“Now that was a proper fucking bike race!”
– these were the first words to the Neutral Service writer and photographer from Bob Varney, manager of the Drops team after his rider Laura Massey had finished in third place at the CiCLE Women’s race, the fourth round of the HSBC UK British Cycling Women’s National Road Series held on a 105km course with a start and finish in Melton Mowbray, including several challenging off-road sectors, on the 4th of June.
As the riders signed on at the race HQ there was an elevated feeling of expectation for the days adventures from many of those we spoke to. Those who had ridden the first incarnation of the race in 2016 knew that the day would be hard and unpredictable, while the first timers listened and readied themselves for a ride into the relative unknown.
One hundred and one riders lined up for the ceremonial start at the Market Square in the centre of Melton before heading out of town to start racing at Burton Lazars and onto the village of Owston, the heart of the race. Entering Owston for the first time, Drops and WNT were at the head of the bunch with Ford EcoBoost tucked in just behind, but as the riders headed out of the village a group of around eight riders had already become detached, while others had suffered early punctures and had fallen behind the broom wagon.
Heading out on the first the loop around Burrough-On-The-Hill, Katie Archibald (WNT) took the first of the hill points before the race re-entered Owston via Manor Farm’s yard and the first pass of the Manorberg sector. Rounding the notoriously tricky Duvel, corner Rebecca Durrell led the way with Grace Garner (Wiggle-High5) and Nikki Juniper (Ford EcoBoost) amongst those in close attendance. Shortly afterwards, the corner claimed its first victim as a Cycle Team OnForm rider went down and struggled to get back on her bike as the remaining competitors pushed to get past.
The now-stretched race went on its way towards Cold Overton, where Archibald repeated her previous hills effort to take maximum points and then to the challenge of the Somerberg for the first time and its 2km gravel and earth track. Heading back in to Owston the riders entered the Manorberg sector in the reverse direction and, as they exited via the farmyard after an hour and a quarter of racing, Durrell and her Drops colleagues were still driving the front of the race while Garner was sat just behind as the key protagonists from WNT and Ford Ecoboost were a further ten or fifteen metres back.
Heading out on the Borrough On The Hill loop again, a crash gave Massey the opportunity to make a break; by the time she crossed the intermediate sprint line back in Owston, she was fifty seconds ahead of EJ Harris (Storey Racing) who led the peloton across the line.
On the final Borrough-On-The-Hill loop Massey continued to push, and with the bunch unable to summon the will to chase the gap increased to just under two minutes at the summit of the Somerberg, but as the remnants of the peloton reached the summit Juniper went between the Drops riders on the front and started to inject some pace into the chase. With the race heading into its final third and with rain starting to fall, Massey took the final hill award; Archibald and Juniper took second and third and began to get a chase together; when the race headed into Melton for the first passage of finish line the gap had started to fall as Massey tired.
Exiting the final short Sawgate off-road sector Massey, Archibald and Juniper were together. Heading down the B676 in to Melton for the final time the cat and mouse tactics started and for a few seconds Juniper looked to be detached before the pace relaxed slightly and she again caught the leaders. As the games continued, and unknown to the three leaders, Massey’s Drops teams mate Hannah Payton had made her own break from the bunch and was gaining rapidly. Just after turning on to the Sherrard Street for the sprint to the finish Archibald made her move, while Massey and Juniper were unable to respond effectively and settled for second and third respectively, with the fast finishing Payton only five seconds down in fourth.
Annie Simpson (Drops) took the bunch sprint from Sian Botteley (OnForm) and thus became the best-placed Under-23 rider, with her sixth place sufficient to move her into second in the Series. Chanel Mason (Storey Racing) crossed the line in twenty sixth place, despite being hampered by illness, and thus retained the overall leadership of the Series. Sophie Wright (Strada Sport) was the first Junior, passing over the line in twelfth place. Local rider Bex Rimmington (Team WNT) had an unlucky day with a number of punctures and was the penultimate rider to finish, while Fiona Hunter-Johnston was the ‘Lantern Rouge’ in fortieth place. Archibald also took the Hills Competition, while Juniper took the Melton Town Sprint and won the giant pork pie sponsored by the ‘Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe’.
After the race, Neutral Service spoke to Archibald about her win. “It was hard in the rain – I’m not one of those masochists that enjoy suffering in the wet, but it worked out in the end. It’s the complete opposite to the track races I do and I was almost forcing myself to get enthusiastic about it, but I did enjoy it in the end. It was a huge challenge for me – I’m not really known for my cyclocross riding!”
1 Katie Archibald (WNT; Elite) 60pts
2 Laura Massey (Drops; Cat. 1) 52pts
3 Nicola Juniper (Ford Ecoboost; Elite) 45pts
4 Hannah Payton (Drops; Cat. 2) 40pts
5 Annabel Simpson (Drops; Cat. 2) 35pts
6 Sian Botteley (Team OnForm; Cat. 1) 31pts
7 Ffion James (Abergavenny Road Club; Cat. 1) 27pts
8 Abigail Van Twisk (Drops) 23pts
9 Lizzy Banks (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2) 20pts
10 Grace Garner (Wiggle-High5; Elite) 17pts
11 Julie Erskine (Team OnForm; Cat. 1) 15pts
12 Sophie Wright (Strada Sport; Cat. 2) 13pts
13 Rose Osborne (Drops; Cat. 2) 11pts
14 Anna Kay (EDCO Continental; Cat. 2) 9pts
15 Rebecca Carter (WNT; Cat. 2) 7pts
16 Alicia Speake (Team OnForm; Cat. 1) 6pts
17 Alice Sharpe (NCC Group-Kuota-Torelli; Cat. 2) 5pts
18 Jennifer Powell (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 3pts
19 Eileen Roe (WNT; Elite) 2pts
20 Bethany Hayward (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2) 1pt