Bellerby delighted as Bridger leads way in season opener

Lewis Bridger  (red) and  Charlie Gjedde.
Lewis Bridger (red) and Charlie Gjedde.
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Eastbourne Eagles co-promoter Mike Bellerby was bursting with pride after watching his side blow away Belle View Aces on the opening night of the season.

In front of a bumper crowd at Arlington Stadium, the Eagles sit proudly on top of the Elite League table and that’s exactly where Bellerby wants to stay.

He said, “This proved to be a night that ticked all the boxes for us.

“A great result against Belle Vue in front of our largest opening night crowd in many years.

“I appreciate there has only been the one match ridden, but nevertheless, this puts us top of the Elite League table and that is just where we fully intend to stay.”

The Eagles raised the tempo following a tight start. A single point separated the sides at the end of four races after Joonas Kylmakorpi and Lewis Bridger suffered falls in their opening rides to hamper Eagles’ scoring.

But a run of heat advantages that included three maximum 5-1s in the space of the next four races propelled them to a 31-16 lead by the conclusion of heat eight.

Tactical six-point wins for Adam Shields and Rory Schlein in races nine and 11 respectively applied the brakes to the Eastbourne onslaught, but Bridger and skipper Cameron Woodward each notched double figures and every member of the squad celebrated at least one race win.

Particularly pleasing for the home fans was the form shown by Lukas Dryml, making his return after serious injury, and reserve Timo Lahti, who each dropped a single point to the opponents, as well as the sight of fellow reserve Denis Gizatullin, who romped home in his Arlington debut ride.

The contest began on a note of mixed emotions and fortunes for the home side as heat one saw the Belle Vue duo of Schlein and Josh Grajczonek hit the first bend in the 5-1 position.

Eastbourne groans soon turned to cheers, however, with Kylmakorpi flashing around Schlein’s outside, while Dryml, in his first race back from injury, similarly accounted for Grajczonek.

A home 4-2 appeared on the cards as a thrilling duel ensued between the lead duo but it was a tussle that ended in disappointment for the Arlington faithful as Kylmakorpi disappeared into the safety fence two bends from home, leaving Schlein to take the win and anchor an opening 4-2 for the Aces.

Home smiles were swiftly restored, however, as Gizatullin made it a winning opening at the Sussex venue. The Russian was fastest from the start with fellow reserve Lahti in hot pursuit, the Eagles duo overturned the visitors’ early lead with an all-the-way 5-1 over Chris Schramm and Linus Eklof.

Gjedde, arguably Aces’ rider of the night, snatched a second race win in the penultimate heat but with Woodward and Gizatullin following in close attendance, the resultant 3-3 saw the Eagles breach the 50-point barrier, the progressive scores standing at 51-38 with maximum points now assured for Eastbourne.

Bridger rounded-off a polished performance, one blighted only by his first race fall and a single defeat to Schlein, by heading the impressive Gjedde to the flag in heat fifteen. Woodward took third place from fellow countryman Schlein to cap a fine opening performance.