Cycling: Clay closes in on Tour victory

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By Robin Nicholl

JON CLAY refused to claim overall success in the Travelwise Tour of Lancashire after boosting his lead by more than a minute yesterday.

Six years after he first triumphed in this Tour, the 34-year-old Yorkshireman enters the final and longest day of the four-day race one minute and seven seconds ahead of his teammate Chris Newton.

"I am not counting it yet. Our team wasted a lot of energy in the circuit race, and for what. I hope we don't suffer for it on the final stage," Clay said after Joe Bayfield snatched victory over Drew Wilson in a sprint finish in the centre of of Accrington.

For most of the race Clay's team-mates Chris Walker and Julian Winn kept 30 seconds ahead of their pursuers only to be caught turning into the finishing straight. Walker's foot came out of his pedal clip and his victory chance vanished. Winn salvaged third but Clay was unperturbed because none of those ahead were a threat to his yellow jersey.

Clay bumped up his overnight lead of five seconds with third place in the morning time trial at Cockerham, near Lancaster. He was 18 seconds slower than his winning teammate Rob Hayles, but more than a minute faster than Newton as their Brite team filled the first five placings.

Today, the 69 survivors of an original field of 96, tackle 87.5 miles over Longridge Fell, near Preston, and Clay's men, who have completely dominated the home scene this season, face their final test.

TRAVELWISE TOUR OF LANCASHIRE Stage Three, 11.7 mile time trial (Cockerham): 1 R Hayles (Brite) 22min 53sec; 2 M. Illingworth (Brite) + 10sec; 3 J Clay (Brite) + 18; 4 C Newton (Brite) + 1:20; 5 C Sturgess (Brite) + 1:27; 6 K. Dawson (Ambrosia) + 1:32. Stage Four, Hyndburn circuit race 29.8 miles (Accrington): 1 J Bayfield (Harrods) 1:46; 2 D Wilson (Clarke Contracts); 3 J. Winn (PDM Sport) both same time as the winner; 4 C. Walker (Brite); 5 Hayles; 6 B. Steel (Composite) all plus 4sec. Overall positions: 1 Clay 6:56:06; 2 Newton + 1:07; 3 Illingworth + 1:15; 4 Dawson + 1:24; 5 Winn + 2:09; 6 M McKay (Harrods) + 2:23.