In the end a fairytale finish was the fitting conclusion to what may called the best race in the 13-year history of the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic.
Dan Fleeman, road captain of the Melton-based semi-professional Metaltek-Kuota team outsprinted One-Pro Cycling’s Ross McCormick down Sherrard Street after an enthralling race of cat and mouse.
They finished just six seconds ahead of an 11-strong chasing pack before the rest of the 54 finishers returned in dribs and drabs.
An 180-strong field took on the Classic’s longest-ever course, at 189km, which included two new special off-road sectors at Manor Lane, near Oakham, and through Stapleford Park on the Melton finishing circuit.
The pace was high as the field completed its two laps of Rutland Water, with the peloton reaching speeds of up to 60kmph as teams and riders made hay on the luxury of smooth roads in the early stages.
With the race all together heading back into Oakham, the first hot-spot sprint went to Damien Shaw whose An Post-Chain Reaction team-mates also filled the next three spots.
The field began to jostle for position approaching the special sectors where the race can be won or lost.
The bunch remained intact through Barleyberg, but soon after the first sector came the first break.
The eight-man group of Tom Moses, Richard Handley, Kristian House, Jake Womersley, Matt Nowell, Armands Becis, Przemysław Kasperkiewicz, and Jacob Scott went clear in the drop down to Langham.
Handley took the first climb of the day at Cold Overton as the breakaway painstakingly extended its lead to 1min 10secs as the race entered Owston for the first time with large crowds again packing the village.
Polish rider Kasperkiewicz won the next hill climb at Burrough-on-the-Hill, and his An Post Chain Reaction team-mate Jacob Scott then won his weight in beer as the first rider under the banner at Owston.
But aside from the prizes and points, the main concern remained in growing the gap.
The streamlined group took further time out of the bulky peloton in the narrow lanes of the sectors, as the lead hit the two-minute mark for the first time at 85km.
A concerted effort from the bunch brought the gap down to 1min 20secs, but the break kicked again.
With former British road race champion House’s chances blown by his second puncture of the day, and Womersley dropping off the pace, the gap was up to a new high water mark of 2min 35secs with just over 50km to go.
Johnny McEvoy, Rory Townshend, and former world champion Karel Domagalski were first to try and chase down the break, taking big chunks out of the six-man group up top.
They had brought the lead down to just over 40 seconds approaching the second passage of Somerberg with the lead group thinned to four as Nowell and Becis dropped off the back.
The new slimline lead group stopped the haemorrhaging and held the lead at 45 seconds as 2014 race winner Tom Moses drove the pace, looking to emulate Ian Wilkinson, the Classic’s only two-time winner.
Only Kasperkiewicz could live with the pace Moses was setting as they hit Melton first for the finishing circuit, while Handley and Scott’s race was run, swallowed up by the peloton with 20km left.
Matt Holmes went for broke, bridging the gap and then going it alone with 15km to go, and shedding first Moses and then the Pole as he opened a tantalising 20-second gap on the finishing circuit.
Again the pendulum swung with a little more than 5km to go, as Fleeman and New Zealand rider McCormick attacked at Stapleford Park, joining Holmes and then leaving him behind.
Fleeman kept his cool to land the biggest single-day race win of his career, with ONE Pro Cycling later forced to apologise for McCormick’s one-fingered gesture at the finish line.