first 10 chasers.
With five laps to go there was a visible break in the pursuit, with Rapha's Tom Southam launching himself off the front, chased by Halford's Rob Hayles. The teams knew what was at stake tonight and none more-so than Chester 'home-team' Rapha-Condor. With less than 10km to go there was to be only one winner, it was to be all about the placings in Chester.
Into the last lap, and victory was assured for the superb Lapthone while his fellow Rapha-Condor men-in-black gathered themselves in pursuit of that team win. Rapha's Chris Newton escaped in a mini-foray off the front, but was hunted down by Halfords and Candi TV. It was to be one of the Tour Series' famous bunch gallops.
Lapthorne lapped-up the enthusiastic welcome from the Chester crowd, and arms aloft took the win, but behind there had been a last-lap carve up in the main field. Russell Downing brought the field home in customary style, chased by fast-finishing team mate Malcolm Elliot. Behind rider after rider struggled to the line, with Halfords and Candi TV scrambling for the top 10 places that mean so much.
After long deliberation the judges called the result and it was to be the Candi TV team that took the spoils on yet another historic night's racing on the Tour Series.
Team Results – Round 9 – Chester 23.06.09
1. Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta
2. Rapha – Condor
4. Team Halfords BikeHut
5. Sigma Sport Cycling Team
6. Sports Beans – Wilier
7. Endura Racing
8. Team Corley Cycles
9. BMC UK Racing Team
Individual Results – Round 9 – Chester 23.06.09
1. Darren Lapthorne RAPHA-CONDOR
2. Russell Downing CANDI TV – MARSHALLS PASTA
3. Malcolm Elliot CANDI TV – MARSHALLS PASTA
4. Jeroen Janssen MADISON.CO.UK
5. Chris Newton RAPHA-CONDOR
6. Graham Briggs RAPHA-CONDOR
7. Kristian House RAPHA-CONDOR
8. Ian Wilkinson TEAM HALFORDS-BIKEHUT
9. John Mozely MADISON.CO.UK
10.Tom Southam RAPHA-CONDOR
Team Standings after Round 9
1. Team Halfords BikeHut 84 points
2. Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta 84 points
3. Rapha – Condor 83 points
4. Madison.co.uk 77points
5. Sigma Sport Cycling Team 48 points
6. Sports Beans – Wilier 44 points
7. Team Corley Cycles 38 points
8. Endura Racing 26 points
9. BMC UK Racing Team 19 points
10. www.cyclingbargains.com 19 points
The Tour Series now moves towards the tenth, and final, race in the 2009 Series taking place in Southend on Thursday (25).
Full results will be available on the Tour Series website - www.tourseries.co.uk and don't forget to the podcase either.
Follow the Tour Series on ITV4 at 7pm on Wednesday’s and Friday.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.