Frenchman Alexandre Blain secured his second big win of the season so far when he soloed to victory in the 8th Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic, supported by Mountivation and staged on roads around Oakham in Leicestershire.
Blain, the Endura Racing rider who won the opening round of the Premier Calendar Series the Maldon Dengie Tour in Essex last month, was at the front for much of the race and crossed the line more than a minute clear of the remains of a chasing pack.
The whole race had been lashed by rain and strong winds throughout, and very few of the 150 starters managed to last the distance – even with the race being shortened from 114 miles to around 100 because of flooded roads around Whissendine.
The last of the riders to finish was Blain’s team-mate Russell Downing who was perhaps winning his first Lanterne Rouge, and making Endura Racing the only team to have three finishers.
As well as the horrendous conditions, the riders had to contend with some explosive tactics from Endura Racing, who blasted away from the neutralised section and put the hammer down from the off.
Their tactic led to many experienced riders dropping out because of the high pace, and while it also affected some of their own riders the ploy worked with Blain driving the attacks at the front.
An early break of 23 riders included five Endura riders, but with just a few miles covered the organisers were re-plotting the course to avoid the many flooded areas around the small country lanes.
That lead group split up and eventually a leading group of 12 riders was allowed to get some distance up the road. That group included Blain, as well as IG-Sigma Sport’s Simon Richardson and Bernie Sulzberger (Raleigh-GAC).
Blain tried a couple of attacks to test out his breakaway rivals, and although he was reeled back in from his early probing attacks, the decisive move was to come soon.
A leading trio including Blain, Sparling and Yanto Barker (UK Youth) formed at the front, and another three – including Wouter Sybrandy (IG-Sigma Sport) and Pete Williams (Node 4-Giordana.
But Blain soon escaped alone, and eked out a gap of around a minute and a half which quickly became apparent he had done enough for the win.
At the line he was 1:59 ahead, having completed the race in 4-36-33. Raleigh GAC rider Jamie Sparling took second spot, 1-59 down and just three seconds ahead of Rapha Condor-Sharp’s James McCallum – who had punctured 5km out from the finish while chasing hard with Sparling.
What they said
“This is an important UCI racing event for me and Endura Racing,” said event winner Alexandre Blain. “For me it was important to win at Dengie Marshes three weeks ago but it was more important to win this race today.
“I’m so happy that two times I’m riding in the UK and two times I win. It was our team plan to split the field as maximum as we could. We were the strongest team here so it was important to stay in the front and not get mixed up in problems with the weather.
“There were lots of other incidents, crashes and punctures and our team plan was to avoid those but not to save ourselves but to ride hard from the beginning.
“I think we shocked a lot of the riders by riding so aggressively from the start. The weather was really bad today but I was not scared about the conditions. That helped me. I used the weather to my advantage.
“In the final few kilometres, I had been told the race route was flooded and the organisers were reducing the distance. I attacked over the summit of the Somerberg and manage to get a gap. From then I just concentrated on getting to the finish and claim the win.”
Third-placed James McCallum (Rapha Condor Sharp): added: “I’m devastated. After all that blood, sweat and tears, I punctured in the last three kilometres. I was away with Jamie Sparling and we were racing for second and third place when I got a rear wheel puncture.
“My team car was there and I got a spare very quickly but so close to the finish, my hopes of getting second had gone.
“Alex Blain was the strongest rider today and we couldn’t have caught him but I could have got second although if you told me this morning that I would be third in the CiCLE Classic, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“All my hard work over the winter is just beginning to pay off. I felt really strong today and all this is just coming in time for the tour series which starts in a few weeks. I’m now really excited about the rest of the season.”
Scond placed rider Jamie Sparling had this to say after the finish in Melton. “I was super-stoked for that ride today. Our team did a good job having numbers in all the moves. It was my job to try to force something and animate the race early on. With the weather and the tiny lanes it was a matter of staying at the front. Eventually a group of 12 or so went clear and we had two in it, Bernie Sulzberger and myself. I was rolling through pretty hard with Bernie in mind for the win. With 50km to go Bernie told me I was one of the strongest so I should start thinking about the finish. I calmed down a bit and started to become a bit more selfish. Blain attacked and was gone, when he attacked no one flinched everyone was already maxed out, he was on a different level to the rest of us. Then Jimmy Mac attacked our chase group over the Somerberg. From then on it was just him and I chopping off until he flatted with 3km to go. Poor fellow, he was going so well and riding without gloves.”
The 27 year old Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia appeared comfortable in the cold, wet and wind of Rutland, we asked him if the conditions had affected him? “I thrive in this kind of weather, always have. I’m pretty sure I was the most underdressed person in the race. Must be because I’m Canadian, I’m well used to harsh conditions.”
Before he went off to the warm showers we asked the Raleigh rider if it was true he was also a DJ, “Oh yes that’s true, besides spinning bike wheels I like to spin my turntables, my alias is DJ Sparls, if you like music you can check out my sounds”. Maybe another time Jamie but a great ride today and thanks for talking to us!
Results - full list of finishers: (Download full results - 175kb pdf)
1 BLAIN Alexander Endura Racing 04:36:33
2 SPARLING Jamie Raleigh - GAC @1:59
3 McCALLUM James Rapha Condor Sharp @2:02
4 ERLER Tobias Arbo-Gebruder-Weiss @2:39
5 BARKER Yanto Team UK Youth @2:57
6 WILLIAMS Pete Node 4 - Giordana Racing @4:40
7 SYBRANDY Wouter IG - Sigma Sport @5:30
8 CAMANO Iker Endura Racing st
9 ADAMS Stephen CyclePremier @7:19
10 SMAIL Robert Team Wallis CHH st
11 JORGENSEN Kasper Linde Glud & Marstrand - LRO @7:23
12 BACKSTEDT Magnus Team UK Youth st
13 NICHOLSON Michael Asfra-Flanders @8:32
14 DOWNING Russell Endura Racing @13:44
15 BJERGFELT William CyclePremier @16:29
16 BIALOBLOCKI Marcin Node 4 - Giordana Racing st
17 BRIGGS Graham Raleigh - GAC @18:57
18 HAWDON Andrew Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes st
19 HOLT Simon Raleigh - GAC st
20 HOLOHAN Liam Raleigh - GAC @19:15
21 SULZBERGER Bernard Raleigh - GAC st
22 NORTHEY Mike Node 4 - Giordana Racing st
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.