Cycling is too hard a sport, with too much scope for the unexpected, for the outcome of any race to be predicted with anything like real accuracy. Some races, though, make it harder to name potential winners – this year’s VC Norwich was one such race. Firstly, the start list was remarkably well-matched with a handful of very strong riders and a lot of decent ones who wouldn’t need much luck at all to take the glory; secondly, while the 12km circuit has nothing in the way of big hills (it’s Norfolk, after all), it’s a lot draggier than it looks on paper with plenty of opportunity for riders to both gain and lose advantages over rivals.
Around 30 women gathered in Great Cressingham village hall before being led out into the neutralised section of the first lap, then once the commissaire’s flag was lowered the race got off to a fast start and the riders were passing the HQ again in no time. However, being considerably longer than most women’s races in the UK at 80km (one extra lap compared to previous years, which were 72km), things soon settled down and a main group with various riders taken their turn on the front formed, followed by a smaller group of riders not feeling it.
Later, with the front riders beginning to turn things up a notch, the race split still further bringing several attempts to break away, either solo or in small groups; one notable attempt was made by Rebecca Johnson, competing in her first road race since breaking her elbow in a crash during April’s Tour of the Wolds – with the race heading into the final lap, the Aprire-HSS rider had a decent advantage and looked like she might just emerge the victor. She spent her time away wisely though, and remains too good a rider to be allowed to get away: the bunch made sure she was caught.
With the lead group now too far out in front to be caught, the commissaires took the decision to direct the rest of the field to return to HQ after the final lap so that only 18 riders went into the last section, continuing straight ahead as they reached the village for the final time rather than turning left for another circuit – a wise move, as there’d been a crash in the bunch sprint at the end of the women’s race last year, and in the men’s race the year before that. That last section is slightly uphill, but it was clear from the riders’ facial expressions that after 80km in felt much steeper; nevertheless, even halfway up it was still too close to call. Finally, with only twenty or so metres to the line, Emily Ashwood, Elena Spanou (both OnForm) and Liz Hughes (CC London) got the space they needed and literally hammered on their pedals. Ashwood proved strongest and took her first ever open road race victory (to add to the many she’s had in closed-circuit events), with Hughes close behind for second and Spanou leading the rest for third.
Following the race, NS caught up with Emily to hear her take on events. “I went into this race with the expectation of enjoying it, hoping to stay in the main pack and experience racing with my team mates Jessica Woodworth and Elena Spanou,” she told us. “But after not finishing and pulling out of two road races earlier in the season due to a prolonged illness, the thought of a 50 mile race was quite daunting and I was nervous.”
“After the first lap I was feeling good and I liked the course (not too hilly!), but I knew the pace would pick up – it did at the end of the sprint lap, and at that point I had to fight hard to stay in the pack. There were a few attempts at a break, but these were pulled back and I know my team mate Jessica did a lot of work at the front, so I’d like to thank her for this. Halfway round the final lap I managed to get myself in a position behind her as I could see Elena was the other side of the bunch. The finish was on a hill and on seeing the chequered flag I just gave it everything and, to my surprise, crossed in first place! Well done to Elena who finished third!”
“It’s really boosted my confidence and I’ve proven to myself that I can race over that distance. I’d also like to thank the organisers for the lovely trophy I get to keep for a year, and the marshals who did such a great job!”
More photos below the results
1 Emily Ashwood (Team OnForm; Cat. 2) 15pts
2 Liz Hughes (CC London; Cat. 2) 12pts
3 Elena Spanou (Team OnForm; Cat. 3) 10pts
4 Nicole Oh (Les Filles Queen of the Mountains; Cat. 2) 8pts
5 Susan Freeburn (Les Filles Queen of the Mountains; Cat. 2) 6pts
6 Gemma Melton (Pedal Power Cycles Ipswich; Cat. 2) 5pts
7 Emily Meakin (Mammoth Lifestyle RT; Cat. 2) 4pts
8 Sophie Wright (Renvale RT; Cat. 2) 3pts
9 Jennie Tillott (GBCycles.co.uk; Cat. 2) 2pts
10 Rebecca Johnson (Aprire-HSS; Cat. 2) 1pt