|WELWYN-HATFIELD GRAND PRIX|
A DREAM win in the Welwyn Hatfield Grand Prix round of the Premier Calendar marked the professional debut of former national squad member John Tanner (Neilson-Tivoli) who coasted home six seconds clear of Mark Walsham (unsponsored) and Keith Reynolds (Banana Energy Fruit) to take the 100-miler at Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, on Sunday.
Walsham, second, and Reynolds, third, led in unsponsored Ben Luckwell, the man of the race, followed by Jon Clay (Team Orange), Paul Curran (Dinnington RC) and Martin Baddell (CC Luton), the rest of the seven-man break that dominated the last 34 miles of an action packed race that exploded from the start.
With the magnificent help of the Hertfordshire Constabulary the riders were able to race under Milk Race rolling road closure conditions, with motorcycle police providing full cover to the race as it moved through the Hertfordshire countryside.
Within four miles of starting, note pads were busy as the race radio informed the convoy that there had been a crash involving Shane Sutton (Banana Energy Fruit), Tony Doyle (Neilson-Tivoli) and Phil Silver (VC Slough). Silver was unable to continue but Doyle and Sutton both returned to the bunch, although Sutton had to stop again later for a bike change. During the confusion Matthew Rogers (Team Total Fitness) gained 10 seconds and was joined by Drew Wilson (Scotland), Andy Lyons (Olympia Sport) and Ben Luckwell. Rob Holden (Neilson-Tivoli) and Sean McVitty (Stars and Stripes) tagged on and one mile later Brian Fleming (Olympia Sport), Adrian Timmis (Raleigh) and Chris Lillywhite (Banana Energy Fruit) added their weight to the group which had now become nine-strong. Approaching the first climb of Digswell Hill they had a 23 second advantage. Luckwell took the prime with ease.
On the descent three riders clipped away from the bunch, Dave Williams (RT Italia), Walsham and Bernie Burns (Airedale Cycle Centre) and closed to 18 seconds on the Luckwell break. Three miles on and the two groups merged to form a 12-strong break, which by the second climb of Digswell led by 45 seconds. A shake-out at the head of the bunch saw another dozen escape, Paul Curran, Spencer Wingrave (Neilson-Tivoli), Reynolds, Steve Farrell (Tunstall Wheelers), Barrie Clarke (Raleigh), Andrew Hardy (Letchworth Velo), Mark Mckay (CC Luton), Anton Akuenage (VC Lincoln), Jeremy Hunt (CC Giro) Glen Holmes (Rennrad Club Norwich), Sutton and Tanner.
An eight-mile chase saw the two groups come together - so with 40 miles behind us we had 24 riders in the lead by 43 seconds from the bunch of some 40 riders. It was obvious the leaders were not going to stay clear, too many were just along for the ride and not interested in making the pace at the front. The bunch quickly began to close. Hardy, Holmes and Burns tried to slip away from the leaders as the race headed along the A4 14 towards Hertford, but they were soon swallowed up as the bunch fell upon the break as the race moved back towards Welwyn.
As the bunch reformed Mark McKay attempted to get away but he was soon back in the fold. Then it was Martin Baddell trying his luck before Digswell Village. He was pounced on by Luckwell and the pair were away as Digswell Hill loomed up yet again. Luckwell was in his element,riding hard and opening a 50 second gap by the prime line with Baddell doing his best to match the professionals' effort.
Four miles on and our tandem led by 1-8. Alarm bells were ringing back in the bunch and Reynolds, Curran and Walsham were the first to reply to the warning bell by jumping away from the bunch. They were followed by Clay and Tanner so that at 69 miles we had Luckwell and Baddell leading by 23 seconds from Reynolds, Walsham, Curran, Tanner and Clay with the bunch a further 20 seconds down the road. Within two miles the Tanner five fell upon Luckwell and Baddell.
The seven leaders got down to some serious work so that by the time they reached Digswell Hill (where Luckwell took yet another prime) they were 1-8 clear. On to the 3.8-mile finishing circuit and their advantage was 1- 47. Chris Young (Team Orange), McKay, Cohn Roshier (Hounslow and District Wheelers), David Baker (Raleigh), Sutton, Lee Davis (Scotland), Matthew Stephens (RT Italia), Richard Edwards (CC Luton), Brian Smith (Banana Energy Fruit), Doyle and Andy Lyons (Olympia Sport) slithered away from the bunch in threes and fours, but with six miles remaining they did not look as though they would be able to absorb the 2-11 that separated them from the leaders.
The final lap, 2.6 miles, and we waited to see who would be the first to go for it. The bets were on Curran, who had won this race back in 1987, so it was. Inside the last mile and he jumped hard on the right, but the rest were certainly not going to let him go as Luckwell whistled and Curran made his move. Reynolds and Clay flew after him and all was in order with just over half-a-mile to go.
Then it was Tanner taking the front, marked by Luckwell. They eased and Tanner went again, gained 50 yards, looked back and went again as the rest hesitated. That hesitation was all Tanner needed. He swooped round the final roundabout and was home and dry with enough time to sit up and show his sponsor's professional colours to their best advantage as he crossed the line.
Curran knew he would not win in a sprint hence his attempt to get away in the last mile. 'The trouble was no one would let me, when I went they shouted and were on me right away,' Curran said. 'The wind got up and made it very hard today.'
1. JohnTanner (Neilson-Tivoli) 100m in 3-48-44
2. M. Walsham (PCA) at 6sec
3. K. Reynolds (Banana Energy Fruit)
4. B. Luckwell (PCA)
5. J. Clay (Team Orange)
6. P. Curran (Dinnington RC)
7. M. Badell (CC Luton) all st
8. B. Smith (Banana Energy Fruit) at 1-17
9. Ramsbottom (Dinnington RC)
10. C. Roshier (Hounslow & Dist Wh)
11. B. Burns (Airedale Cycle Centre)
12. Doyle (Neilson-Tivoli)
13. McKay (CC Luton)
14. S. Sutton (Banana Energy Fruit)
15. R. Edwards (CC Luton)
16. D. Baker (Raleigh)
17. M. Stephens (RT Italia)
18. Holden (Neilson-Dinnington)
19. Lyons (Olympia Sport) all st
20. L. Davis (Bournemouth Arrow) at 1-42.