Criterium races – in which the riders complete many laps of a short, fast, usually urban circuit – are great. Everyone loves crits: fans love them and show up in huge numbers to watch because they’re one of the most thrilling types of races, which means that the riders love them too. Organisers love them for the same reason, and also because they’re much easier and cheaper to put together than a “traditional” road race, which means they’re the perfect way for a new women’s race that’s still finding its feet or an established race going through hard times following the all-too-common disappearance of a sponsor to get through a difficult year.
When done well by an organiser with a real passion for women’s cycling and determination to assist in its development, women’s crits are absolutely fantastic – see the fabulous Tickhill GP and Matrix GP Series (and if an organiser doesn’t really care, they look like half-arsed bodge-jobs thrown together simply because someone felt they had to; fortunately, the vast majority of race organisers now realise just how big women’s cycling is becoming and put a lot of effort into making things work). However, it’s fair to say that the British women’s cycling calendar, for the reasons stated above, is a little crit-heavy at the moment: they may be great, but there really are a hell of a lot of them. Luckily, halfway between a crit and road race is the kermesse – in days gone by, kermesse races were extremely popular in Belgium and the majority of villages held one as part of their annual fete (the word actually means “festival” as applied to a church fete: “kerk mis,” church mass); they’re no longer as popular as they once were, but since the kermesse offers the best of both worlds – a compact circuit with all the advantages of a crit, but longer to create a character more like that of of a road race – makes them an ideal format for women’s racing as it stands in Britain right now.
VC Norwich’s Women’s Race is a classic example of a kermesse with the riders completing several laps over 45 minutes of a 12.2km (7.6 miles) circuit that begins in Great Cressingham and leads out through the nearby countryside, then back to the village on fete day. That makes it an ideal race for spectators whose families don’t share their love of the sport – leave them in the village enjoying themselves while you go out along the circuit and enjoy what ought to be some very exciting racing.
Note: as a new event, this race desperately needs more entries. It’s open to E/1/2/3/4 Category riders, priced at just £15. Spread the word!
The race is part of the Women’s Eastern Road Race League; Neutral Service will have a report as soon as possible after the race.
The circuit, which be completed six times, offers a good balance of technical corners and fast straights. Although Norfolk is, famously, flat (the county top, the highest hill in the county, is just 103m above sea level), the landscape is rolling; there are numerous small climbs along the route and some top a 7% gradient. Also worthy of note is the descent beginning 6.5km from the start at Brick Kiln Farm Camping and Caravan Park and ending 1km later: it’s far from alpine and the bends aren’t especially technical, but on such a narrow road some care does need to be taken – especially near the recycling centre 0.2km past the caravan site where there’s a gravely patch on the left and vehicles may have left oily patches.
Many of the roads are very narrow, especially the final section leading to the finish line. Riders wishing to hold their position in groups may need to fight for them, and any rider who loses her place due to a crash or mechanical may find it difficult to get back.
One recurring issue on this circuit is a result of the local geology, which leads roads to sink so that they may be much lower than the surrounding landscape. Many of the houses alongside the roads have gravel driveways; run-off after rain and over time can lead to patches of gravel collecting on the roads, presenting a hazard to cyclists. In addition, Norfolk soil can contain a large amount of sharp flint fragments; in those places where mud collects on the roads – such as, for example, on narrow sections where vehicles drive onto the verges to pass one another and around field entrances – these increase the risk of punctures.
A prime will be contested on Lap 3, with a bonus £15 to the fastest rider.
As a new event on the calendar, much of the race’s budget has been ploughed into organisation and prizes are as a result rather modest; however, organisers have tried to make the prizes in the women’s race match those for the men. If the event is successful, more sponsors will become interested and future prizes will increase as a result.
1st Women’s Road Race Trophy & £40
Best placed 3rd Cat finishing in top 15 £10
Best placed 4th Cat finishing in top 15 £10
Best placed Junior finishing in top 15 £10
Best placed Veteran finishing in top 15 £10
Prime on Lap 3 1st £15
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