Cycling: Newton ahead in the race to be noticed

Martin Ayres meets the rider prepared to chew the handle bars to make the big time
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CHRIS NEWTON is the "other Englishman" in the Prutour. While the autograph hunters clustered around Chris Boardman before yesterday's stage start in Bristol, Newton sat anonymously nearby, waiting to be called to the line.

And yet Newton has been only a handful of seconds behind Boardman throughout the race, and is now eighth overall - 1min 43sec behind the race leader Stuart O'Grady and 67 seconds down on Boardman.

He is the only British-based competitor to have made the top 12, but his efforts have gone largely unnoticed. "The only publicity I'm getting is in the results at the end of the TV coverage," he said. "It's pretty disappointing, but at least it keeps the pressure off me."

Newton, 24, from Middlesbrough, seemed set to follow the traditional route of Britons seeking fame and fortune in cycling. After winning a hatful of British titles, he signed for a French amateur team last year. Six victories in his French debut season ensured he was invited back. But then a super-enthusiast called Stuart Hallam decided it was time Britain had a properly sponsored cycling team and formed the Brite Voice squad.

Newton was one of his first signings. "I've no regrets about not going back to France. I decided my long-term financial future was more important," he said.

The "Brite Boys", unbeatable in Britain this season, faced their first international challenge in the nine-day Prutour. Newton emerged as their front runner on day one, "chewing the handlebars" to stay in contact with Boardman and other world-ranked riders as the race blew apart on the road to Newcastle.

"That was the ride that caught the eye, but I think my performance on the second day was better as I had to stay with O'Grady, Boardman and Stephens over the main climbs and that was harder," he said.

Newton is relishing the opportunity to compete in a world-class event on home roads. "It's more controlled and tactical than British racing, especially in the early stages, then they really start to race in the last 50 kilometres."

Can he improve his overall placing? "I've got to try, it's no use sitting on eighth place, I would like to think I could get fourth, but the top three look pretty solid."

Newton can sprint, climb and time trial, a rare combination. "I always thought of myself as a one-day rider, but as I mature I'm finding that stage racing is my thing. Until now I've always suffered one bad day in stage races, luckily it hasn't happened in this event."

If Newton's progress continues he will have to decide whether he wants to be a big fish in a small British pond, or take the plunge into Continental racing - where there are events of Prutour standard and higher every week.

"Yes, I'd like to go on the Continent, but I've got to weigh that against the fact that I'm very happy with the set-up at Brite," he said.