Newton gets his timing right

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The Independent Online
Chris Newton broke the last-day deadlock to win the Thwaites Grand Prix five-day race, his first major road-racing success of 1996 and his last until the Olympics are over.

Newton started the final day of the 345-mile race in the yellow jersey of race leader. He left Blackburn on the 84-mile stage level on time with Joe Bayfield, who had wiped out a 34-second deficit on Newton in Saturday's stages at Accrington.

Less than two miles into yesterday's race, Newton eased the pressure by earning a two-second bonus at an intermediate sprint. He later doubled it at another sprint where the first three earned time deductions from their aggregate race times.

Those four seconds proved enough to beat Bayfield. "I was really nervous," Newton said. "Usually I am full of banter, but I was quiet on Saturday night. I kept going through all the bad points thinking what might go wrong. I just had to go for the bonuses. After that first sprint, our team was feeling positive again once I had that gap."

Newton, 22, from Middlesbrough, pulled out of a sports science degree course to concentrate on his racing. "It's almost impossible to write a final dissertation and go to the Olympics," he said. Now he turns to the 4,000 metres pursuit, a track discipline which should take him to the Atlanta Games.

Bayfield, too, switches disciplines next week when he joins his Danish team-mates for the mountain bike Tour of Britain. "Until I was 18, I only cycled for fun," Bayfield said. The 23-year-old has tried all facets of racing and was "guesting" for the Gill Airways team in the Thwaites Grand Prix.

"I just came for the ride. I was certainly not going for the overall honours. I had nothing in my legs when Newton contested the first sprint and I knew then that I had had my chances of overall victory."

Chris Lillywhite was ready to raise a glass to his victory in the final stage outside the sponsors' brewery. "I have not been riding so well this year," said the winner of the grand prix in 1989 and 1995. "Hopefully, this is the first of many wins to come."

In an uphill finish, he beat off Jon Clay, who until Bayfield's emergence had been Newton's chief concern. Behind him, in the seething mass of riders, Newton punched the air in triumph and relief at the end of a harrowing 24 hours.