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At the start of last week there were fears that violent rainstorms and the devastating floods that followed them might cause the British road race championships to be called off or moved from their venue at Duncombe Park in North Yorkshire. But a week of good weather and a swift clean-up operation meant that the weekend's racing went ahead as planned.
On Sunday, Russell Downing capped a fantastic season for himself and his Recycling.co.uk team by winning the men's title, beating Steve Cummings (Landbouwkrediet) in a thrilling race. Recycling team director Phil Leigh commented after the race: "We had a plan and worked it through, to get as many guys in front and take the race to the top challengers like Roger Hammond and Jeremy Hunt, and make them chase the race a bit, we wanted to distance them and be strong at the finish."
Paul Manning and Rob Sharman were the first team members to escape the main field and were later joined by Downing, together with Chris Newton, with Rob Hayles the last to join them in a 15-strong lead group. Phil stated: "They all rode well in the group, while Ben (Greenwood) and Evan (Oliphant) were covering the likes of Hammond and Hunt, so all seven riders played a perfect part, it was a big team effort, we were very organised and focused and worked as a team."
Within the final 10km the group were reduced to eight riders, with Downing making his winning move with 5km to go. Cummings was the only rider who could match him, but could not match Downing in the sprint. The 26-year-old South Yorkshire rider was overawed as he crossed the line and at first couldn't quite grasp the enormity of what he'd done, but said later, "Wow, this is superb, it's something I've always wanted and I've done it, I've achieved one of my lifetime's ambitions. I've wanted this for so long, to ride that with the national jersey will be amazing. I can't believe it."
"I was always going to struggle to beat Russell because he's so fast so I tried to jump him but when there's just two of you there's not much element of surprise," said Cummings, who will be racing at the Tour of Britain in August with his Landbouwkrediet team. "I'm disappointed because I wanted to win, I was going for it."
The previous day, Nicole Cooke won her sixth national title in seven years, but had mixed emotions at the finish as she expressed her frustration with her Safi Pasta team's non-selection for the Giro d'Italia, which she won last year. Rachel Heal finished second to Cooke for the fourth time, with Emma Davies taking the bronze medal in third.
Cooke admitted her preparation for the Nationals had been affected by her team's ongoing dispute with the organisers of the Giro, the biggest stage race of the women's season. "We've got some unusual things happening with our team at the moment," she said. "Even I don't know what's going on. Here I am, I'm fit, I want to defend my Giro. There's something going on - Italian politics."
If her team's absence from the Giro is confirmed, Cooke says that she will focus on September's world championships in Madrid, as well as the British leg of the World Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort in August.
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