Reserve rider fit and ready as Tigers bid to preserve run

JOSH Bates has been declared fit to face the Stoke Potters as the Mildenhall Fen Tigers prepare for an early start on Sunday.

The usual 4.30pm start time has been brought forward to 3pm to allow skipper Lewis Blackbird to ride at West Row in the National League and then later in the evening for the Leicester Lions in the Premier League.

Bates was a doubt for the clash with the Potters after aggravating his ongoing shoulder injury, but he has been told by doctors that he will not do it any further damage, despite being in a lot of pain.

Mildenhall co-promoter Michael Lee said: “He suffered whiplash in the original accident he had a couple of months ago, which twisted the muscle around in his shoulder.

“It hasn’t calmed down from then because he has knocked it another three times since.”

The third of those came on Sunday when Bates, who has showed some promising signs this season, collided with Buxton’s Chris Widman in a 43-43 draw in the National League.

That kept their unbeaten league record intact, one they will aim to preserve when Stoke, beaten by the Tigers in last year’s Knockout Cup final and play-off semi-finals, visit Mildenhall Stadium on Sunday.

“It’s something the boys want to keep,” added Lee. “They haven’t been beaten this year and they want to keep it going as long as they can so we can keep pace with Dudley.”

The Tigers are currently second in the National League standings, six points shy of Dudley, but with two meetings in hand.

And that should lead to an intriguing double-header between the division’s pacesetters on Sunday, August 19, at West Row and two days later at Dudley.

Mildenhall number one Cameron Heeps will hope to hold the prestigious bronze helmet when he goes into the meetings.

The teenage Australian will challenge Stoke’s Ashley Birks for it on Sunday and aim to become the first Tigers’ rider since the club’s reformation to hold it.

The bronze helmet is battled for in a one-versus-one winner-takes-all race and is challenged for on a monthly basis, with the Tigers due a turn this month.

And with Birks and Heeps among the very best in the National League, Lee is expecting an exciting encounter.

“It should be quite an occasion and one Cam will be fired up for and determined to win,” he said. “Ashley is a great lad and great rider but he was part of the duo that held Cam at bay to win Scunthorpe the title last season, so it would be nice to reclaim some bragging rights.

“It’ll be a terrific contest between two of the best riders in the National League and one I’m sure our fans won’t want to miss.”

Meanwhile, Stefan Nielsen’s average has shot up to 8.65, showing what a huge improvement the Brandon-based race ace has made since the start of the year.

Lee said: “Stefan’s now one who is going to progress at an electric rate.

“He’s one who will certainly be Premier League next year, if not by the end of this one.”

Nielsen, the Tigers’ number three, was joint top scorer with Heeps in Mildenhall’s draw at Buxton on Sunday, netting 10+1 points.