Witches make European Cup exit
Stowmarket—finalists in each of the last three seasons—have made a surprisingly early exit from the European Cup after they became only the second British club in four years to lose a first round tie in the competition. Charles Knapper (10+2) was the only heat winner in the first eight races of this weeks return leg in the Czech capital, the visitors taking their time to acclimatise to the slick track conditions purposely provided by their hosts, what looked like a comfortable 16 point first leg advantage had been whittled down to just two by the halfway stage of this weeks meeting. World Champion Grzegorz Kowalczyk (6) just couldn’t make a gate all meeting and he certainly paid for his poor starts, his five rides providing just four thirds and a second, twice he was beaten by second string Alexandr Dzutsev (12+1), and more embarrassingly reserve Ville Hansell (5+1) also picked up a heat win against the Pole, in all he was on the wrong end of three 5-1’s. With their main man proving to be a liability it was left to the rest of the side to step up, but by the time Marc Thompson (11) got his second win in heat 13 the tie was all but over, Michael Dunlop’s (6+2) victory in the next securing Prague their unlikely success. The Czech side will take on Peterborough in the semi finals, the Pirates securing their passage through to the last four this week with a draw in Lublin, meanwhile Telford and Willenhall will fight it out in an all British last four tie for a place in this years final, the former having beaten Krakow by two in round one thanks to heat 14 and 15 5-1’s in this weeks second leg in the Polish capital.
Willenhall are certain to lead the division one standings at the halfway stage of the season after going seven points clear of closest challenger’s Stowmarket with victory at Huntingdon, and it would have been eight if the Witches’ Grezegorz Kowalczyk hadn’t passed Kenny Dornan on the line to nick the bonus point in a race-off in the their defeat at Wimbledon. On paper Huntingdon have a top three more than capable of holding their own in division one, however they were outclassed by their opposite numbers from Willenhall, Aaron Macaulay (15), Mark Butcher and Ronnell Hawtin (11+1) taking the chequered flag in front on 11 separate occasions as the Wolves ran out 43-47 winners, Roman Korbel (10) was the only rider from the home top three to pick up three points in a race, and even that was against a visiting second string and reserve! While the Wolves go further clear at the top the defeat for the Hunters leaves them four points adrift of safety in the division one relegation zone.
A season best score of nine from reserve Carl Nelson wasn’t enough to prevent Leeds’ 11 meeting unbeaten run coming to an end at Verwood, the division two clash going the way of the home side 50-40, whose Pavel Strihavka (10+1) made an immediate impact on debut following his £5,000 switch from Lublin, Frank Klein also impressed at second string, the German youngster’s paid 13 a high for the campaign for him. The Jaguars got back to winning ways in the KO Cup, Nathan Kay (15) scoring a maximum as they beat top flight Telford 48-42, a result which leaves the last 16 tie nicely placed heading into the second leg. Meanwhile away wins for top flight sides Wimbledon (29-61 at Canvey), Willenhall (43-47 at Beverley) and Huntingdon (43-47 at Verwood) against lower division opponents leaves them all but certain to progress to the quarter finals next week. The all top flight clash between Cradley Heath and Stowmarket ended all square, the visiting Witches the happier of the two camps with the result, having trailed by ten after heat six they scored two second half 5-1’s to level things up, Grzegorz Kowalczyk (11+2) was involved in both.
For the first time in nearly two years Canvey find themselves in the top half of division three, last years wooden spoon winners currently on a run of four unbeaten in the league, which has taken them up to fifth, five points off the promotion places. A first away win since SL21 still alludes them, they came close at Keswick though, a last heat 5-1 from the hosts holding them to a draw there, they had led throughout the meeting up until that point, with Bill Foster (13) having won four from four prior to his defeat to Anel Grunmann (11+1) and David Ingram (10+2) in the decider. Elsewhere in division three Lewes fought back from the concession of heat one and two 5-1’s to draw their home clash with Claygate.
Canvey’s Lars Elmander (12) won his Scandinavian semi final in Oslo by a point from world number four Henri Mylyniemi, the victory only the Swede’s second in a WSO event career which spans 34 meetings! SL22 GP riders Peter Carl (11), Anton Kihlstedt (10) and Kim Cedegren were amongst those to reach the final for the tie, world number seven Stig Martinson (9) went through via the second semi final in Pori, a meeting won by John Makela (15).