Frenchman Alexandre Blain struck the opening blow in the 2012 Premier Calendar Series with victory for Endura Racing in the 104-mile Maldon Dengie Tour in Essex.
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The 31-year-old, from Nice, sprinted in ahead of Ben Grenda (Rapha Condor Sharp) and Matt Cronshaw (Node4 Giordana Racing) after nearly four hours of racing on a cruel mix of road and narrow farm tracks between Maldon and the Dengie Marshes in the event dubbed the Hell of the East.
It was Blain’s first victory of the year after a third place at the Beverbeek Classic in Belgium and fourth in the Omloop Van Het Waasland, and afterwards he was full of praise for the work of his team to put him in a position to win the race.
“I’m over the moon,” said Blair, overall winner of the Tour of Normandie last year for Endura. “It was a fantastic team effort and every one of then worked hard to get me across the line in first place.
“I had a puncture on the first rough section, but one of our mechanics was at the end of the section with a spare, Rob Partridge waited for me, and together we rode back up to the leading group.
“At the end Ian Wilkinson threw away his own chance of winning to work for me, he was on the front driving the pace so i could sit in and get ready for the sprint.
“We’ve had some really good results on the continent so far this season anbd now we’re delighted to come home and win the first Premier Calendar.”
After an 18-mile run from Maldon to the first section of dusty farm track at Southminster it was Andy Hastings (Metaltek-Scott) who made the first break, opening up a gap of around half a minute, but went down in a crash in the peloton as a leading group of around 30 riders came together the climb of Steeple Hill for the second time.
Sam Harrison (100% ME)_ went on the attack followed by Chris Opie (Team UK Youth), stretching their lead to a minute, but Endura racing were whipping things up behind them and when they were caught, a new group of leaders emerged including Blain, Grenda, Cronshaw, Wilkinson, Marcel Six (Metaltek Scott), Simon Richardson (Team UG-Sigma Sport), and Roberto Cesaro (Meridiana Karmen).
The leaders came down to five – Blain, Grenda, Cronshaw, Cesaro and Richardson – inside the last few miles, and that was how they crossed the line with Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4 Giordana Racing), leading a late chase which almost paid off. In sixth place.
1 Alexandre Blain (Endura Racing) 3-56-05
2 Ben Grenda (Rapha Condor Sharp)
3 Matt Cronshaw (Node4 Giordana Racing)
4 Roberto Cesaro (Meridiana Karmen)
5 Simon Richardson (Team IG-Sigma Sport)
6 Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4-Girodana Racing)
7 Sam Harrison (100% ME)
8 Marcel Six (Metaltek Scott)
9 Evan Oliphant (Team Raleigh)
10 Owain Doull (100% ME)
British Cycling would like to thank the organising team, officials and everyone else who helped promote this event. Our sport could not exist without the hundreds of people, many of them unpaid volunteers, who put in many hours of hard work running events, activities and clubs.