Raleigh GAC's Graham Briggs, having already secured the 2012 Elite Circuit Series title in the previous round, finished the series on a high with a win from a bunch sprint in front of big crowds in Sheffield. Endura's Russell Downing took second, ahead of Node4 Giordana's Rico Rogers in third.
The daylight was quickly fading in Sheffield city centre as the 90 elite riders began the final round of the British Cycling Elite Circuit Series on Wednesday night.
Russell Downing (Endura Racing) put in an early attack followed by a string of Raleigh GAC and Rapha Condor Sharp riders. The race was on, and over the next couple of laps, the Downing name was at the front, with either Russ or his brother Dean, both of whom got huge support from the local crowd, cheering on the brothers who hail from four miles up the road in Rotherham.
The only significant break of the night was a very shortlived affair with Ben Grenda (Rapha Condor Sharp), Bernie Sulzberger (Raleigh GAC) and the New Zealand Criterium champion Mike Northey (Node4 Giordana) managing to escape from the group but only gaining a maximum of seven seconds.
Although Team Raleigh had got Bernie Sulzberger in the break, they worked hard to bring it back, with the help of Rob Partridge and Russell Downing.
With three laps to go the streetlights had come on and the Sheffield city centre circuit resembled a nocturne, with huge crowds and slick promotion thanks to organiser Mark Etches and his team. The Raleigh GAC team amassed at the front of the fast moving peloton followed by a line of Rapha Condor Sharp riders and, tucked in the centre of this elite group, was Russell Downing, the lone Endura rider.
At the bell, the Raleigh line had dropped to one rider and Evan Oliphant came through to take the bell with Russell Downing tucked on his wheel. However, in the back straight the Raleigh riders regained control of the front end of the race when criterium specialists Tobyn Horton and Graham Briggs moved into their race winning position.
Into the final corner with 160 metres to go, Graham Briggs had taken the lead. On his wheel was Russell Downing and Rico Rogers, the Australian Node4 Giordana rider. At the line, with the local crowd shouting in equal measure for Briggs and Downing, Briggs managed to get the win.
Following the race, British Cycling caught up with runaway series winner Graham Briggs to get his story of the night’s race, and the Doncaster based rider was keen to pay tribute to his Raleigh GAC team who’d been dominant throughout the seven round series:
“The guys were awesome again. It just gets better and better each time we race but Russell Downing was the one we had to watch. He’s never easy to beat in the sprint, he just doesn’t know when to give in.
“Russ got in between our train so we had to hit him again on the back straight. I managed to keep the lead into the final corner with two lengths over him but I knew he was coming back at me and I just managed to hold him off.”
Briggs went on to praise the support from the crowd and the organisation of what was a great event on the streets of Sheffield: “There was so much support out there tonight – it was fantastic. The atmosphere that Mark Etches and his team have created here is second to none.”
Briggs then commented on how it felt to win the series overall: “It’s been a fantastic season so far for the Raleigh GAC team – we’ve dominated this British Cycling Elite Circuit Series. We had it sewn up before tonight so to come here and win without any pressure was just awesome.”
Second placed Russell Downing also paid tribute to the home crowd and the talent of series winner Briggs: “When I got tucked into the Raleigh lead-out train I was hoping that I could get the win but Graham Briggs again rose to the challenge and he got a great win in front of a big home crowd.
“I can tell you, I wanted that win ‘cos it’s my home crowd as well. At the bell I was second wheel and just got swamped by a Raleigh attack. I got Graham’s wheel into the final corner but his leadout man couldn’t move and I was blocked in the sprint. I’ve got no complaints – Graham had two lengths on me and he deserved the win.
Downing continued: “This crowd tonight was unbelievable – it’s great to have such a big event in our home city and I’m honoured to be racing in front of such fabulous support. This is a close knit cycling community and it’s just been a fantastic night.”
Third placed Rico Rogers from Australia has had a strong Elite Circuit Series, despite, by his own admission, not being suited to European style crit racing: “This style of racing doesn’t really suit me – I seem to do a lot better when there’s a big bunch kick but as the season has gone on, I’m just getting better and better at European style crits.
“I’m hoping I can take this European crit experience back to Oz in the winter and win some crits there.”
1. Graham Briggs (Raleigh GAC)
2. Russell Downing (Endura Racing)
3. Rico Rogers (Node4 Giordana)
4. Bernie Sulzberger (Raleigh GAC)
5. Tobyn Horton (Raleigh GAC)
6. Dean Downing (Rapha Condor Sharp)
7. James McCallum (Rapha Condor Sharp)
8. Ben Grenda (Rapha Condor Sharp)
9. Tom Murray (IG Sigma Sport)
10. Mike Northey (Node4 Giordana)