Stafford GP

SCF01-02.08.2013 Official Site
Stafford, England
Criterium: 45 minutes + 3 laps. Kermesse 
Women’s National Series
52°48’21.89″N  2° 7’0.83″W
Entries open at the end of February

The Stafford GP is a two-stage event consisting of a criterium and a longer kermesse. This is the third edition of the modern race, which was first held in 2010, but the history of criterium racing in Stafford dates back to the 1980s when, for a while, cycling seemed to be on the brink of becoming very popular in Britain – editions were held in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987 and drew enormous crowds. Then, for some reason, cycling’s popularity began to wane once again and, just as the Tour of Britain would a decade later, the Stafford race vanished, apparently forever. Yet, years later, cycling began to find new British fans once more, and not least of all because of the enormous success of British female cyclists on the track and on the road – the Tour was revived in 2004 and has gone from strength to strength, and inspired by its success LeadoutCycling was formed to bring back the Stafford Town Centre races in 2010. For the first time in 2013, a women’s race was added – further indication that the health of women’s cycling is also improving.

 

AncientHighHouse

Ancient High House, metres from the start line – note the high incidence of street furniture! (image: Mick Malpass CC BY-SA 2.0)

Stage 1 Criterium

The Stage 1 criterium takes place on a short, urban parcours, but it squeezes a lot into its 1.1km to become a tough and technical race with numerous very tight corners, hidden kerbstones, slippery drain covers, plenty of street furniture and an assortment of narrow sections. In addition to that, most of the rest of the parcours encourages high average speed high speeds – it gains just 9.5m on each lap – and the likelihood that since this is the final race in the series the leaders will be fighting hard for any points they can take. However, it’s not all flat; the Greengate Street section running north right after South Walls features a climb that, while short, hits a gradient of 5.6% over the latter half. That would be nothing in a stage race, when it would be climbed once by riders used to much steeper ascents, but in a criterium it’ll be climbed many times and the cumulative effect becomes considerable. All those factors combine to make this race a real challenge and an impressive showcase for the riders’ skills.

The race follows the usual criterium pattern with the riders racing for 45 minutes rather than over a set distance. Bonus primes will be awarded to the fastest rider on various pre-selected laps throughout the race. At the end of the 45 minutes, they will complete three additional laps before coming to the finish.

StaffGPPro

 

Stage 2 Kermesse

The Stage 2 kermesse, taking place the day after the criterium, is situated largely within the estate of the mostly 18th Century Shugborough Hall – a beautiful setting for the race. The riders will complete 15 anticlockwise laps.

The roads running through the estate are narrow, giving scope for lone riders or small groups to try to break away from the pack; however, once out onto the wide, fast A513 there is plenty of opportunitydespite a climb for the peloton to reel them back in before turning back onto estate roads to return to the start line for the next lap.

The parcours is 4.04km in length and climbs for most of the first 2.44km, gently as it passes through the estate and then much more steeply – for short sections – as it passes through the woods. The longest climb begins at the turning onto the A513 and ends 0.5km later, gaining 38m; the average gradient is therefore 7.6% but, according to Google Maps data, the maximum is greater than 15% for one very short ramp. The first 0.3km of the descent is also steep, with an average gradient of -6.3%; the route bends left here but is wide and fast and will likely see some very high speeds provided conditions are dry and not slippery – it’ll be a good place to spectate. Altitude gain is 85.6m on each lap, adding up to a total of 1284m and making it a race best suited to riders who can climb well.

StaffKermPro

If you visit the race, Shugborough is well worth exploring. Of particular interest is the Cat’s Monument, thought to commemorate Admiral Anson’s feline companion on his trip around the world between 1740 and 1744. He took with him six ships and 1,854 men; due to poor planning, wrecking, battles with ships from Spain (with whom Britain was then at war) and mutiny, he returned with only one ship and 188 men. It doesn’t seem to be known whether or not the cat was with them. (The monument may, less romantically, simply have been built by animal lover Thomas Anson, who owned a pair of Persian cats and a herd of Corsican goats, a depiction of which is carved into the base). Another, more famous, creation known as the Shepherd’s Monument in the grounds bears the inscription “O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.” and, below, “D.M.” What this stands for has never been known – V.A.V.V. probably refers to Viscount Anson and his wife, (Mary) Vernon-Venables, or the inscription may represent a Latin phrase; there are numerous fun theories connecting it to the Knights Templar, UFOs and assorted other esoteric topics, with typically inventive “evidence” to back them up.

 

The Series So Far

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Nikola Juniper winning at Ryedale (image © Nikki Juniper)

Nikola Juniper, riding for Echelon-Rotor, already has the 2014 title safely in the musette. Juniper won the Tour of the Reservoir the Ryedale GP, came second at the Curlew Cup, third at the Otley GP and the Essex Giro, fourth at the Cheshire Classic, seventh at the CDNW Surf ‘n’ Turf and 15th at the Hillingdon GP, which gives her 274 points accumulated so far; second-placed Gabriella Shaw (Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International) is 134 points behind – far more than are available at this final round. Will Juniper ride a safe race, taking things easy in the bunch as a result? Not a chance of it – she already had an unbeatable lead before the Ryedale GP and spent that race attacking non-stop before winning with a clear margin. “I race ’cause I love riding my bike; points are just a bonus!” she told Neutral Service, and we can expect to see her aggressively riding for another victory here. Look out also for Epic-Scott’s Laura Massey, who leaped away on the final climb at the Essex Giro – if she can do that again on the last lap in the kermesse, she might take another, equally impressive victory.

Of course, the race and Series aren’t all about the winner and the rest of the field will be competing for the points they need to improve their own standings, as well as for the added cachet they can use to bargain for better contracts now that transfer season is on the horizon. Crits and kermesses, due to the short circuits, are always tough, fast and hard-fought; this one will be especially so – be there to see the action if you can!

Complete Series standings to date are available here.