NATIONAL Amateur Road Race Championship
WITH perfect timing, Simon Bray won his second British road race title near Hull on North Humberside on Sunday, an event sponsored by Humberside County Council.
Bray (Team Energy-Duracell), who was champion in 1992, took the gold medal again after outwitting his three breakaway companions who were engaged in a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse only one mile from the line.
He had tantalized them with a short spurt giving him several bike lengths lead and they hesitated. Bray didn't.
He kicked for victory 800 metres out to win this gruelling 115.5-mile title race in a time of 4-38-53.
Jeremy Hunt's counter-attack rapidly ate into Bray's lead, but it had come too late and he salvaged the silver medal at five seconds. Of the other two heroes, 1987 champion Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT) snatched the bronze-medal from the big loser, Matthew Stephens (North Wirral Velo), an unhappy fourth. Two years ago he was silver-medallist.
David Rand (CS Purbeck) was fifth at 51 seconds and Matthew Postle (Team Energy) sixth at 1-56, after being dropped by the Bray group on the last hilly lap.
From 120 starters (from a record entry of 150) it had taken nearly five hours to boil down to the four men who made that last desperate run for the medals. Only 26 finished.
As early as three miles, a group of 25 sped away and Bray and Stephens were among them. They set the scene for what became an unrelenting forced march around 13 laps of a strength-sapping cir-cuit. It was superb racing, assisted by excellent traffic control from Humberside Police on his 8.9-mile course based on Welton, featuring the climb of Elloughton Dale, and the fast descent to South Cave village. The finish was a perfect half-mile straight in Elloughton, just before the climb.
That lead group swelled to over 30. Defending champion Rob Harris (Optimum Performance RT) was bidding for a hat-trick. According to race organiser Trevor Blackburn, of the BCF North Humberside Division, Harris had jested about making an early move, sorting it all out.
Well, there was a lot of sorting, but Harris didn't do any of it.
He came and went. He missed the first move but was closing on it with a likely-looking group which included Curran when he inexplicably attacked them to bridge a 50-second gap alone.
His late companions came up in their own good time and shortly afterwards Harris departed again, backwards this time as the race was repeatedly and roughly hewn into shape by a lot of desperate gold diggers.
Harris was last heard of among a group of 49 back-markers who fell so far behind they were stopped about three laps from the end, to ease traffic conditions.
With nine laps still to do, there was no rest for the 40-plus lead group which split on the fourth ascent of the 1.5-mile Elloughton Dale, with 11 men going clear.
They included Bray, Stephens and Hunt plus Ian Gilkes (Wembley RC), Jeff Wright (North East RT), Gary Thomas (Leek CC), Dan Smith (Festival RC) and Lee Davis (Team Energy), Steven Calland (CS Purbeck) Rand and Postle.
Their lead grew to 1-02 within a lap but the main group was still active and Curran and five others were chasing. With Curran were two Optimum Performance team-mates, Mark Lovatt and Ray Eden, plus David Cook (Middridge CRT), Roger Hammond (South Western RC) and Paul Esposti (Cwmcarn Paragon).
With 50 miles gone, 65 to go, they had closed to 42 seconds on the Bray group. But the pace on the sixth ascent of Elloughton Dale proved too much for Eden who was dropped.
The junction came at South Cave a few miles on, which the chasers descended at 55mph to wipe out the deficit and make it 16 in front.
Trailing them at 2-26 was a 13-man group which included some big hitters including three North Wirral Velo men, Pete Longbottom, Julian Ramsbottom and Chris Newton, two of them at least might have preferred to be lending a hand up front with Stephens.
But their chance had gone and with five laps to go, (45 miles) they had lost a further minute, while the next group was over eight minutes down.
The leading group was bent on more surgery and Davis was unlucky to stop for service before operations began, three miles from the foot of the climb.
Davis burst back through the convoy on the climb, but just couldn't bridge the gap. It seemed his bike needed more attention which he got on the move. Again he tried to get back, on the short slope after the summit, chasing hard up through the feed area.
First sign of aggro up front was Lovatt coming off the back as the group split. The damage was being done by Curran, Smith and Stephens drawing away on the switchback road across the plateau from where you can see the Yorkshire Dales, and on very clear days, five power stations.
These particular three power stations were quickly decommissioned, however, on the descent to South Cave but this latest action had made the rest twitchy.
Several attacks involved Postle, Stephens and Hunt and with 89 miles gone, five men broke clear to begin the 10th ascent of Elloughton Dale: Hunt, Stephens, Curran, Rand and Postle. Not to be outdone, Bray zoomed across after the climb and these six rapidly gained on five chasers, Smith, Calland, Hammond, Cook and Lovatt.
With 104 miles gone and inside two laps to go, the six led the five by 2-10 and for a lap at least, peace of a sort fell on them.
But on the 12th and final ascent of this by now wicked climb of Elloughton Dale, a Stephens' attack dropped Postle. Another split saw Curran momentarily disadvantaged by Hunt, Stephens and Bray. But it cost Rand who was dropped as the race headed for the final time over Beverley Clump. It was a measure of his class that up-and-coming rider Rand never gave up chasing the elusive four, but when Stephens struck at them again over a short rise, Rand must have known he'd seen the last of them.
With less than six miles to go, Curran powered away. He looked back, had 20 metres and kept going over the lip of the descent. He shot down it, but so did the other three, flat out, to catch a fugitive far too dangerous to give any leeway to at all.
