British UCI Continental team, Endura Racing, has continued its highly successful start to the 2012 season.
Last weekend brought two victories and seven podium finishes for the Scottish-registered squad in races held in three different countries.
Both victories were claimed by Russell Downing, signed by Endura Racing at the end of last season when Team Sky failed to renew his contract.
Downing’s opening win of 2012 came on Saturday (March 3) at the Eddie Soens Memorial Road Race at Aintree Racecourse.
Downing led home teammates Scott Thwaites and Jonny McEvoy at the head of a 250-strong field after the team took control on the final lap.
The former national road race champion paid tribute to the quality of domestic racing after spending two years in cycling’s elite WorldTour peloton.
“It was really difficult to break it up. I don’t think it was windy enough like it has been in the past but there is also this strength in depth now where everybody isn’t riding for themselves.
“They all know what team work is about so when one of the Endura boys went away, one of the Raleigh or Node4s would chase it to get up there. It is a team sport and everyone knows what they are doing and it’s not easy anymore,” said Downing.
He delivered a second victory in two days by winning the UCI 1.2 category Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France yesterday (Sunday March 4).
Downing and teammates Alexandre Blain, Ian Bibby and Scott Thwaites escaped within 10km of the 171km race, joining 25 other riders in what would prove to be the decisive break.
The Endura quartet shrugged off the damp conditions to drive the break to a lead that peaked at nearly three-and-a-half minutes.
With the break reduced to 12 riders in the closing kilometres, Blain and Bibby chased down attacks while Downing and Thwaites rested for the final sprint. In the closing drama, Blain lead out Downing for the win.
Downing said the race ‘couldn’t have gone better’.
“The break went early and we drilled it and opened up a decent gap. When they started to chase properly we worked again to crack them. It was really cold and wet and I had problems changing gears in the sprint, but I came off Alex’s wheel and went. I looked back with 50m to go and knew I had it,” he said.
Meanwhile in Spain, Jon Tiernan-Locke continued a fine show of early season form that had brought stage and overall victories in the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour Du Haut Var by finishing second overall in the Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia.
The Plymouth rider put his fast-becoming-trademark attack as the road turned skywards on the opening day of the race, leading the field before being overhauled by overall winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) before the finishing line.
Tiernan-Locke gained sufficient time on Poels to overhaul the Dutchman in the closing day’s time trial to take second overall.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “I made a big effort yesterday on the climb, as I knew I needed to just ride as I wanted a gap on the others behind for the TT. I never feel good in TTs but managed a respectable time. To be just six seconds off the overall is frustrating, but fair play to the winner who also did a good ride today. That was painful!”
His Endura Racing teammate, Alexander Wetterhall, finished third in the time trial after a performance in which he said he had given everything.
“I did a good warm up and at the start I felt I had the speed and the power to do a good time. I could not go any faster anywhere and it was full-on through the corners and I crossed the line with nothing left in the tank,” said Wetterhall.