SWINDON ROBINS: Schlein wins Elite League Riders Championship at Blunsdon
Track staff at the Abbey Stadium throw sawdust on the track during the rain-affected Elite League Riders Championship on Saturday night
KING’S Lynn rider Rory Schlein made the best of difficult conditions at Blunsdon as he won his second Elite League title in three years on Saturday night.
The Australian triumphed over Stars teammate Niels-Kristian Iversen, Belle Vue’s Craig Cook and Swindon skipper Hans Andersen in the final to win the title in a meeting cut short due to problems caused by a heavy shower two hours before the scheduled start.
The Abbey Stadium track was covered with sawdust before the start in an attempt to dry it out following the late afternoon shower, but the move didn’t pay off as the meeting was postponed for an hour after four heats for a prolonged spell of track grading.
With a rider retiring from each of the first 11 races the qualifying stage was cut from 20 to 16 heats in a bid to get the meeting finished, with Schlein eventually coming out on top just as he did in 2011 despite initially not being keen on riding following the recent death of his grandfather.
“To do it against some of these guys was amazing, because the talent in England is getting better and there are some really good riders,” he said.
“I wasn’t keen on taking these meetings at the end of the season because I lost my grandad three weeks ago and my mind wasn’t set on it, but for some reason I’ve been able to come here and I love the place.
“Conditions weren’t ideal, the riders know it and the fans know it, but I’m just glad we were able to navigate the conditions and that’s the main thing.
“Some riders had a busy year and just wanted to finish it injury free but I wanted to do well and was aiming for a semi-final because I hadn’t ridden for five weeks, but I’m over the moon.”
After the start was delayed to toss sawdust onto the saturated Blunsdon track Cook jumped away from the tapes to win a processional opening heat, with Andersen doing the same in heat two after Freddie Lindgren picked himself up following a first turn spill.
Robins asset Jason Doyle moved from the back to win heat three as Bjarne Pedersen retired and Darcy Ward pulled out of his first ride of the night in heat four as Iversen tasted victory.
With only four heats completed in sludgy conditions the riders were pulled into a meeting to discuss the state of the track and after an hour of deliberation and track work the meeting continued. Robins star Troy Batchelor won his first heat of the night after the break ahead of Chris Harris and Kenneth Bjerre as Ward retired and subsequently pulled out of the contest with a recurrence of a wrist injury.
Schlein, Grzegorz Zengota, Doyle and Swindon’s Peter Kildemand all won processional heats before Batchelor took a nasty looking fall while chasing Doyle and was excluded from heat 10, which Schlein trundled round to win at the second time of asking.
Iversen won heat 11 ahead of Andersen before four riders finished a race for the first time as reserves Paul Starke and Oliver Greenwood finished behind Lindgren and Cook after replacing injured pair Ward and Pedersen.
The meeting was cut to only 16 qualifying heats ahead of heat 13 which Lindgren won despite Iversen pushing him all the way, and three points for Schlein and two for Andersen were enough for the pair to book their spots in the semi.
Kildemand went crashing to the deck while battling with Scott Nicholls with the subsequent exclusion costing him his place in the shake-up, and in the re-run Coventry rider Nicholls forced himself past Batchelor although the Australian progressed on countback.
Cook won the final heat of the reduced qualifying competition to go straight through to the final alongside Iversen, with Doyle, Schlein, Andersen and Batchelor lining up for the semi.
Andersen jumped out the start and was largely untroubled on his way to victory and a place in the final, but Schlein eventually bundled his way past Robins asset Doyle to knock the popular Aussie out of contention.
Robins captain Andersen made another superb start and looked set to finish the season on a high until his seat fell off, and despite being chased all the way by Iversen, Schlein was able to hold on to claim his second title in three years.
Fans who attended Saturday night’s meeting are encouraged to keep hold of their tickets as they will be offered reduced admission to next year’s event as compensation for a disrupted night of racing.
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