After four and a half hours of grafting, it was surprising how agile they still were for the final showdown.
They parried and feinted, lunged and eased back, they spread out and gave each other long penetrating looks, sussing each other out, concealing as best they could any weakness they felt.
Stephens attacked and Curran countered, putting 10 metres into Bray and Hunt who came back like greased lightening. Stephens took the lead, Curran attacked from behind, Hunt went after him, Stephens after Hunt and Bray after Stephens.
Inside the last mile, their speed down to about 20mph, Stephens found the back and started to wind up a big gear for the longest sprint of his life when Curran swept across to spoil his line. Curran tried the same thing but eased off as Bray came into his vision for what was to be the finale none of them knew was coming.
As the roundabout came up, the cones lining the finishing straight beckoned like runway lights to touchdown. How long could the cat and the mice continue to play?
The answer came like a bolt out of the blue. Stephens was laying right off, looking like the most likely rider to make a powerful surge. They all saw Bray glide cheekily ahead and then look back at them across 20 metres of space.
Bang, Bray broke the spell. He slammed the gears into the 12 sprocket. It was too high. He dropped to the 13 and kicked the hardest he has ever kicked in his life.
Stunned for a split second longer, the others watched him and then each other before Hunt broke from cover like a rocket, igniting the others as well. But it was too late to stop the one man amongst them who thought he couldn't win on this course, Simon Bray, from becoming the 1995 road champion.
Surrounded by Team Energy supporters at the finish, 1995 champion Simon Bray, 28, looked as dazed as a Lottery winner after taking a chance with a brilliantly timed long sprint to victory three years after last taking the national title.
'I'm absolutely overwhelmed,' he said, looking at the beaming faces around him as if for reassurance this was not a dream. 'God! I've won it before, but this is about 1,000 times better. This wasn't the course for me. I didn't expect to win this. And I did it. Only just.
But I did it. There were a lot of tough riders there. I was a bit worried and with Jeremy Hunt there I thought I'd get slaughtered in the sprint. I had to get rid of him.'
Bray seemed astonished at how he outfoxed Hunt, Curran and Stephens.
'They let me drift 20 metres off the front with 800 metres to go. I could see they were stalling and I just put it in the 12 and that was too big. So I tried the 13 and looked round once. I could see Jeremy coming. And I just sprinted for the line. And I got it!'
Normally a cheery soul, Jeremy Hunt was as downcast as the other losers. But the 1991 national junior road race champion is still only 21 and his time will come.
'I was expecting Matt (Stephens) to go for a long one - and it never came,' explained Hunt. 'And then he (Bray) went and we all hesitated and that was it. I was able to. But I didn't. When I did go, I nearly caught him. It happens,' shrugged the third-year senior. 'I've very disappointed. I have had a very good year. I'd come here to win this.'
Sounding like a man asked to describe his own funeral, Paul Curran, 34, the national champion in 1987, wryly accounted for his final moments.
His attack on the heights of Beverley Clump was brought back in a 55mph chase down to South Cave, about four miles from the line.
'I thought, "I hope Matt Stephens isn't chasing". And I looked round and he was chasing. He just sits on the front and tows them along.
How did Curran rate his chances after that?
'I decided I still had to get away and I had a few little goes - a few little gaps, but there was always someone who was prepared to chase.
'Simon Bray went just at the right time. I thought there was no chance I'd beat Jeremy in the sprint so I just picked my man out, Matt, to beat him to get the bronze. Didn't want to finish fourth.'
Somebody had to miss a medal. It was Stephens, seen glumly ped-alling away from the scene of his disaster. 'I'm very disappointed. I thought the four of us left were just about as strong as each other, to be honest. And there were quite a few attacks. And we took it in turns to bring each other back. In the last mile we slowed right down. I decided to hold back so I could see the others. So I managed to get the most ideal place. As it turned out, it wasn't.
'We came into the final round-about acting all cagey and Simon was on the front. He just put on a little spurt and he looked around, saw the gap and put his head down.
'We hesitated. He had the gap. No one wanted to commit them-selves to a chase. And then Jeremy launched. And it was so ferocious. Paul couldn't go for it and he (Jeremy Hunt) was catching him all the way in. And I had Paul on my wheel by then and he came by me in the sprint. I came here want-ing to win. I was all psyched up.'
1. Simon Bray (Team Energy-Duracell-Lucozade--Hargroves) 115.5m in 4-38-53
2. Jeremy Hunt (CC Giro) at 5sec
3. Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT) at 6sec
4. M. Stephens (North Wirral Velo) st
5. D. Rand (CS Purbeck) at 5lsec
6. M. Postle (Team Energy) at 1-56
7. S. Calland (CS Purbeck) at 3-33
8. D. Cook (Middridge CRT)
9. D. Smith (Festival RC) both st
10. R. Hammond (South Western RC) at 5-31
11. M. Lovatt (Optimum Performance RT) at 6-24
12. B. Wilson (CS Purbeck) at 9-42
13. I. Gilkes (Wembley RC) st
14. C. Newton (North Wirral Velo) at 10-02
15. C. King (CC Giro)
16. W. Randle (Optimum Performance)
17. J. Charlesworth (CC Giro)
18. P. Longhottom (North Wirral Velo) all st
19. J. Wright (North East RT) at 11-09
20. R. Lyne (Heron RC) st.