Cliff Hughes is the father of Anna Marie Hughes, a rider with the Bonito Squadra Corse women’s team.
Sunday 29th March 2015 and it was already the second Women’s Team Series (WTS) race of the season, the Dave Peck Memorial Ladies Road Race at Virginia Water in Surrey. It seemed a long time since Anna Marie’s last major race (August 2014), but we were now back in full swing after the initial WTS race at Hog Hill last weekend. We were looking forward to this one as it felt a bit like unfinished business; everything was going so well in last year’s race for Anna Marie and her teammates until they were caught up in a nasty crash towards the end of the race.
The weather was in sharp contrast to last year, when it was warm, dry and sunny. We had been following the weather forecast, and it looked depressing; windy with rain forecast for the start of the race at 11.00 am. However, it was much worse than predicted and we arrived with the rain already set in. As a Dad I don’t like watching my daughter race in bad conditions. As a helper, I don’t mind a bit of rain during the race, but I hate setting up, and packing up in the rain!
This was Anna Marie’s second race with the team, and her teammates for this race were Lauren Humphreys, Annabel Fisher, Natasha Morrison and Bethany Taylor. The course was a 53 mile road race consisting of 13 laps of the Valley End circuit, with rolling roads, followed by 5 laps of Staple Hill, as its name implies, a slightly hillier circuit. It is a nice course from a spectator point of view as you see lots of the race, and plenty of opportunities to take photos; I managed about 200. There was also no need to be at a feed point which often results in restricted views of the race.
After the race briefing from the commissaires, the team had their own team briefing and the riders lined up behind the NEG vehicles. The race convoy rolled off on a ~4 mile neutralised section to the Valley End circuit. As the race got underway, the weather worsened, blustery winds and rain for most of the race, heavy at times.
The team’s plan soon became evident; on the third lap Natasha attacked hard and maintained a 30 second lead for around 40 minutes. This put the peloton under pressure from the start, and caused constant attrition, with riders dropping off lap after lap.
Keeping the pressure on, Annabel then attacked a few laps later but was caught after a lap or so away from the peloton. These efforts caused a significant reduction in the size of the peloton.
Within a lap on the hillier Staples Hill circuit, the group had been reduced down to just over 20 riders. Attacking again, Annabel put in a tremendous effort to establish a 45 second lead which she held for a couple of laps. However, the peloton worked hard to catch her and did so on the last lap.
The bunch pushed hard up the final climb, and in the sprint for the line Bethany took a great 5th place, only narrowly missing out on 3 rd place in a photo finish. Anna Marie and Annabel both finished well in the bunch in 19th and 23rd respectively. A special mention for Anna Marie, a superb race considering that she had been laid up sick for most of the week leading up to the race. She held strong positions throughout the race which bodes well for a great season ahead.
This was, without doubt, a great team performance, in difficult conditions, and a real shame to find out afterwards that, after performing so brilliantly for the team, Natasha was involved in a crash towards the end of the race, breaking her collar bone. We wish her, and other casualties in the race a speedy recovery. A change of tack for Anna Marie’s next event, the Good Friday Track meeting at the Lee Valley Velodrome. Looking forward to a great, and dry (!) event.
Text and photographs © Cliff Hughes