A lot has changed in the space of a year. When Russell Downing gapped Ian Wilkinson on the final corner of Michaelgate to take his third Lincoln title last May, he was also nearing the end of a more protracted ascent towards a coveted top-tier contract.
Having been signed by Team Sky a few months later, his priorities have now changed from the Premier Calendar to the spring Classics as Downing is now “living the dream” in the ProTour ranks, having competed in the likes of Het Nieuwsblad and the Amstel Gold Race in recent months.
The 55th edition of the Lincoln Grand Prix sees the race’s recent dominator return from Europe – alongside Sky team-mates Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift – to defend his crown. Back on home soil after a two-week break from racing, the 31-year-old is raring to make it four wins in one of the country’s most prestigious races.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great race, and it’s always good when it fits in my calendar,” Downing said.
The race is characterised by the climb of Michaelgate, a 1-in-6 cobbled brute to be encountered eleven times over the course of the race. The hill helps to lend a continental flavour to the race, as the 200-rider field fights to be among the frontrunners onto its narrow slope.
Team Sky, notable for their Jaguar team cars and state-of-the-art coach, are being stripped of all their mod-cons. As a ProTour team racing in the UK, they are only allowed three riders – as a British Cycling communiqué firmly reminded last week – and no radio communication or team cars.
Downing was hopeful that Sky’s numerical disadvantage won’t affect them adversely on Sunday. “If we can get two in the big split, it’ll be ok, [but] hopefully we’ll get our full team up there. G’s riding well and I don’t think Ben has ever ridden here, so I need to tell the boys how to do it,” he said.
It makes for an intriguing contest against the full-strength British domestic teams in attendance. Last year’s runner-up and current Premier Calendar leader Ian Wilkinson will be heading the charge for Endura, while Rapha-Condor-Sharp have three past winners, in Chris Newton, Kristian House and Dean Downing, to pose a threat.
Tour of the Reservoir winner Simon Richardson (Sigma Sport-Specialized) and Malcolm Elliott (Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta) are also men to watch.
“Obviously, there’s some good teams with the likes of Endura and Motorpoint. We’ll see how things go,” Downing said.
One man who won’t be at Lincoln is Chas Messenger winner and CiCLE Classic runner-up Dan Craven.
Though in red-hot form, the Namibian is paying the penalty for crossing the line hand in hand with Matt Cronshaw at last year’s Shay Elliot Memorial, to the chagrin of the Irish commissaire and team manager John Herety alike.
His “punishment” is heading back over the Irish Sea to make the race – which clashes with the Lincoln this year – his own.
Sunday May 9
138.4km / 86 miles
Start Yarborough Sports Centre, 10am
Finish Castle Square, approx 1.30pm
Start list on the Lincoln Grand-Prix official website
The organiser: Ian Emmerson OBE
“The only change is that Bailgate, which leads north from the finish line, is closed for restoration works, so we’re doing a right turn into Eastgate. It shouldn’t make any difference to the race. Everything else is exactly the same.”
“I’m sure [Russell] Downing will be wanting to make it number four. Sky aren’t the only team in the race though – the Raphas are there, there’s Clancy, Newton and always Malc Elliott. It’s going to be interesting.”
“It’s probably going to be quite cloudy and about 12 degrees – good racing weather, not quite so good for the public.”
2009 Russell Downing (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta)
2008 Russell Downing (Pinarello RT)
2007 Dean Downing (Rapha-Condor)
2006 Kristian House (recycling.co.uk)
2005 Russell Downing (recycling.co.uk)
2004 David O’Loughlin (Ireland)
2003 Mark Lovatt (Life Repair CRT)
2002 Huw Pritchard (Angliasport)
2001 John Tanner (Ribble-Pro Vision)
2000 Chris Newton (Middridge CRT)
1. Russell Downing (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta) 3-11-11
2. Ian Wilkinson (Halfords BikeHut) at 1sec
3. Chris Newton (Rapha-Condor) at 14secs
4. Dean Downing (Rapha-Condor) at 47secs
5. Malcolm Elliott (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta) same time
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CW’S SUPER TEAM CHALLENGE
Premier Calendar nothing – this is the competition that matters.
It could not be closer between domestic heavyweights Rapha-Condor-Sharp and Endura at the top of the table.
Second and a Brucie Bonus five-pointer from Dan Craven saw the boys in black shoot up the standings at the CiCLE Classic. On Sunday, we will see how Endura will respond as the two wrestle for control.
After Tour of the Reservoir, DoonHame and the CiCLE Classic
Sigma Sport-Specialized 25
Team Sprocket 12
Pendragon-Le Col-Colnago 10
Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta 8