James Stewart continued the excellent start to the season for Team UK Youth by winning the Eddie Soens Memorial handicap circuit race at Aintree on Merseyside.
Stewart was one of eleven riders who broke free from the main field with five laps to go of the 30 lap race. In a close sprint, he just edged out Rapha-Condor Sharp's Andy Tennant on the line, with Matt Kipling of Raleigh finishing third.
The race has a staggered start with four groups of riders going off at intervals over a period of 3 minutes, with the strongest - elite and first cats - going off last. The first group is almost upon them when they start, so there then follows a cat and mouse game as the stronger riders try to stay clear of their lesser rivals, who are hell-bent on lapping them almost before the race has begun. In previous editions, lapping has occurred and Juniors and other less experienced riders have hung in with the elite riders for the rest of the race and claimed famous wins.
This time the final group off looked like they meant business from the start. It was soon clear that there would be no surprises as the elites stayed clear and the field gradually compacted over the first ten laps. The first and second groups were soon together and likewise the third and fourth groups. Team Raleigh were particularly prominent in the second of these composite groups as they drove to bridge the gap and bring the whole field together - they duly achieved this after some 12 laps.
For a time there was some consolidation as the big teams got themselves organised. Raleigh again looked well drilled as they kept the pace high. The GB team's academy riders, wearing the 100% ME team's colours, were also noticably well placed.
The first forays off the front of the bunch - which consisted of over 140 riders at this stage - began to come with 13 laps to go, with a fine drizzle beginning to fall. 100% ME's Jon Mould and Tom Moses would have pleased coach Chris Newton with strong, driving moves which took them clear for a lap or two.
However, it wasn't until five laps to go - just over 15 minutes from the finish - that a break really stuck: Matt Cronshaw, Matt Stevens, Liam Holoham, Mark Christian, Simon Wilson and James Sampson pulled clear and after half a lap had almost 10 seconds over the chasers. James Stewart, Andy Tennant, Tom Moses and James Lowsley-Williams bridged across to them a lap later and suddenly these 11 riders were away.
It only took a couple more laps for it to become apparent that the winner was going to come from this lead group as they steadily built a lead with the main field apparently unwilling to chase. With two laps to the finish they were 40 seconds clear and at this stage Raleigh appeared to be in the box seat, with 3 riders in the break.
Matt Cronshaw was nomiated as their ace card and on the last lap, with the break getting twitchy, he went clear and built a small gap. Going down the back straight he looked like he might hang on for a famous solo win. However, Team UK Youth also had two riders in the break and one of them, James Lowsley-Williams, did a big turn on the front to pull back Cronshaw.
With Cronshaw finally wilting, Rapha-Condor Sharp's Andy Tennant came out of the last bend on the front but Team UK Youth's James Stewart made sure he re-paid Lowsely-Williams' selfless efforts with a well-timed sprint and he had just enough time to put half a wheel past Tennant on the line, punching the air with delight as he sealed the win. Matt Kipling gave the hard-working Raleigh team third, some reward for all their hard work. The bunch swept over the line just over 10 seconds later, with Jonathan Mould of 100% ME claiming the sprint for 12th place.
1 James Stewart Team UK Youth (E) 01:39:32
2 Andy Tennant Rapha Condor Sharp (E) 01:39:32
3 Matthew Kipling Team Raleigh (E) 01:39:32