A beautiful British sunset signaled the final curtain on this year's Tour Series, and as Halfords took a bow and the coveted Bob Chicken trophy by the narrowest of margins, the sizeable galleries had witnessed pure theatre. Rob Hayles’ victory was the defining act at the end of an encounter which had promised much and delivered.
Billed as the 'Showdown on the Seafront' the 2009 Tour Series arrived in Southend-on-Sea with one point separating the top three teams. Chester had proved a tough battleground for the leading team, Halfords Bikehut and its riders arrived in Essex with the bit between their teeth to finish off the job at round 10, as a customary hefty crowd and bright evening sunshine greeted the 50 warriors who had bumped and grinded their way through nine arduous rounds of city-centre racing across the length and breadth of England over the last six weeks.
As the teams rolled-out for one last time in 2009 there were some nervous looking faces amongst the top three teams of Halfords, Candi TV and Rapha-Condor, showing just how much this series has come to mean to some of the UK's top professional racing teams. The early exchanges, however, came from the teams a little lower down the standings as Endura and Sport-Beans fired men off the front in the opening laps, and cyclingbargains local-man Jason White turned a big gear and sucked the field along the Western Esplanade.
Sprint number one heralded the time for some of the big guns to show their mettle, with Rapha's Colchester winner Tom Southam and Halfords 'superman' Ian Wilkinson dragging them through the bottom turn and up to Casino bend. The familiar face of Russell Downing accelerated out of the final turn on this hotdog shaped circuit and easily took the first sprint from Chris Newton and Rob Hayles.
Unfortunately for some of the teams this powerful injection of pace from the Candi TV man signaled one gear change too many, and significant gaps appeared in the peloton. A small group of seven riders skipped off the front after 20 minutes of racing, with Rapha-Condor, Candi TV, Halfords, BMC, Corley Cycles, Sigma Sport and Sport-Beans represented. The race-faces were on once again in the Tour Series.
The appreciative Southend-on-Sea audience banged the boards as the escapees opened up a gap of around seven seconds as the clock ticked towards 30 minutes and the second sprint of the night. They were joined by four more riders, namely Kristian House, who went straight over the top and attacked coming into Casino. He held his speed coming out of the bend and drove through the start/finish area with a gap of around 50 metres. A Rapha-Condor rider away on his own - this looked familiar. It wasn't to be on this occasion though as Halfords' Andy Tennant stamped on the pedals as he hauled the group up to House.
Tonight's tempo was furious as the riders flew around this Southend power-circuit averaging over 32 mph. You wouldn't have thought it however, as with over 35 minutes gone the field remained reasonably intact, with a blue-train of Wilkinson, Tennant and Hayles easing themselves towards the grand finale on the seafront. Dad-to-be Hayles felt it was time to inject a little more fun and skipped off the front leaving his Halfords team-mates to look around and let the others react.
React they did as Candi TV, Rapha-Condor and Madison fired riders in pursuit of Hayles. The chase would need to come from a team outside of the big four this time and cyclingbargains.com turned their pedals that little bit harder on the front of the chasing bunch. With the Sprint three claxon ringing in their ears Candi TV man Malcolm Elliot and Rapha's Tom Southam hit the front, heading-up yet another select group of 10 riders as they merely rolled across the line, the sprint wasn't contested, there was too much at stake with only 15 minutes left in this year's series. Eight laps left and the tension was palpable, the entire series was coming down to the last 10 kilometres.
As the lap counter showed six to go the front group, containing two Halfords Bikehut riders, two Rapha-Condor riders and two Candi TV-Marshalls Pasta riders, held an advantage of seven seconds. Was this to be the master-move in this year's Tour Series? Time would tell in less than five laps of this 1.3km circuit. With three left the tactics were being played out, as Rapha-Condor and Halfords exchanged glances, and the gap was at 18 seconds. This was to be the move that decided the 2009 series.
Into the last lap, the grand finale, final throw of the Tour Series dice, and Sigma Sport man Wouter Sybrandy made a long attempt for the line, with the key players more interested in the minor placings. However, when these guys smell a win it's all-out warfare and Sybrandy was caught within inches of the line. A blanket finish yet again as the sun began to sink in the Southend-on-Sea sky.
The judges consulted the cameras and announced their verdict - and it was to be Team Halfords' night. Rob Hayles won the sprint to take the individual win, ably supported by Ian Wilkinson in fourth and Ed Clancy in 13th as they took the win on the night and the 2009 Tour Series title.
|1||Rob Hayles (Team Halfords Bikehut)|
|2||Malcolm Elliot (Candi Tv-Marshalls Pasta)|
|3||Wouter Sybrandy (Sigma Sport-Specialized)|
|4||Ian Wilkinson (Team Halfords Bikehut)|
|5||Marcin Bialoblocki (Sport Beans-Wilier)|
|6||Dale Appleby (Candi Tv-Marshalls Pasta)|
|7||Stephen Adams (Madison.co.uk)|
|8||Matthew Higgins (Team Corley Cycles)|
|9||Kristian House (Rapha-Condor)|
|10||Tom Southam (Rapha-Condor)|
|1||Team Halfords BikeHut|
|2||Candi TV - Marshalls Pasta|
|3||Rapha - Condor|
|5||Team Corley Cycles|
|6||Sports Beans - Wilier|
|7||Sigma Sport Cycling Team|
|10||BMC UK Racing Team|
|1||Team Halfords BikeHut||96||pts|
|2||Candi TV - Marshalls Pasta||94|
|3||Rapha - Condor||91|
|5||Sigma Sport Cycling Team||51|
|6||Sports Beans - Wilier||50|
|7||Team Corley Cycles||44|
|10||BMC UK Racing Team||20|