|GRAND PRIX OF ESSEX|
COUNTER attacking in classic style, Wayne Randle (Optimum Performance RT) raced to his second Grand Prix of Essex triumph in three outings at Halstead on Sunday.
Optimum's team captain Paul Curran had softened up the field with a late, lone breakaway that went close to succeeding. Then, after Curran was caught with less than two miles to go, Randle scored the knock-out blow with a lone attack that carried him to victory just three seconds clear of the rampaging bunch.
Julian Ramsbottom (North Wirral Velo), last year's winner, was second across the line in Halstead High Street, despite hav-ing figured in a fruitless 60-mile breakaway early in the race and, fresh from his heroics in Malaysia, Rob Hayles (Team Ambrosia) fought off jet-lag to thrust his front wheel across the line in third spot.
It was a brilliant tactical finish by Randle who capitalised on his long experience of the tricky run-in to the uphill finish. 'I planned it all last week,' he said.
On a still, mild morning, over a course without any serious climbs, there was little to split the peloton and most of the action was packed into the last 30 miles. After a silent tribute to the vic-tims of the Dunblane massacre, the 78 starters rode out of town on the first of three 28-mile laps through the Essex lanes.
There was no shortage of aggression in the opening miles. A couple of tentative escapes were pulled back until, with only seven miles covered, Ramsbottom and Mark Lovatt (Optimum Performance RT) opened a gap. The peloton was content to let them dangle in front but the duo's lead never grew to more than a minute.
It was lacklustre racing as the bunch trundled along at 20mph at times. At 40 miles they started to show signs of life. Comeback man Keith Reynolds (unattached) was looking lively on the front of the bunch, and the break's advantage started to shrink.
With 30 miles to go, Team Energy decided it was time to act. Simon Bray's national champion's jersey was prominent in the line-out as all six Energy men went to the front of the bunch. Eight miles later Ramsbottom and Lovatt were reeled in and the bunch was all together again.
Attacks came in rapid succession until, at 74 miles, a high-powered group broke clear. In it were Randle, Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo), Gary Thomas (Ambrosia), Jimmy Jones (JPM Racing), John Tanner (Peugeot-Gill Airways) and Ian Gilkes (Parker International).
Ramsbottom and Curran were determined not to miss out and joined forces to bridge the gap to the leaders. Now there were eight men away, all potential winners. But their lead, hovering at around 45 seconds, wasn't convincing.
Curran described what hap-pened next. 'We did a few hard turns and opened a gap. Then Wayne sat up and let me get away.' There were still a dozen miles to go as Curran clawed his lone lead to a maximum of 15 seconds.
Back in the bunch Team Energy had missed the move yet again and were leading the pursuit of Curran's seven former break-away companions. As the race hit the 9.5-mile finishing circuit, the bunch caught the break and Curran's solo adventure looked to be over.
Now Team Ambrosia gathered on the front, preparing to lead out sprinter Hayles. Still Curran refused to give in. Finally, at the foot of the last climb of the race, the bunch overwhelmed him.
With less than two miles to go Randle seized his chance. He counter-attacked up the climb and, turning 53 x 13, rapidly opened a race-winning lead.
The sun came out for the final moves, watched by a large crowd in Halstead. Randle was first into the High Street, and although there was still 200 metres to go, he knew he had it won.
He had time to look back at the sprinting bunch, led home by Ramsbottom and Hayles. Paul Wilkes (Bradgate RC) snatched fourth spot from seasoned sprint stars Mark Walsham (Peugeot-Gill Airways) and Chris Lillywhite (Karrimor).
Promoter Derek Worsley could be happy with an event that lived up to its Premier Calendar status.
And the riders had reason to thank the Essex police for some very efficient escorting which ensured virtual closed-road conditions through the narrow lanes.
Wayne Randle revealed that his win was based on a maxi-mum 200 miles a week train-ing during the recent wet and cold conditions.
The Barnsley rider, who has won most of Britain's top single-day events over the years, praised his team. 'They're a good set of lads and there's always somebody up there in the moves,' he said.
'The breakaway group today was a bit dead - only John Tanner and Chris Newton were working really hard. Then Paul got away and just kept going. I was feeling quite fresh and I'd already made my mind up to make my effort on the last hill. As soon as they got on to Paul I went.'
Asked about his 60-mile break with Mark Lovatt, Julian Ramsbottom admit-ted: 'At times, I was wonder-ing what I was doing there.
'I was hoping a group would come up, but nobody did. It was hard to know what to do for the best. We had a minute on the bunch but we were still taking it out of our-selves for later. I decided to do as little work as possible - Mark was doing longer turns than me, anyway. Then it all came back and I just tried to save myself for the sprint.
'It was very dicey coming down into Halstead. I man-aged to get second coming out of the last corner and died all the way to the line.'
Rob Hayles, who arrived home on Tuesday after a 14-hour flight from Malaysia, was still jet-lagged. 'I was falling asleep on the last lap,' he admitted.
'I really had trouble keeping my eyes open. After get-ting used to riding 28mph on the flat over there, I was suffering a bit on the climbs today. The Ambrosia team did a very good job. It was just unfortunate that when we eased on the climb Wayne went. We were all spent, but he did a really good ride.'
Paul Curran finished last, a big grin across his face, after being caught with two miles to go. 'It was a bit too far out for a lone break but I thought I might as well keep going,' he said.
'Then, when I heard the breakaway group had been caught by the bunch I knew I'd had it. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself until I got to the finish and I heard somebody shout "Wayne's won!"'
1. Wayne Randle (Optimum Performance RT--Powerbar) 94m in 3-35-50
2. J. Ramsbottom (North Wirral Velo) at 3sec
3. R. Hayles (Team Ambrosia)
4. P. Wilkes (Bradgate RC)
5. M. Walsham (Peugeot-Gill Airways)
6. C. Lillywhite (Karrimor)
7. G. Baker (Olympia Sport)
8. C. King (CC Giro)
9. M. Harrison (Tunstall Wh)
10. J. Tanner (Peugeot-Gill Airways)
Alexa primes.- Julian Ramsbottom 11 pts; 2, M. Lovatt (Optimum Pertormance RT) 8; 3, P. Curran (Optimum Performance RT) 5.
Martin Ayres reports for Snowdon Sports Editorial. Pictures by Phil O'Connor