Team Raleigh’s George Atkins defended his 2013 victory when he won this year’s Stockton Velo29-Altura Town Centre Races in the Cleveland town on Friday night.
The 22-year-old from Newport edged out Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura) while Dean Downing (NFTO Pro Cycling) took third.
The Stockton Festival of Cycling – a weekend long celebration of cycling which culminates with the Stockton Grand Prix on Sunday – kicked off on Friday night with an Elite Town Centre Criterium.
A crash in the support race meant that the Elite race would start half an hour late, run over 30 laps and follow a slightly modified course – with a reasonably tight left hand corner replaced with a very tight left hander.
It was Alexandre Blain of Raleigh and Pete Williams of Haribo Beacon that led the bunch in to the first corner and the duo would do much of the early pace setting along with Matt Cronshaw of Velosure Giordana.
As the field started to string out and break apart it was Raleigh who had the most options with Blain joined in the leading group by last year’s winner George Atkins, Matthieu Boule and Ian Wilkinson. But there were other riders in the lead group capable of carving out a result for themselves – including NFTO’s Dean Downing, Scott Thwaites of NetApp Endura and Gruffudd Lewis of Pedal Heaven Colbornes - also in the mix.
A third of the way through and Thwaites started to apply some pressure on the front, easing a little daylight between him and the rest of the lead group which was already down to 18 riders from the 68 starters.
With Thwaites reeled in it was Atkins’ turn to attack with Downing leading the chase behind him. The raced ebbed and flowed until 10 minutes to go when Cronshaw pulled out a couple of seconds over the rest of the leaders, with Boule leading the chase and reeling him back in, then leading the next couple of laps.
Richard Hanley of Rapha Condor JLT got a couple of seconds gap on Atkins and the rest with two to go and the pair edged away at the head of the race , but It was too late to build any kind of lead.
In the final run-in Atkins had overhauled Handley but had Thwaites behind him and closing fast but he held on to take the win by half a bike length with Downing taking third.
Speaking after the race, Atkins reflected on the move in the closing stages that set up the win: ‘It was more like two laps of effort so it was a bit of a drag out rather than a slow sprint, so it was a different way to win it but I’m equally happy with that. We probably had the strongest team here, so we had a bit on our side to do a strong ride but it’s nice to put it all together.”
1 George Atkins Team Raleigh
2 Scott Thwaites NetApp Endura
3 Dean Downing NFTO
4 Richard Handley Rapha Condor JLT
5 Alex Blain Team Raleigh
6 David Lines Starley Primal Pro Cycling
7 Matt Cronshaw Velosure Giordana
8 Alex Paton Pedal Heaven Colbornes
9 Gruffudd Lewis Pedal Heaven Colbornes
10 Mathieu Boulo Team Raleigh