Carole Nash is at the heart of an £80m acquisition battle between a major insurer and a leading consolidating broker, sources claim.

It is understood that Equity was poised to make the acquisition when insurer AXA entered talks with an £80m bid. One source said: "We understand there has been a £80m bid from the insurer which has blown Equity out of the water."

The motorbike broker, which last year wrote £70m in premiums, appointed Ernst & Young in August to search the market for potential bidders. It was believed the company's founder and namesake, Carole Nash, stood to pocket up to £70m from any deal.

However, that figure could rocket as brokers putting themselves out in the market begin to command higher figures for acquisitions.

It is believed bidding for the broker is becoming more fierce as negotiations develop. A deal is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2007.

Ernst & Young is understood to have received extensive interest from both trade buyers and private equity houses.

An AXA spokesman refused to comment on market speculation. Carole Nash also refused to comment.