Katie Archibald and her team have been the dominant force on the domestic criterium scene this season – Archibald has been winning races in fine style, often lapping a large percentage of the field before winning by large margins, and Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International have been the winning squad in every round of the Matrix Grand Prix series. For that reason, many people thought she was an easy bet for winner of the Nocturne. Taking place on a 1.1km circuit around Smithfield Market that is far more technical on the ground than it at first appears on a map, the Nocturne has become one of the most popular events on the British calendar with many thousands of people staying in the capital after work or coming in especially to see the races. The combination of pressure and parcours always makes it an exciting race, and just as has been the case in previous years the eventual outcome was very different to popular prediction.
Matrix-Vulpine turned up the heat right from the start with Penny Rowson setting a high pace during the third lap while Jessie Walker sat three or four places back ready to take over once Penny tired. It didn’t take long for a lead group of nine to get away and splits to form in the main group, but it was early days yet and the riders soon reconvened. However, the race had been in progress for only nine minutes when a much larger lead group of 37 riders, not far off half the total, got away again as they accelerated to keep pace with strong attacks by Nikki Juniper (Echelon Rotor). She couldn’t break free and took her place in the group with Amy Roberts (Wiggle-Honda) taking over at the front for a while, then Clemence Copie (Mulebar Girl-Sigma Sport) started to attack and was successful, riding solo out in front for a brief while before Juniper joined her and set the pace higher still so that Copie fell back.
Now Archibald swung into action, starting to close the gap to Juniper: Wiggle-Honda’s Amy Roberts went with her but, as soon as they’d caught Juniper, found herself unable to match their strength and went the same way as Copie. Now the Scotswoman began to use the same tactics that have won her so many criteriums in the past, launching a series of savage attacks designed to wear down the opposition. For once, it didn’t work – Katie Curtis of Starley-Primal, the only team other than Pearl Izumi to have enjoyed an individual win at the Matrix Series (Eileen Roe won in Peterborough and remains overall leader), did an admirable job of counter-attacking and got past for some solo time in the limelight. It couldn’t last, though, and with six laps to go, after both riders had lapped the back of the field, Archibald was out in front and the race looked as though it would be hers.
Juniper got back up to the front to ride with Archibald, and then the trickiness of the circuit changed everything – Archibald made a mistake and crashed, losing a big chunk of time as her team mates Curtis and Gabriella Shaw went clear. She was unhurt, but judges did not elect to give her a lap out, thus finishing her race; to her credit and despite being pumped up after such a strong performance prior to the crash, she accepted their decision gracefully – “She’s OK and has taken not being given a lap out very well. Respect,” said Matrix-Vulpine boss Stef Wyman.
Back up at the front, Curtis was feeling the effects of her earlier efforts to take the lead and found herself unable to stay with Juniper and Shaw, who started leaving her behind with three laps left. By the final lap, nobody else had joined them and Shaw led on their final pass of the pits area, but whereas Curtis had expended too much energy Juniper was playing a long game; her earlier attacks had worn down the opposition and now she was right on Shaw’s back wheel ready to respond to any and every move she made – it was going to be close, and even as they rounded the final corner from Lindsey Street onto Long Lane nothing was set in stone. The final sprint to the finish featured a pinch point but with only two riders in the running there was sufficient space that it wouldn’t be an issue, setting the scene for a simple duel in which the strongest rider would be the winner – and it turned out that Juniper was that rider, whipping out and past her rival and charging over the line.
More photos below
1 Nikki Juniper (Echelon Rotor)
2 Gabriella Shaw (Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International)
3 Katie Curtis (Starley-Primal)
4 Grace Garner (RST)
5 Amy Roberts (Wiggle-Honda)
6 Eileen Roe (Starley-Primal)
7 Laura Greenhalgh (Twickenham CC)
8 Louise Mahe (Mulebar Girl-Sigma Sport)
9 Annasley Park (RST)
10 Lydia Boylan (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa)