By Nick Bull
Watching the racing at last night's Tour Series round in Oxford, you could have been forgiven for forgetting this was a new addition to the calendar.
Riders were throwing their way in the circuit's four hairpin bends with as much fluidity as they had confidence, and a healthy-sized crowd were lapping it up. Being able to see so much of the circuit from your vantage point helped.
The result also had a familiar feel to it, but this wasn't as ceremonial as the scorecard and Endura's points tally may suggest.
UK Youth replicated their second place from the opener in Kirkcaldy last Tuesday, but that somewhat masks the impressive performance they mustered up in front of their backer Nigel Mansell.
Mansell, who was wearing a sling after his first cycling-sustained injury, looked at ease in the pits throughout. He could have been in Monaco for this weekend's blue-riband Grand Prix. Instead he chose a circuit race of a different kind in a famous University city.
There was plenty of vibrancy on show - Marcel Six (Metaltek-Scott), for example, was determined to fight for the Boardman Bikes Sprint Competition points each time - but this was no easy race. The tight corners meant there was plenty of slowing going into and fast accelerating coming out of the bends, which after 75 minutes affected even the strongest of riders.
National Circuit Race champion Graham Briggs (Raleigh-GAC) had a long chase after missing the split, while Dean Downing (Rapha-Condor-Sharp) retired from his first ever Tour Series round. He went and sat in the team car straight away, his frustration clear for all to see. Downing, after all, holds the record for the most individual victories in this event since 2009. This wasn't in the script.
Nor was an Endura win. UK Youth had four men in the split. The series leaders three, everyone else had two at the most. But here was the conundrum. Should UK Youth pull, and risk being beating at the finish by fresher riders? Or should they have soft-tapped, kept their powder dry for the sprint but allow a large chase group with Rapha, Raleigh and Node4-Giordana riders a plenty to catch them? This was criterium racing at it's curious and thrilling best.
No wonder I overheard a spectator complaining it was all over too quickly. Clearly the Tour Series and Oxford is newer than it at times seemed.
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