After a season of racing mainly abroad, Russell Downing gave his British rivals a reminder that he is still a force to be reckoned with when he sprinted to victory in the National Circuit Race Championships in York on Sunday evening.
Downing, 34 and riding for the Netapp Endura team, was second in last year’s circuit title race and last won the crown in 2009, but showed he is a man in form when he timed his blast for the line perfectly.
He held off former winner Graham Briggs (Team Raleigh), while UK Youth’s Ian Wilkinson took third, just ahead of Downing’s brother Dean (Madison Genesis).
Despite the fast pace of the race, which flew around a tight circuit in the shadow of York Minster, very few would-be escapees were allowed even a chink of light before being chased down.
Riders from most of the big teams attacked throughout the early laps, but it wasn’t until Jon Mould (UK Youth) and Jack Pullar (Madison Genesis) got around nine seconds up the road that anything looked likely to stick.
But even that fizzled out as first Pullar and then Mould were caught, and a sprint finish was inevitable, with Downing taking the honour in a tight finish which needed a photo finish.
After losing her crown last year, Hannah Barnes secured a third Circuit Championship crown when she won the women’s title race run off earlier in the afternoon.
Like Downing in the men’s race, the 20-year-old MG Maxifuel rider took a narrow sprint finish with Eileen Roe (Breast Cancer Care RT) and Amy Hill (Abergavenny RC) completing the podium.
But in the women’s race there was a decisive split with a break getting away early on. It soon settled down with five riders – including Barnes – ploughing on ahead and gaining around a minute over a chasing bunch which included reigning champion Lucy Garner (Argos-Shimano).
The gap proved too much for the bunch, and in the five-up sprint Barnes came out on top with ease.
Hannah Barnes sprints to the victory
Ian Bibby and Will Bjergfelt
Russell Downing wins