Team Halfords Bikehut have been the form team of the latter rounds of the Tour Series and tonight in Colchester they once again showed their mastery of the format and of their opponents in this new form of team cycle racing.
The men in gold have the momentum with them and another team win made their lead at the top of the table a lot more emphatic than the one point advantage they enjoyed going in to the Colchester round. With two rounds left they are in the driving seat as the team to beat and the favourites to take the inaugural Tour Series competition.
Going into Round 8 of the Tour Series you could have thrown a handkerchief over the top four teams, a mere 4 points separated the Team Halfords, Candi TV, Rapha-Condor and Madison squads. As the dust settled on round 8 there was a little more daylight between the teams after Halfords again took the spoils following a furious finale.
Colchester delivered the longest and one of the toughest circuits on this year’s Tour Series, the drag up Queen’s Street being the most significant climb of any round, and following a superb afternoon of support events including schools’ races and ‘Pimp my Bike’ competitions, the main event rolled out at the customary 7.00pm start time.
With a reasonably stiff headwind on the start finish straight the early pace was relatively sedate by Tour Series standards, with the main players happy to sit in the bunch and ease themselves into yet another round of gladiatorial, city-centre bike racing that even the Romans who founded this Essex city would have surely have enjoyed.
As the clock began the one hour countdown, after the five early laps, Dean Downing stretched his legs and was joined by Rapha-Condor team mate Tom Southam on the front, however things didn't heat up until Russell Downing hit the front to take Sprint 1. The Candi TV man strung the 50 man field out, lifting the speed considerably and ensuring that the race was on.
Round 8 was beginning to witness some heavy team tactics. Unlike the earlier rounds where furious attacking was prevalent from the off, the leading teams were now very much aware of what was at stake as the Series drew closer to its conclusion in Southend. The upshot was that Colchester got to witness a two-wheeled game of chess.
20 mins in and the Rapha-Condor and Madison squads exchanged some pleasantries in the home straight as the bunch remained intact tapping out an average speed of 28mph. Then with sprint 2 on the horizon it was time for Russell Downing to once more show off the Candi TV colours at the head of affairs, dragging a Team Halfords, Rapha-Condor, Sport Beans and Cyclingbargains rider with him – the five-man group gained a little breathing space on the main field, but only temporarily.
Interestingly, as the race passed the half-way stage, the Series leaders Team Halfords BikeHut were conspicuous by their absence in any significant moves. However, the boys in gold have become race-savvy in this new form of competition and as their tactics showed in Peterborough, Blackpool and Southport the team race is won in the last few laps – the Halfords legion was yet to unleash its arsenal.
Sprint 3 saw Endura rider Evan Oliphant making one of his signature forays off the front to take the 5 points, and as the Scot eased over the line that man Russ Downing hammered up to his back wheel to take second. With eight laps to go the whole field were back together with another Tour Series bunch gallop looking ever more likely
With six to go Rapha-Condor launched Tom Southam off the front as the Teams looked at each other for a reaction. Such was the poker game at this stage that by the time another two laps had gone by Southam had a 20 second lead, with Endura’s leading light Evan Oliphant once more on the attack trying to bridge the gap to Southam. The main field was a further 10 seconds back.
With three laps and 5km left the chances of the valiant Rapha-Condor riders’ escape succeeding were growing as Halfords rolled four men across the start finish line almost 30 seconds back. Oliphant was still nesstled between the two in no-mans-land.
Into the last lap and Southam’s win looked guaranteed as he had a 25 second advantage. The aggressive Oliphant had now been swept up by a fast-moving group headed by Team Halfords. Ian Bibby and David Fletcher buried themselves on the last lap ensuring that they gave the chosen-three of Wilkinson, Hayles and Clancy a superb spring-board into the last kilometre.
The individual race was won, and how, by an ecstatic Tom Southam as he rolled over the line, arms aloft. But the all-important team prize was still to play for. 200m out and the mass of remaining Tour Series teams jostled for positions, with the inevitable trade-mark pink glasses of Candi TV man Russ Downing and big brother Dean leading the charge. It was going to take a photo to sort that lot out.
As the crowd, and team managers alike held their breaths for the Team result it was the Halfords Bike Hut squad who had placed their first three riders highest, with Ian Wilkinson 4th, Rob Hayles 5th and Ed Clancy in 7th ensuring that the Halfords boys took their fourth team win and the eighth round spoils. Rapha-Condor took second on the night, with Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta in third.
The team result only went to cement the overall team leader’s position inhabited by Halfords, and as the race moves into the final week of double-headers the boys-in-gold will be a tough act to topple.
Team Results – Round 8 – Colchester 18.06.09
1. Team Halfords BikeHut
2. Rapha – Condor
3. Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta
5. Team Corley Cycles
6. Sigma Sport Cycling Team
7. Sports Beans – Wilier
8. Endura Racing
9. BMC UK Racing Team
Individual Results – Round 8 – Colchester 18.06.09
1. Tom Southam RAPHA-CONDOR
2. Russell Downing CANDI TV – MARSHALLS PASTA
3. Dean Downing RAPHA-CONDOR
4. Ian Wilkinson TEAM HALFORDS-BIKEHUT
5. Rob Hayles TEAM HALFORDS-BIKEHUT
6. Malcolm Elliot CANDI TV – MARSHALLS PASTA
7. Ed Clancy TEAM HALFORDS-BIKEHUT
8. Tom Barras MADISON.CO.UK
9. Jeroen Janssen MADISON.CO.UK
10. John Mozely MADISON.CO.UK
Team Standings after Round 8
1. Team Halfords BikeHut 77 points
2. Rapha – Condor 73 points
3. Candi TV – Marshalls Pasta 72 points
4. Madison.co.uk 69 points
5. Sigma Sport Cycling Team 42 points
6. Sports Beans – Wilier 39 points
7. Team Corley Cycles 35 points
8. Endura Racing 22 points
9. www.cyclingbargains.com 18 points
10.BMC UK Racing Team 17 points
The Tour Series now moves into its final week of racing with round 9 in Chester on Tuesday (23) and 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.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.