With the always-popular (and deceptively testing) Great Cressingham course which has hosted this race for the last four years made unavailable by road works, VC Norwich had to make a last minute decision to switch their annual women’s road race over to the much shorter and flatter Croxton course in the depths of Thetford Forest: always a risk as it can completely change the character of an event for which riders may have spent considerable time preparing but, in this case, one that worked out – the very fast (and almost traffic-free) circuit proved popular.
A long neutralised section of 5.1km (almost as long as the circuit!) took the riders down sunny lanes from Wretham Village Hall into the forest and, following a tight right turn at a crossroads, onto Harling Drove and the circuit – where a snake, apparently well-aware that these roads don’t see many cars, was surprised to find itself in the peloton’s path and only just got out of the way in time. With hot conditions and riders wanting to get a feel for a parcours some of them might not have had time to study on the map, the first lap of thirteen was relatively sedate; however, in the second an early solo break by Les Filles’ Nicole Oh stirred things up a bit and, although Nicole had never won a race on the open road before, she’s sufficiently respected that the riders on the front of the pack quickened their pace to catch her and make sure she couldn’t stay away for long.
Several names had stood out on the start list as potential winners and each of them took a turn on the front – seeing Georgia Bullard (Jadan-Weldtite-Vive le Velo), who still had stitches and a healing wound on her leg following a nasty crash at the CiCLE Classic two weeks ago, and Charlotte Colclough (Bianchi Dama) who underwent a major operation for iliac artery endofibrosis only months ago both spending time as lead rider was especially welcome. With the race now moving along at a fair clip, no further attempts at breakaways lasted more than a few moments. Whilst nobody could get away, at least a few riders suddenly found themselves at the back on the bunch after misjudging cornering speed, especially at the fast, sharp and gravelly left-hander leading from The Street onto Wyrley’s Belt: Verulam’s Dagmar Pfeifer, whose skills as a crit rider and ability on the fast tight courses that entails, was one of them, sadly so too was Bullard who crashed, lost significant time and bloodily reopened the wound on her leg. Her determination to continue, and finish, was admirable, but it was very upsetting to see the young rider’s chances of a good result come to an end after she had raced so well and spent most of the afternoon either at or very near the front of the peloton. Also meriting a mention here is Hitchin Nomads’ Jane Wilson – although she’d dropped off the back early on, she kept on plugging away alone and fully deserved the special prize awarded to her.
Cambridge University CC’s Jess Atkinson launched a strong attack in the final laps, putting the fast and ever-so-slightly downhill section along The Street to good use and finding a slight advantage which, though short-lived, earned her the respect of her rivals: approaching the finish line, Oh assisted her to ensure she took the final prime. It looked likely by this time that a small group of three or four would do the same in the last lap and then battle it out for the podium positions but as the race turned back onto Harling Drove for the last time, the bunch remained tightly together before fanning out across the road for a very tight sprint to the line. For a couple of seconds, it was impossible to predict, then – with no more than two or three metres left – Oh edged her front wheel mere centimetres ahead of Gemma Melton (Pedal Power) and Anna-Marie Hughes (Norwood Paragon): a first ever road win taken in fine style and one which, due to Oh’s popularity in the sport, everyone present was very pleased to see.
More photos below the results
1 Nicole Oh (Les Filles; Cat. 2) 15pts
2 Gemma Melton (Pedal Power Cycles Ipswich; Cat. 2) 12pts
3 Anna-Marie Hughes (Norwood Paragon; Cat. 3) 10pts
4 Jennie Tillott (Lovelo Squadra Donne; Cat. 2) 8pts
5 Dagmar Pfeifer (Verulam-ReallyMoving.com; Cat. 2) 6pts
6 Charlotte Colclough (Bianchi Dama; Cat. 2) 5pts
7 Gem Atkinson (Scarpa Racing; Cat. 2) 4pts
8 Megan Panton (Project 51; Cat. 3) 3pts
9 Rachel Dunn (Verulam-ReallyMoving.com; Cat. 2) 2pts
10 Cindy Berry (Pedal Power Cycles Ipswich; Cat. 3) 1pt
11 Polly Mason (Strada-Sport; Cat. 3), 12 Jess Atkinson (Cambridge University CC; Cat. 3), 13 Amy Johnson (West Suffolk Wheelers; Cat. 3) 14 Kimberlee Charlton (Cat. 4), 15 Georgia Bullard (Jadan Weldtite-Vive le Velo; Cat. 2), 16 Jane Wilson (Hitchin Nomads; Cat. 3)