After despatching arch rivals Wednesfield in a keenly contested semi-final earlier in the day, Horspath were odds-on favourites to see off the challenge of Leicester and regain the British team title they last won 2009. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Inspired by the brilliant riding of Adam Peck and the driving force of skipper Kev Burns, the Monarchs came close to causing one of the biggest upsets in years as they rattled the all-star Hammers. By the halfway stage the Monarchs looked set to snatch an implausible victory.
Amazingly it took the Oxford side until heat ten before they took the lead. From that point onwards, with their noses in front and calmness restored, Horspath moved into top gear in the second period before easing to a well deserved 93-81 victory in a wonderfully entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable match.
There were fireworks from the start. In the opening race, seasoned campaigner Lewis Bates was leading the field when, going into the pits bend second time round, he was caught napping by an amazing burst of speed by two-times national champion Phil Howells. As the two clashed (pictured above), Howells ended up in an untidy heap. Referee Mike Hack adjudged that Howells had been floored, literally, by Bates’s trailing leg and the Horspath rider was ushered back to the puts. First advantage Leicester!
The second race produced a great piece of cycle speedway action. In a classic first bend manoeuvre, Dan Pike out-foxed Steve Harris (grid one) going down the back straight to notch what turned out to be Pike’s only race win of the match.
There was more explosive action in race four when firstly Carl Jarvis was excluded for boring. Then in the re-run, Lewis Osborne got his marching orders for not giving Phil Howells racing space on the outside, leaving Howells to beat Mark Carmichael in a two-rider match-race. 16-19 to Leicester.
Shaun Rudman produced a piece of determined brilliance when he went round a tiring Jason Ashford in race five. Then came an amazing heat six as Dan Pike swept inside a startled Chris Osborne. Surprised by the move, Osborne immediately mounted a counter-attack but was disqualified for ramming Pike in a real crash-and-burn, no holds-barred race.
Pike looked it great form, so it was ironical that he should feature in a critical heat nine, the last before the interval. With Leicester four points to the good, Pike was comfortably leading the field (see pic above) when he unaccountably fell, his front wheel sliding away from him on the notoriously difficult fourth bend (see pic below). His untimely error gifted Horspath a 7-3 as the teams went into the interval all square on 42 points apiece but more poignantly it seemed to inspire the jolted Hammers. In the second period they were a different team.
Immediately after the break the Hammers rattled in a well-worked 6-4 through Shaun Rudman and Mark Boaler to give Horspath the impetus and more importantly the lead for the first time in the match.
Leicester rallied briefly in the next race to retain the status quo at 52-all when the brilliant Adam Peck and trusty skipper Kev Burns sandwiched Errol Thaw into second place after Steve Harris fell while leading, a rare occurrence indeed!
The turning point came in heat 12 when the Lewis boys, Bates and Osborne won a 6-4 from the outside gates. Suddenly Horspath’s tails were up. Now they sensed victory. The momentum continued when Boaler gated Howells from the outside in the next race before Horspath deliver the coup de gras.
Sadly it was home favourite Adam Stephenson, riding in the colours of Leicester, who was innocent villain. Sitting comfortably second on a track he knows like the back of his hand, Stephenson unexpectedly slipped off on the pits bend. The sigh of horror was audible from the Leicester crowd. The game was up.
The resultant 7-3 gave Horspath a six point lead with four races to go. Somehow you simply couldn’t see the Hammers, now in full flight, letting this one slip against a visibly tiring Leicester. And so it proved.
In the last race of a wonderfully entertaining match, all blood, sweat, excitement and passion, Horspath finished in style, their trump card last race pairing of Steve Harris and Mark Boaler doing what is always expected of them, finishing on a 7-3 to give the Hammers a thoroughly deserved if slightly flattering twelve point victory, 93-81.
Tracking Mark Carmichael and Shaun Rudman as tactical reserves, bringing them in as regular replacements for Errol Thaw and Chris Osborne, proved tatcticall brilliant. After recovering from their first half fright, Horspath looks a different team in the second period, a combination of quality riding blended with a couple of unforced errors on Leicester’s part were telling factors in the end.
Every Hospath rider played their part whether leading from the front or providing the supporting roles. The Oxford were solid throughout the order especially in the second period when they provided six of the nine race winners. When they weren’t taking the chequered flag, the Hammers cleverly packed the middle order, to such good effect that only on three occasions during the 18 heat match did a Horspath rider finish last.
For Leicester Adam Peck (pictured above) was simply sensational. 38 points out of a possible 40 in the exalted company speaks volumes for the somehow still under-rated Suffolk-based rider. On this dazzling form on tracks he knows too well, Peck could be among the British front-runners when the Euros visit his native county next month.
Despite being gated by Boaler, Phil Howells also impressed with 16 hard-earned points. It was a mixed day though for Dan Pike and Adam Stephenson. Both sprinkled brilliance with too much dust!
Team racing, the domain of the purist, classically divides itself into a race of two halves – the front pair battling it out in a race for the chequered flag while at the back of the field, several yards from the main action, the support act are embroiled in an equally important battle for the all-important third places. This time-honoured scenario was acted out time and again, not just in the final but throughout the day, testing the referees’ visual dexterity as well as their match control.
Sadly a great day’s racing was tarnished when rival supporters, some of whom had been constantly goading each other, clashed. Reports suggested that blows were exchanged, actions which if proved founded, once again illustrated the unruly, unwelcomed element we have in cycle speedway..
Mark Boaler 17, Shaun Rudman 15, Mark Carmichael 14, Lewis Bates 14, Steve Harris 14, Errol Thaw 8, Lewis Osborne 8, Chris Osborne 3
Adam Peck 19, Phil Howells 16, Adam Stephenson 11, Jason Ashford 9, Dan Pike 9, Craig Marchant 8, Kev Burns 6, Carl Jarvis 3
Referee: Mike Hack (Greater Manchester)