Back in December, Neutral Service received a Facebook message about a new women’s race due to take place in the British Cycling Central Region the following April. “Apparently you’re pretty pro women’s cycling, particularly racing,” it said; and yes – NS has been known to advocate the sport. “We are putting on a 2/3/4 women’s race, but I’m nervous I won’t get a full field. So if you could spread the word?”
Now, these days there’s no shortage of women’s races, but a lot of them are crits; and while most fans enjoy a good crit it’s no secret that there are just too many of them, riders are bored of them and what women’s cycling in Britain really needs is proper road races. So we asked what kind of race it was going to be and Nick Clarke, as the organiser turned out to be called, told us it was going to be a proper road race over 68km. That was an equal distance to the men’s race taking place on the same day, and it wasn’t the only thing that would be equal: “The prizes are yet to be decided but whatever they are they will be equal,” Nick said, “I don’t get the inequality, it’s annoying.”
Equality is of course how things should be, not something special that should be used as a USP. Nick clearly agreed and wasn’t going to be making a big thing of it, like some organisers do. What would he do, then, if he found himself a few days before the race with only a handful of riders signed up to take part?
“They’ll enter if they want to or it suits them… I’m OK with that,” Nick explained, “I’m just going to do the best job I can.” At that point, NS knew the Lovelo-Cinelli Road Races were going to be a success… and two-and-a-half months before race day, not long after Nick had successfully applied for permission to increase places to 60, he had a full field. Which is really rather impressive: even though this was the first race Nick and the Lovelo-Cinelli club have ever organised, it seems they may have hit upon the Magic Formula.
While the race was an attractive prospect it’s only fair to assume it benefited at least partly from the cost of getting to and from the Isle of Man, where a round of the National Road Series was taking place that same day, putting off some teams and riders; as a result, it was a very strong peloton that lined up on the start with riders from several of the top British teams including Drops, Matrix p/b Corley Cycles, Aprire-HSS, Starley and Velo Schils-Interbike, as well as numerous clubs in the Central and Eastern Regions, London and beyond – and, of course, from Lovelo-Cinelli. With such an impressive line-up, the pace was much higher than the men’s race right from the gun and the bunch split into three very soon afterwards. It wasn’t long before the attacks started, and two riders who stood out early on were Karla Boddy of Drops and Tanya Griffiths of Starley, both of whom caused a visible flutter of concern to pass through the peloton every time they upped the wattage.
Their reasons for doing so were different. Karla seems to have rediscovered her passion for racing this season after insisting last year that she was as good as retired (welcome back Karla!), but riding without tea mates her attacks this early were unlikely to lead to a win; nevertheless, Karla won the Cheshire Classic three weeks ago and while she’s claimed in the past to have done so through luck, her rivals weren’t going to make the mistake of underestimating her and made sure they were on her case each and every time she tried to get away. Tanya, meanwhile, was riding for team mate Sian Botteley, whose victory the previous weekend at the Dave Peck Memorial proves she’s got great form at the moment and when Tanya was caught,after a very respectable chase, their team mates Lauren Kirchel and Alice Lethbridge took over at the front and piled still more pressure on the other teams. Karla’s efforts had been a fine example of a rider working alone; Starley’s were an excellent demonstration of team tactics.
The host club’s finest moment of the race came when Anna Henderson came within a hairs-breadth of winning the Queen of the “Mountains” competition (“it’s not really a climb, to be honest – it’s not that hilly round here,” says Nick), only to be pipped to the post by Alice Cobb of Matrix – no shame in that as Alice is one of the most promising young climbers on the British scene today, which goes to show Anna must have a healthy dose of talent of her own.
With strong representation for all the teams in the lead group, a large gap back to the next group and no more hills steep or long enough to split the groups further, a bunch sprint was the logical conclusion – and a very fine sprint it turned out to be, with all the front riders maintaining a blistering pace along the final straight before it became a contest of outright power in the last hundred metres. From fifty metres it was obvious that nobody was going to get past Botteley and Harriet Owen (Matrix), but the outcome wasn’t decided until a few bike-lengths from the finish: Owen is a rider very capable of digging deep to find a last-second spurt which has seen her win many races in her career, but on this occasion it was the Starley rider who timed it just right, and she was just clear of Owen at the line.
1 Sian Botteley (Starley Racing; Cat. 2) 30pts
2 Harriet Owen (Matrix Fitness p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 2) 25pts
3 Adeline Moreau (5th Floor CC; Cat. 3) 21pts
4 Alison Lilley (Fenland Clarion; Cat. 3) 17pts
5 Aoife Doherty (5th Floor CC; Cat. 2) 14pts
6 Karla Boddy (Drops; Cat. 2) 12pts
7 Gemma Sargent (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 2) 10pts
8 Emily McLoughlin (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 2) 8pts
9 Harriet Mellor (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 3) 7pts
10 Sophie Lankford (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 2) 6pts
11 Alexandra Jenkins (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 2) 5pts
12 Nicola Soden (Velo Schils-Interbike; Cat. 2) 4pts
13 Gaia Casciello (Welwyn Wheelers; Cat. 2) 3pts
14 Alicia Speake (Islington CC; Cat. 2) 2pts
15 Gemma Melton (Pedal Power Cycles Ipswich; Cat. 3) 1pt
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Actually, if you apply that to real life things soon become stale, which is why races that were once successful sometimes become a bit dull and, unless the organiser makes changes, drop off the calendar. Two weeks after the race, once Nick had gathered feedback from riders and marshals, NS got back in touch to find out how he thought things had gone and what he’d change for next year – because there’s no doubt at all that the Lovelo-Cinelli RR will take place again in 2017, and the club may even organise some more in the meantime.
“I loved the race,” he told us, “and I loved that the women’s race was a better race than the men’s – it was safer, and far more interesting with three groups chasing each other rather than one group pushing round waiting for a sprint.”
“There was loads of things I’d like to have done that we ran out of time for, for example giving every marshal on the junctions a GoPro so we could get better footage together than what we’ve got, and we couldn’t get chip timing which meant we could place the front group easily but the second and third had to be pieced together. I’d like to have an extra lap – I’ve sent out a feedback survey to the entrants and the majority of the respondents wanted it slightly longer, an extra 10 miles, so that’s what will happen next time. I’m also thinking a QOM with points every lap, for an overall QOM winner, and running the races slightly earlier and closer together as the traffic had started to build for the womens race.”
“I also liked the first come, first served entry, but my only regret is early on I had to reject RP-Vision as the race was already full,” he added (Nick tried to get permission to increase places to 80 riders, but was not able to gain it – Ed.). “Next time, I may initially limit teams to four riders to start with and maybe then, once I’ve got a fair idea of the size of the field, extend it to six – again, we’ll open entries and try and engage with everyone to make sure we put on a race that they want, not one that makes them feel like they’re expected to enter.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you organise a women’s bike race. Something tells us Nick won’t be lacking riders signing up to race next year, either.