Harriet Owen wins WERL VC Norwich women’s road race

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Matrix-Vulpine’s Harriet Owen, winner of the first VC Norwich Women’s Race (image: Neutral Service CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Henri Desgrange, father of the Tour de France, famously hated team tactics and did everything he could to try to make sure his race would be won by riders who embodied the Corinthian heroic ideal, enduring the ordeal alone and earning victory through solo effort. The riders, however, preferred to work together: by doing so, they reduce suffering, which is why out on the road riders from opposing teams will work together – which for new fans is one of the most confusing of the many aspects that make cycling a unique sport. When he realised he couldn’t stop riders assisting one another he introduced a new rule stating that assistance was permitted but strictly only between members of the same team and anyone caught flouting the rule, either by giving help or receiving it, would be punished; as was the case in 1914 when one of the poorer poinçonnées (poinçonnées, later known as touristes routier, were independent riders who in some cases enjoyed a little support from their local bike shop or some other unofficial sponsor and in others were entirely responsible for their own costs; some were so poor they had to sleep in hedges and survive by catching rabbits) eagerly pounced upon and devoured a half-eaten sandwich thrown away by a sponsored rider – the sponsored rider was deemed to have assisted a rider who was not a member of his team and was given a time penalty; judges took pity on the poinçonnée and he was not punished.

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Rebecca Carter (WyndyMilla-Reynolds) leads Katherine Kimber (Essex Roads CC) and Aimee Wright (High Wycombe CC) around the 6th corner. Just behind Kimber is race winner Harriet Owen (Matrix-Vulpine). (image: Bob Carter, used with permission of Mark Smart)

Desgrange probably would have rather enjoyed the VC Norwich Women’s Race were he still alive today (and had left his chauvinistic views on women in sport, typical of his time, in the past): although the start list looked positively healthy for a new race with 24 names, Matrix-Vulpine, Starley-Primal, Bonita Squadra Corse, Jadan, Fusion RT, High Wycombe CC, Edinburgh RC, Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa, WyndyMilla-Reynolds, Fenland Clarion, Essex Roads CC and Welwyn Wheelers were all able to send only one rider each, London Phoenix and VC Norwich had two each, GBCycles.co.uk sent three and Jessica Stoddart raced as an unsupported rider, making the race as close as possible to one “untarnished” by team tactics that old Henri so wanted to see. The result, it turned out, wasn’t enormously different to any other race, with plenty of action to keep the locals and fans who’d made the trip to Great Cressingham interested.

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National 50-mile TT Champ Hayley Simmonds (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa) led for much of the race (image: Bob Carter, used with the permission of Mark Smart)

Haot very surprisingly, National 50-mile Individual Time Trial Champion Hayley Simmonds (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa) showed that she was a contender for victory early on, using the ability to turn out a high wattage for a long time that allows her to excel against the clock to stay at the front of the bunch for much of the race. With the lack of team support making it harder for her rivals to respond had she have launched an attack, it seemed that would be what she’d do; however, just as old Henri would have known they would, the rest of the riders worked together to ensure the peloton kept traveling too fast for her or anyone else to get away.

Matrix-Vulpine’s Harriet Owen may only be 20 years old but she’s got a great deal of race experience and knows her sport inside-out, so she played a clever game using tactics tailored to suit the terrain: as the peloton accelerated on the fast descent leading towards the finish, she positioned herself at the front and then, at the bottom of the hill, attacked hard knowing that a strong solo effort would clinch it while the narrow lane would hinder her rival’s attempts to catch her. Tanya Griffiths (Starley-Primal) was not far behind her and led the peloton over the line for second place, followed by Elanor Cadzow (Bonito Squadra Corse) for third. Short video of the finish below.

More photos on the VC Norwich website

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Starley-Primal’s Tanya Griffiths, a founder of the Women’s Eastern Racing League of which this race is part (image: Bob Carter, used with the permission of Mark Smart)

VC Norwich Women’s Race
1 Harriet Owen (Matrix-Vulpine) 30
2 Tanya Griffiths (Starley-Primal) 25
3 Elanor Cadzow (Bonito Squadra Corse) 21
4 Mhairi Mackenzie (London Phoenix CC) 17
5 Tamala McGee (London Phoenix CC) 14
6 Sandra Mackay (GBCycles.co.uk) 12
7 Elizabeth Malins (Fusion RT Gearclub Bike Science) 10
8 Iona Sewell (GBCycles.co.uk) 8
9 Annabel Sill (Team Jadan) 7
10 Aimee Wright (High Wycombe CC) 6
11 Hayley Simmonds (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa) 5
12 Louise Marsden (VC Norwich) 4
13 Evgenia Ilyinskaya (Edinburgh RC) 3
14 Jessica Stoddart 2
15 Rebecca Carter (WyndyMilla-Reynolds) 1