Endura Racing continued their impressive start to the season when Alexandre Blain sprinted to victory in the opening round of the elite Premier Calendar road race series, the 104-mile Maldon Dengie Tour in Essex.
The 31-year-old Frenchman came in ahead of Ben Grenda (Rapha-Condor-Sharp) and Matt Cronshaw (Node4-Giordana Racing) after nearly four hours of racing on a course that was a testing mix of road and rough, narrow farm tracks – producing a string of punctures – between Maldon and the Dengie Marshes.
Roberto Cesaro (Meridiana Karmen) and Simon Richardson (Team IG-Sigma Sport) – one of the puncture victims – completed the top five, who emerged from a leading group of 13 in the closing miles to fight out the finish with Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4 Giordana Racing) in sixth as he led a late charge from behind which almost paid off.
Blain, overall winner of the Tour of Normandie last year, paid tribute to the work of his Endura team-mates to secure the win. “I’m over the moon,” he said. “It was a fantastic team effort and every one of them worked so hard to get me across the line in first place.
“I had a puncture on the first rough section but Rob Partridge waited for me and together we rode back up to the leading group, and Ian Wilkinson threw away his own chance of winning on the front, driving the pace so i could sit in and get ready for the sprint.”
Andy Hastings (Metaltek-Scott) made the first significant break of the race, opening up a gap of around half a minute on the first rough section, but he later went down in a crash in the peloton as a leading group of around 30 riders came together on the second climb of Steeple Hill.
Sam Harrison (100% ME) went on the attack followed by Chris Opie (Team UK Youth), stretching their lead to a minute, but the Endura boys were in control and reeled the leaders back before a new group emerged at the front from which the outcome was eventually decided.
Maldon Dengie Tour 2012
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)
Dry conditions made for plenty of dust on the unmade roads
Alexandre Blain takes the win
Champagne fun, or possibly revenge, on the podium