The race for the 2014 British Cycling Elite Circuit Series title is shaping up for a grandstand finish with series leader Alexander Blain and second placed Dean Downing separated by just one point with two rounds to go.
But with Downing reported to be retiring following the Sheffield round, it’s not clear whether the title race continue until the final round in Abergavenny.
Blain, who has been the master of consistency throughout the previous four rounds, leads the standings with 97 points, the Team Raleigh rider one point ahead on NFTO Pro Cycling’s Dean Downing on 96.
The experienced pair are vying for the title despite neither rider having won a round. Consistent top-ten finishes and results in the intermediate sprints have kept them at the top of the table, ahead of 2013 British Cycling Elite Circuit Series champion George Atkins on 76 points and Velosure Giordana RT’s Matt Cronshaw on 75.
Each of the four rounds so far in Otley, Stockton, Colne and Beverley have produced different winners and predicting a winner in Sheffield will be tough. However, hailing from just a few miles up the road in Rotherham, Dean Downing will have extra motivation to get a win in Sheffield.
For Downing, the race has a special significance – Sheffield is reported to be the Yorkshireman’s final competitive outing in a long and successful career on road and track.
Speaking to race organisers Sheffrec CC, Downing said, "The Sheffield Grand Prix was one of the best races of 2013. The atmosphere was amazing and as a local rider, the 2014 Sheffield Grand Prix is a massive goal for me."
However, with Downing so close to winning the 2014 British Cycling Elite Circuit series, it’s questionable whether the veteran rider will be able to resist the temptation of riding the final round in Abergavenny next Wednesday before moving into a behind-the-scenes role at the NFTO outfit.
Downing is no stranger to winning in Sheffield – the 39-year-old having taken victory in the 2013 edition ahead of Graham Briggs, who lies in eighth place overall on 60 points.
Fellow South Yorkshireman Briggs will be fired up for victory too, the 2012 British Cycling Elite Circuit Series champion, riding for Rapha Condor JLT having taken the win last week in Colne.
Riders will face one hour plus five laps of the Sheffield city centre circuit. The race begins on Pinstone Street adjacent to Peace Gardens and heads south west to a left-hander onto Furnival Gate.
Another ninety-degree left takes riders on Arundel Gate past Sheffield Hallam University before a sharp left by the Crucible Theatre onto Norfolk Street. A right hand turn onto Surrey Street takes the race past the Town Hall before a final sharp left brings the race back onto the start finish straight.
The Elite Circuit Series race is the centrepiece of a whole evening’s racing with the support race at 7pm followed by the main event at 8:30pm.