British Cycling’s Eastern Region covers almost 18,000 squre kilometres, is home to more than five million people and has a large number of cycling clubs, many of them with plenty of female members, yet this year’s Eastern Women’s Road Race Championships was the first ever held.
Last year, Suffolk club CC Sudbury announced that it was adding a women’s event to its popular Summer Road Races and said: “We are hoping to host this event to promote women’s competitive cycling, however, if there are not enough entrants the event will need to be cancelled. We don’t require a full field for it to go ahead (we are prepared to run the event at a financial loss).” Word got around, and a lot of riders liked the sound of that; rather than worrying about low entry numbers – always a risk at any new race, just because an existing race is popular with male riders doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be popular with the women too – the club had to apply to BC for permission to increase the number of places on the start line. Then, another big race due to take place on the same day was cancelled and so CC Sudbury needed even more places. In the end, more than 60 riders signed up, making it one of the biggest women’s races outside of the National Championships and Road Series ever seen in the UK.
Inspired by that success, this year’s race became the Regional Championship and attracted 40 sign-ups, with 29 starting. As at last year’s race the small but numerous and in some cases reasonably steep hills of the Bulmer course proved decisive early on with the group beginning to split up in the first of four laps, the sketchy gravel-strewn corners cost many riders valuable seconds too because of you find yourself in the wrong part of the road on a turn like that, you really have no choice but to play it safe and watch the peloton surge ahead of you. From a spectator’s point of view, meanwhile, gravelly corners are interesting: while some riders freeze up, others stay relaxed and back off the power only as much as is needed to avoid a spill.
This was always going to be a fast and aggressive race – who wouldn’t want to be the first ever Eastern Champ, after all? – but Drops and Army Cycling with their powerhouse big hitters were clearly targeting the title and along with a selection of other strong riders pushed the pace right from the start. A number of riders who’d been either unable to match the peloton’s momentum or got caught out on the technical sections, found themselves off the back even in the early part of the second stage and never really got back into contention from that point onwards.
Although numerous riders were looking good at the front as the race entered the final lap, most of us at the finish line we convinced it was going to either Drops’ Jen George or or the Army’s Chanel Mason, both of whom benefited from the support of their team mates, but with riders such as Clem Copie (Les Filles), Charlotte Colclough (Jadan-Weldtite), Georgina Panchaud (Bikeshed-Bianchi) all in the mix nothing was decided until the final moment when Sian Botteley, the sole representative of Starley Racing as her team mate Tanya Griffiths had not been able to race, dug deep for the final burst that took her over the line with a fraction of a second’s advantage over Mason and George.
1. Sian Botteley (Starley Racing; Cat. 1) 30pts
2. Chanel Mason (Army Cycling RT; Cat. 1) 25pts
3. Jennifer George (Drops; Cat. 1) 21pts
4. Louise Moriarty (Look Mum No Hands!; Cat. 3) 17pts
5. Laura Cameron (Drops; Cat. 1) 14pts
6. Clemence Copie (Les Filles; Cat. 1) 12pts
7. Georgina Panchaud (Bikeshed-Bianchi; Cat. 2) 10pts
8. Charlotte Colclough (Jadan-Weldtite; Cat. 2) 8pts
9. Alicia Speake (CC London; Cat. 2) 7pts
10. Emily Meakin (Mammoth Lifestyle RT; Cat. 2) 6pts
11. Gemma Melton (Pedal Power Cycles Ipswich; Cat. 2) 5pts
12. Nicole Oh (Les Filles; Cat. 2) 4pts
13. Eryn Nolan (Pretorius Bikes; Cat. 2) 3pts
14. Corinne Price (CC London; Cat. 2) 2pts
15. Melissa Brand (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2) 1pt