Speedy Saints go marching in
CYCLE SPEEDWAY: THE biggest cycle speedway event in the country this year was the billing for the weekend spectacular at Great Blakenham cycle speedway track and that is exactly what the Suffolk club served up.
The biggest cycle speedway event in the country this year was the billing for the weekend spectacular at Great Blakenham cycle speedway track and that is exactly what the Suffolk club served up.
The European Club Championships. sponsored by Hadleigh Glass, were held over two days at the Mill Lane track with teams from Poland, Holland and around the UK competing for the coveted title.
A marathon eight matches on Saturday saw 16 teams in two groups of eight compete to qualify for the final stages the following day.
The home riders put up a tremendous effort to qualify for the final but had to admit second best to Southampton who were deservedly crowned European Champions.
Blakenham got the weekend off to a good start with Jason Ashford leading from the front in their opening match.
He got solid support from Mick Skinner and Dave Solomon which allowed them to peg Southampton, one of the teams tipped for top honours, back into second place. Norfolk clubs Hethersett and Eaton finished third and fourth.
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The second match was just as exciting with Poland's number one team Bydgoszcz coming out winners with national rivals Rawicz pushing them all the way. Horspath (Oxford) were third and Bury fourth.
The third match of the afternoon saw another local club, Kesgrave, struggle against the stronger teams but their team spirit was solid and the local support fantastic. Wednesfield, one of the pre-match favourites, came out clear winners with Poole second and Almere (Holland) third.
English club Leicester had a real battle with Poland's Czestochowa in the fourth match but managed to hold on for a morale-boosting win.
East London, runners-up in this event four years ago when it was last held in Poland, know all about pacing themselves over the two days and beat Gneizno into third place.
Things began to hot up with some clubs needing extra points to make sure they
qualified for the later stages of the competition.
In match five Great Blakenham made it two wins out of two with Chris Askew and Gary Colby showing the strength in depth of their squad.
Current holders Rawicz made sure they qualified for day two by taking second place. English clubs Horspath and Eaton finished third and fourth respectively which ended their hopes of winning the crown.
Southampton made sure they qualified for the semi-finals with a solid performance and four league points in the bag. Master tactician Mel Perkins, manager of Hethersett, told his riders exactly what they had to do to qualify and their did so by taking second place.
Bydgoszcz were pegged back to third and a run-off was required between them and Rawicz for third in the group and a route straight through to the semi's. Bydgoszcz won the race and joined Wednesfield and Southampton in the second semi-final.
Polish clubs Rawicz and Czestochowa completed their semi-final line-up by winning the last-chance reportage at the start of day two
Great Blakenham set about the task of reaching the final but found themselves fighting for their lives as Rawicz found tremendous form and Leicester were as efficient as ever.
Blakenham dug deep and with the large crowd cheering them on they made it through along with Leicester.
The second semi-final was nip and tuck all the way and this just added to the atmosphere with it going to the wire. Wednesfield felt aggrieved by some refereeing decisions and lost out on a final place by one point.
Southampton and Bydgoszcz joined Great Blakenham and Leicester for the climax to the weekend.
There was a great start for Blakenham with Skinner coming through with a spectacular ride and at this point it looked as though things might go Blakenham's way.
But it was not to be with debatable exclusions for both Skinner and Paul Brinkholff and Jason Ashford's fall adding to their woes.
Southampton went on to be crowned worthy winners with the performance of the tournament coming from Saints rider Gavin Wheeler who raced in four matches, a total of 16 races, and won every one.
Bydgoszcz, who sometimes attract crowds of 2,000 in their home country, gave a very good account of themselves to finish runners-up with Great Blakenham third and Leicester fourth.
James Wright of Hadleigh Glass, Ipswich Evening Star Witches star Scott Nicholls and promoter John Louis made the presentation to all four finalists.
Prior to the final was an Inter-Nations junior challenge with an England select team taking on the Rest of Europe. Local riders Adam Peck (Great Blakenham) and Somersham's Richard Williamson were amongst the England team who after 18 heats couldn't be separated from the European team with the scores level at 88.
n Great Blakenham Cycle Speedway Club would like to thank Hadleigh Glass, the Evening Star, Holden Timber, Chassis Cab, Anglian Self Drive, Brookhouse Volvo, Optimum Controls Auto-vision Windscreens, TA Security and Hunting Hire for their sponsorship and support.