RUSSELL Downing is preparing to become the ultimate team player as the Tour of Britain enters its second half today with stage five.
Downing, aged 34, from Rotherham, is currently seventh overall, just 22 seconds behind race leader Mark Cavendish. But the Endura Racing rider will sacrifice his own position to ride for his team leader Jonathan Tiernan-Locke as the talented young British cyclist aims to win his home Tour.
Today’s 146.9 kilometre stage around Stoke-on-Trent should see the major general classification contenders begin to make their move and Downing knows he has to protect Tiernan-Locke.
“It’s going to get a bit lumpy for the next three days so I’ll be looking after JT,” he said. “The guys have done a brilliant job for me since the start getting me in position for the sprints but we know we’re here for him in the GC.”
While Downing acknowledges that he’s probably the highest placed best overall rider at the moment, cycling is a team sport and Tiernan-Locke has been in outstanding form this season.
Yesterday the pair and colleague Zak Dempster broke the race open with 24km to the finish of the route from Carlisle to Blackpool. Along with Team Sky, which included Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, the Endura trio drove the leading group to a significant lead over the rest of the field in wet and windy conditions.
World champion Cavendish was eventually victorious for the second day running and, with time bonuses available, he took over the race leader’s gold jersey from Australian Leigh Howard by six seconds.
In the points competition Downing is third, four points behind Boy Van Poppel.