Cycling: City park races open weekend of cycling action

Region gears up for its big brake

Region gears up for its big brake

Newcastle and Northumberland are gearing up for the region's largest festival of cycling.

A packed programme of events appealing to novices and Olympians alike will see the North East embrace a sport in which Britain enjoys official world No 1 status.

The action starts tonight with the second edition of the Leazes Criteriums.

Following last year's success, it is now an annual event whose format appeals to a full range of abilities.

Youth races for under-12s, under-14s and under-16s will be followed by the Go Race Novice event, with on-the-line entry available for those still wishing to take part.

Leading the field in the Junior event is James Moss, while Elizabeth Armistead is the rider to beat in the women's race.

A world-class field will compete in the Elite race, with last year's winner James Taylor facing a tough challenge on the Leazes Park course in a highly competitive final.

Team Discovery's Steve Cummings, plus fellow top English cyclists Chris Newton, Russ Downing and Malcolm Elliot - boasting an array of Olympic and World Championship gold medals between them - will be among those challenging Taylor for the title.

According to the sport's governing body the UEG, Britain is the world's leading cycling nation, but it is the recreational cyclist - 972 of them to be exact - who will be in the spotlight tomorrow when the Cyclone Challenge takes place in the Northumberland countryside.

One of the biggest events of its type, more than one-third of this year's competitors are travelling to the region to take part in either the 31-mile, 62-mile or 100-mile scenic rides.

Starting and finishing at Newcastle Falcons' Kingston Park ground and heading straight into the countryside, these non-competitive rides will give participants a chance to try out some of the routes that the main event will follow 24 hours later.

Sunday's Beaumont Cup is the finale of the weekend as the cream of British cycling talent competes in the latest round of the Premier Calendar. With 110 of the country's finest cyclists bidding to become the 57th winner of the prestigious event - and Newton and Downing tied for first place in the series - a fiercely-contested showdown is anticipated.

One of 10 events used to pick the Great Britain side, the riders will run six laps and 106 miles of a course around Stamfordham and Matfen.

Consisting of three enduring hill climbs up the Ryals and an intermediate hot sprint through Stamfordham, this tour de North East is a highlight of the national calendar.

The race starts at 10.30am from Stamfordham Village Green and prize presentations are expected at 3.30pm. The event is being filmed for Eurosport and is due to be screened next month.

Organiser Peter Harrison said: "I'm convinced that the whole event will grow in stature from its current position."

Mr Harrison thanked main sponsors Northern Rock and technical sponsor Shimano/Ultimate Pursuits, as well as One North East, Newcastle City Council, Northumberland County Council, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative & Culture 10.

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