Manx International (1.5)

Isle of Man, UK, July 27, 2001

Stephens is just too good

By John Deering, Sigma Sport Pro Cycle Shop Team

Matt Stephens took one of the finest ever victories in his career this afternoon when he took a solo win at the Manx International road race.

In doing so, Matt bucked a trend that has seen him finish 3rd at the event no fewer than three times over the years. It also gave Sigma Sport their first ever Premier Calendar race win, and so must go down as the team's finest moment to date.

"He shoots, he scores, he wins the Manx!" joked Matt immediately after the finish on the seafront in Douglas. The three circuits of the Isle of Man make the Manx 113 miles long, and include three ascents of the punishing 8 mile climb of Snae Fell.

A group went away on the first lap that included around 15 riders, including Matt. The French, who have dominated affairs in the Isle of Man races this year, were well represented, and very keen to take the week's top prize back across the Channel. After some attacking and regrouping , it was a more select number who approached the final lap, after covering the first two loops in record time. Mark Lovatt was there, so was Anthony Malarczyk, Tommy Evans, two Dutch riders and two Frenchmen.

"I attacked at the foot of the mountain on the last lap, and a couple got blasted out the back, but a French guy went through and got a gap on all of us - it was looking pretty bad," said Matt.

But with Matt, Lovatt and Evans chasing, the gap was bridged over the top of the climb, and the remaining sextet began to sweep down towards Douglas.

"I knew I had to keep attacking if I was going to win, so I just kept on having a go," said Matt. When Tommy Evans' Irish teammate tried an attack, Matt bluffed; sitting up in the saddle and refusing to chase. That had exactly the effect he desired - the others raced through to recapture the Irishman, leaving Matt last man in the line as planned.

"It gave me time to wind up a big gear, then we got to the big bend they call Windy Corner, I shot up the inside across the apex of the corner."

The daring manoeuvre gave the Sigma man a slender 200 metre lead with 6 miles still to go. It was nearly all downhill, but a headwind forced him to drive that big gear at full throttle to keep his nose out in front.

"I could see them bearing down on me. There's a little sharp climb just as you come into the town, so I went up that as hard as I could; my lungs were on fire, and my legs felt like wood," said Matt.

But it must have been worse for the others, for as he rounded the last corner, Matt had time to straighten his Sigma Sport jersey and salute the crowd as he had the finishing straight all to himself.

Chapeau, Matt!

It actually proved to be the team's third win this week, after Paul Crook won again at Hillingdon on Tuesday, and Roy Chamberlain won the Surrey Midsummer Road Race at Alfold on Wednesday, with Aaron McCaffrey second.

What price a second Sigma Sport Premier Calandar win at this Sunday's Tour of the Cotswolds?

Results, 181km

1 Matthew Stephens (GBr) Sigma Sport                 4.34.20
2 Franck Laurance (Fra) France                          0.12
3 Tommy Evans (Irl) Ireland 
4 Mark Lovatt (GBr) Ribble Pro Vision
5 Anthony Malarczyk (GBr) Wales 
6 Patrick Moriarty Irl Ireland                          0.17
7 John Gadret Fra France                                3.53
8 Bram De Waard Ned Netherlands
9 Arnaud Labbe Fra France                               4.04
10 Huw Pritchard (GBr) Wales                            4.49
11 John Tanner (GBr) Ribble Pro Vision                  4.55
12 David Derepas Fra Phonak                             4.57
13 Alistair Kay (GBr) Scotland                          5.03
14 Harry Lodge (GBr) Flanders Prefetex                  5.13
15 Duncan Urquhart (GBr) Army Cycling Union
16 Tim Morley (GBr) GB                                  8.17
17 Jason Macintyre (GBr) Scotland                       8.27
18 Martin Ford (GBr) Brooks England                     9.04
19 Marko Spasojevic YUG Serbia                          9.06
20 Matthew Bottril (GBr) Bournemouth Jubilee           10.42