South Yorkshire cyclist Downing shows early season form for new team

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THE celebrations may have been for Ben Swift’s remarkable world title and two silver medals at the World Track Championships in Melbourne last week.

But another Rotherham cyclist at Swift’s homecoming in Whiston on Tuesday could have been forgiven for lifting a glass for his own achievements this month.

Russell Downing was a team-mate of Swift’s last year at the British-based Sky Pro Cycling.

The 33-year-old performed well and took part in his first Grand Tour race in May - the Giro d’Italia - before joining Endura Racing last autumn.

It may have been a step down from the World Tour of teams such as Sky and BMC, who Sheffield’s Adam Blythe rides for, but the hugely popular Downing has taken it in his stride and is producing some excellent results.

After winning the Eddie Soens Memorial at Aintree race course in Merseyside and the GP Lillers - a 174km route in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France - earlier in the season, Downing finished an second at the Circuit des Ardennes stage race.

He won the opening stage between Boulzicourt and Signy L’Abbaye and finished fourth in the second stage before second again in the team-time-trial race.

Another runners-up spot on the final 120km ride from Charleville-Mézières to Sedan was enough to give Downing second place overall and also first place for the race’s points jersey.

Today Downing begins the three stage Vuelta a Castilla y Leon race in Spain.

Meanwhile Swift hasn’t been named in any of Sky’s squads for their remaining events in April after concentrating on the track for the first part of this season to try and qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in London.

His main road race this year will by the Giro d’Italia, which starts on May 5 and ends three weeks later on May 27.

Swift, aged 24, rode in the Giro in 2009 and finished second on stage two.