Endura Racing had their most successful weekend of racing so far with two wins for Russ Downing at the Eddie Soens Memorial in the UK and the Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers in France, a second for Jon Tiernan-Locke at the Vuelta Murcia in Spain and no fewer than seven podium positions over the two days.
Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers
Held over a 171km route in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France on a wet, windy and cold day, the UCI 1.2 race saw Endura Racing place four riders (Russ Downing, Alexandre Blain, Ian Bibby and Scott Thwaites) into a race winning break that moved clear in the opening 10km. With four riders in the 29 strong break, the team were key drivers of the move and helped the break build a lead of more than 3 minutes 30 seconds over the peloton at one point.
As their lead came down and the pace increased, the break splintered late in the day as it climbed one of the numerous short slopes in the rolling parcours and was reduced to 12 men. Blain and Bibby were active throughout, marking any moves and keeping Downing and Thwaites fresh for the final sprint. Coming off Blain's wheel for the sprint, Downing initially opened up in too low a gear, but had the presence of mind to sit down, reset and change gears to take the line in style.
"It couldn't have gone better today. 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. Was really cold and wet and I had problems changing gears in the sprint, but came off Alex's wheel and went. I looked back with 50m to go and knew I had it."
Julian Winn, Directeur Sportif:
"A pleasure to watch from the team car today, we had a good combination of riders in the break and they worked well to win this. Alex and Bibbs covered all the moves in the break, with Scott working too but holding back in case he needed to sprint for the win. Russ felt good and delivered again. Great to see the strength in depth we have now and as success breeds confidence we're now on a roll."
Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia
Jon Tiernan-Locke finished 2nd overall in the Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia in Spain making up a place in the second stage individual time trial in Murcia.
On Saturday's opening stage, Tiernan-Locke was third as the race covered 198km between Balneario de Archena and Sierra de Espuña, with a parcours heavily backloaded with climbs.
Zak Dempster was part of a nine man break which rode off the front of the peloton for most of the day, gaining an advantage in excess of three and a half minutes at one point. When Rabobank were joined by Movistar at the front of the bunch, the lead began to tumble and as they entered the major climbs in the final 20km, the break first splintered and then were swept up.
Wearing the UCI Europe Tour leaders white jersey, Tiernan-Locke launched a trademark attack on the lower slopes of the first category Alto del Collado Bermejo and was quickly joined by Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Despite a number of accelerations, Jon was unable to drop the Columbian and Quintana was able to gap him as they topped out. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) overhauled Jon late on the final downhill charge to the finishing line to leave him in 3rd place, 16 seconds down on Quintana and 2 seconds back on Poels.
Stage two saw the riders take on a flat 12.3km individual time trial in Murcia on Sunday and Alexander Wetterhall set a great time early on to eventually finish third on the stage, 3 seconds down on stage winner Alexander Serov (RusVelo) and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar Team). However, the battle for the overall classification was won by the winner of the opening stage Quintana (Movistar) and despite Tiernan-Locke putting in a valiant performance, which saw him overtake Poels, he was unable to make up enough time on Quintana to make up the 16s lost on the opening stage.
"Vuelta a Murcia is a race that I have been looking forward to over the winter, a good aim for the early season. I was going good during Saturday´s road stage and we all did a great job to set up JTL for the finishing climb. I still had a good opportunity at Sunday's TT over 12.3km and I knew it was the same fast course as the year before when I got 7th. 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. This was only my third time at my new Giant Trinity Advanced, it feels very good and with a few more sessions and races I hope to go even better. I´m very happy with my third today but I'm looking for a win!"
"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!"
Eddie Soens Memorial Road Race
Russ Downing opened his account for the season with a win at the Eddie Soen Memorial Road Race at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday, leading home a 1-2-3 for Endura Racing.
The massive field of 250 riders took the start in damp conditions, but as the heavy showers cleared the circuit a small group of junior riders made a valiant attempt to hold off those behind them. The elite's handicap was soon eaten up and the race was on in earnest.
Russ and the team were active throughout the race and put in a series of attacks to try and break things up, but with a flat course and little wind nothing stuck. As
the race came into the final lap, the team took charge and Downing took the win ahead of teammates Scott Thwaites and Jonny McEvoy.
"It was a matter of me sprinting to lead out Scott (Thwaites) and if he could come off the wheel... I think I gapped him. I felt really good this week. Last week I came back from Med and Haut Var where I had battered it too much and with the travelling was getting ill. So I nipped it in the bud early, two days off and then had a really good weekend training last weekend and that has continued all week and I have felt really good. I had a bit of work with an osteopath (Simeon Hempsall) and he's really done some good stuff this week and got everything firing. It's all there now ready for 2012.
"It was really difficult to break it up. I don't think it was windy enough like it has 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."
Julian Winn, Directeur Sportif:
"The lads rode great today. They rode as a unit and knew what they had to do. They stuck to the plan and they came up with the goods so no complaints here! They had to take control, that was the key and we'd agreed that with two to go we'd take control and you can only do that en masse. And that's what they did. They were all communicating, I could hear them as they came past, and when you ride as a team, you can come up with a superb result like that. 1-2-3, perfect."
"It was good today doing the sprint for Scott and it was perfect that we still had three in the train around the last corner. Russell went really quick round it and my legs seemed to be really cold with the rain and I couldn't open up properly. In the end though, top three is pretty good! We had the strength numbers today despite 100% ME and Raleigh having a go, we got to the front and the lead out went really well. Perfect."