Alex Paton breathed a sigh of relief as he won the 53rd Perfs Pedal against the odds on Sunday.
The Canyon Eisberg rider saw off the challenge of not one but two rivals from the Spirit Tifosi team to emerge victorious on Hundred Acres Road.
The trio had broken clear during the second of five laps around Portsdown Hill – before opening up a gap of more than a minute on the peloton.
Paton, 27, then decided to attack his rivals on the final ascent, determined to avoid being worked over himself.
And while that move was brought back, the former Madison Genesis man had enough left in the tank to hold off Rupert Graham and clinch victory on the sprint to the line on the outskirts of Wickham.
Canyon Eisberg were the only professional squad in the 74km race – and as such were expected to triumph.
But Paton admitted the victory did not come easy.
He said: ‘I’m really pleased. We would have liked to have a few more people higher up but the main thing was to come away with the win.
‘We knew we couldn’t take anything for granted. The two lads with me were very strong and I had to play it quite smart in the end.
‘My team-mate, Jack Pullar, had put the hammer down on lap two and I came over the top. The Spirit Tifosi lads came with me and we got away.
‘The last time over the climb – in the crosswind – I attacked them again.
‘But I couldn’t ride away from them, so it came back together and in the end two of us came to the line.
‘I was quite confident going into the finish I could take the win and luckily it turned out right in the end.’
Canyon Eisberg sports director Tim Elverson was celebrating a third Perfs Pedal win in succession – after Chris Opie (2017) and Rory Townsend (2016) had carried off the trophy.
Paton, however, was toasting a first road race victory in more than two-and-a-half years.
He added: ‘After approaching races with varying roles and responsibilities, I felt like I had lost my way a little bit. I couldn’t remember how to win.
‘So it is important for me to get back into the groove of that. Whether it is a big race or small race, you have to go about it the right way.
‘This is a good marker now. It gives me a little bit of confidence and helps the team as we work towards some slightly more important goals.
‘Perfs is not the biggest race in the world. But it is the first National B of the year and everybody gives it a little bit of respect.
‘It was fairly tough to win. And I’m pleased I won.’
Paton’s next goal is likely to be the UCI 1.2 Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers in France on March 4.
Ben Marks, of Morvelo Basso, won the bunch kick to complete the podium positions. Jordan Peacock, of the Spirit Tifosi team, was the third man in the day’s breakaway. He finished 27th.