Well it all happened on the last day. The Ashdown Forest provided a nightmare finish for many of the riders, especially for Andrew Roche who narrowly lost the overall. Shaun Snodden came out top after finishing 3rd on the day – winning the overall by a mere 3 seconds. Close then.
We’ve just had a full report from Surrey League HQ as follows:
Britain’s longest bicycle race, the Evans Cycles – Surrey League Revolutions 5 day was won by Shaun Snodden of the Recycling.co.uk team, with a margin of just three seconds over second place man, and last year’s winner, Paul Griffin of Team Munster.
After 18½ hours of gruelling cycling over some of the South East of England’s most challenging roads the margin between these two riders was the closest ever in the 8 year history of this race.
While the first two stages were classed as ‘flat’, from stage three until the end, the roads became steeper and steeper as race organiser and Chief Executive of the Surrey Cycle Racing League, Keith Butler, tried to find ways of splitting up the 95-strong field of riders. By the start of the fifth and final day, based at Crowborough in the Ashdown Forest, the field had been reduced to 69 starters. By the end of the day, just 57 remained in the race. Keith said “This has been the fastest race we’ve had. On some days the average speed has exceeded 27½ miles per hour.”
The race started with a 101 mile long stage around Chobham Common in Surrey which was won by Brian Keneally of Team Munster, from Duncan Urqhart (Prestige VC) and Neil Coleman (Alcan Bianchi).
Second day involved racing based at Beare Green, to the south of Dorking, but here, due to roadworks on part of the ‘usual’ route, the stage was changed to introduce additional circuits of the Norwood Hill climb. Here a lead group of 19 riders got away from the bunch and gained a lead of more than 4 minutes. Central Division’s James Flanagan was first across the line, closely followed by Andrew Roche (Team Jersey/Isle of Man) and Neil Coleman (Alcan-Bianchi), who then took over the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Day three was based at Goodwood Motor Circuit where, in damp, drizzly weather, the time trial was won by Andrew Roche (Team Jersey/Isle of Man) in 4minutes 45 seconds, with Coleman just 5 seconds slower but still fast enough to retain his race leader’s yellow jersey. In the afternoon, the race set out on an 84.3 mile road race which took them to the top of the South Downs seven times during the afternoon.
By now, team tactics were beginning to show and the road race started with the 8-man strong Prestige VC team controlling the pace of the bunch so as to enable their man, Duncan Urqhart, to consolidate his position as the ‘green jersey’ points leader. They helped him to take maximum points at each of the ‘hot spot sprints’ on the motor circuit before the race went out onto the public roads.
By the time the race returned to the motor race circuit, 14 riders had forged a two minute lead but some hard chasing by the yellow jersey reduced this to little more than a minute by the finish. In a close sprint, from the front group, the stage was won by Tim Barry (Team Munster) from Ben Greenwood (Recycling.co.uk), with Andy Lyons (Parrot Print RT) in third. Back in the main bunch, a crash on the, by now wet and slippery surface, penultimate corner nearly spelt trouble for Coleman as some 20 riders came down around him. Fortunately he was unscathed and retained the yellow jersey, just a few seconds ahead of Welsh International Anthony Malaczyk. Urquhart retained the Sprints Jersey and National Elite MTB Champion Jody Crawforth (Evans RT) now wore the King of the Mountains jersey.
The fourth stage was held on a new circuit on the western edge of the Ashdown Forest, based at Danehill. As one rider, John Ibbotson (Pacific racing) said, “With many peoples minds firmly fixed on tomorrows brutal Ashdown showdown, it was thought that today may just be a friendly jaunt around the back roads of East Sussex. This wasn’t exactly how it panned out – being that the circuit was either up or down, but seemingly mostly up.” Certainly, it was another hard stage, which sorely tried the stamina of many riders. Yet again, a break developed and this time 8 riders developed a 3 minute lead from the main bunch as they tackled the 2 mile long uphill section from Danehill to Coleman’s Hatch. After 4 ¼ hours of hard riding, the stage was finally won by Jody Crawforth, of race sponsor Evans Cycles Road Team from Ben Greenwood (Recycling.co.uk) and Chris McNamara (Team Synergy).
After a good night’s rest, the remaining 69 riders duly turned up at Crowborough for ‘the big one’. This final stage is the most spectacular one, in particular its final circuit which takes the race up the dreaded ‘Wall’ three times. For the spectators at the top of the Wall, the sight of the riders struggling up the hill is one that inspires admiration. By the first time the riders reach this point, they have already ridden up to Crowborough from Lye Green three times and climbed the 2½ mile drag from Lye Green to Kingstanding Hill.
Matt Melville (VC St Raphael) made a break on the Crowborough Hill and was later joined by Alistair Kay (York Cycleworks) and Anthony Malaczyk (Wales). By the time the three had reached the Wall, their lead was 1½ minutes but the bunch reacted and swiftly closed the gap so that by the third ascent the lead had changed again. Now, 2003 final stage & race winner, Paul Griffin (Team Munster) was riding alone at the front and he crossed the finish line alone, some 33 seconds ahead of Malaczyk and Snodden.
So, the race was over, but one final scene needed to be played out as the riders and supporters waited for the final timings to be totalled to those of the previous days’ so as to establish the overall winner. There was much discussion as to who ‘might have done enough’ on the final stage to take the laurels. When Keith Butler announced the top three, in reverse order – naturally, there were cheers and gasps as the realisation dawned that Snodden had won from Griffin by just 3 seconds. Andrew Roche claimed 3rd. Duncan Urqhart won the green ‘Points Leader’ jersey and local rider Jody Crawforth was crowned ‘King of the Mountains’.