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PREMIERSHIP PREVIEW: BELLE VUE

BELLE VUE finally ended their long wait for a top-flight league title when they triumphed over Sheffield in a dramatic Premiership Grand Final in 2022.

That success ended nearly 30 years of hurt for the Aces, and for much of last season they looked well-placed to follow up by making it back-to-back titles.

The Aces topped the league table with 44 points, finishing six clear of second-placed Wolverhampton, with their away form especially impressive as they won six times on the road.

And that made it all the more surprising when they suffered their heaviest defeat of the season in the first leg of the play-off semi-final, going down 36-54 at Ipswich – a venue where they had won twice in the regular league campaign.

The return fixture in Manchester saw the Aces roar back in a truly epic clash which was decided in the very last race when home duo DAN BEWLEY and BRADY KURTZ were edged out by Witches stars Jason Doyle and Emil Sayfutdinov despite holding the advantage in the early stages.

It was one of the races of the season, but it also ended the Belle Vue title defence as Ipswich took the semi-final by a six-point aggregate margin.

Not for the first time in recent years, Mark Lemon’s side suffered a major injury blow just at the wrong time with Charles Wright ruled out after a crash in Poland, and the fact that they only took three points from rider replacement in the first leg was also a key factor.

But Lemon was clearly satisfied with many elements of the season, and that is reflected in his team selection for 2024, which shows just two changes.

Their final average total for their top six was 42.74, so they had to shed just under three points to get below the 40-point limit, and the two riders departing are Wright to Oxford and Tom Brennan to Birmingham.

However, the top three remains very much in place with Aussie star Kurtz continuing to captain the Aces as he heads into his fourth season with the club, whilst British Champion and GP racer Bewley joins him as the spearhead.

Former World Under-21 Champion JAIMON LIDSEY completes the top three after a tremendous return to UK racing last year which saw him put his average up from 5.16 to 7.86.

In the middle order, the Aces have moved to sign a third Australian, BEN COOK, who joins after spending his debut Premiership campaign with Peterborough where he impressed greatly and recorded a six-point average.

It’s a third season in Aces colours for improving German youngster NORICK BLODORN, who will start in a second-strong berth and can be expected to push on once again.

At reserve, Lemon has moved for CONNOR MOUNTAIN who steps back into the Premiership having last appeared full-time with Sheffield in 2022, and British Under-21 Champion CONNOR BAILEY continues as Rising Star after a successful stint in the second half of last season after Jake Mulford had been ruled out through injury.

BELLE VUE ATPI ACES 2024

Brady Kurtz 8.51

Dan Bewley 8.00

Jaimon Lidsey 7.86

Ben Cook 6.00

Norick Blodorn 5.83

Connor Mountain 3.52

Connor Bailey RS

*Subject to approval