Sunday the 4th of June will see the second edition of the CiCLE Women’s Race. A welcome addition to the 2016 women’s calendar, the race is based on the highly successful UCI 1.2 men’s race and includes all the challenges of the off-road sectors but excludes the two loops of Rutland Water for a total race distance 95km.
Its elevation to an HSBC UK Women’s National Road Series race, as well as the positive feedback from many of those who took part in last year’s race, has seen an increased entry of one hundred and fifteen riders: double the starters last year and even with no-shows a three figure start list can be hoped for. While it would be disrespectful to say that the larger field is of a higher class than last years, it certainly has more depth.
With the puncture and mechanical risks of the off-road sectors combined with a tight and enforced broomwagon policy of between five (31km) and ten (70km) minutes, a highly attritional race can be expected. Last year only twelve riders completed the course, but with the increased size and depth of the field we can hope for thirty to forty riders to make the distance.
Starting in the Market Square in Melton, the riders head out on to the course for what appears to be a relatively straightforward road race. At 15km Owston village, the hub of the race, makes its first appearance with the 1km Newbold sector before heading out to Borrough-on-the-Hill for the first Queen of the Hills showdown. After looping round back toward Owston, the race takes in the Manorberg sector, starting with Manor Farm yard then on to the track through the tunnel of trees to the loose gravel that makes up the ever tightening ‘Duvel Corner’, where being on the inside can be advantageous and avoids being pushed out towards the barriers.
After re-joining the road the riders will head out of Owston for the second Queen of the Hills challenge at Cold Overton and then onto the iconic Somerberg climb and decent with its 2km mix of grass/earth track and gravel. Heading back into Owston the Manorberg sector is tackled in the reverse direction exiting through the farm yard back on to the gravel and out of the village to the Borrough On The Hill loop for a second time.
The final pass of Owston village takes in the 1.2km Newbold Manor sector before the riders head to the reverse passage of the Somerberg at two thirds race distance, then get their final chance to take Queen of the Hills points on Cuckoo Hill. From this point the run in to Melton commences, heading through Stapleford for the first time, then to Melton with its tight and narrow turns, passing the finish line for the penultimate time and up onto Burton Lazars and the final short Sawgate sector, before completing the Stapleford loop and the run back in to Melton for the finish on Sherrards Street.
Spectators for the race have a choice of viewing options: stay in Melton and watch the start and finish or head to Owston for a number of the off-road sectors with the prime viewing location at the junction of Main Street and Cox’s Lane. If you have a bike handy after the riders head out on the loop around Borrough On The Hill for the second time you can to head up to the Somerberg for the second passage. Car parking is normally available at the edge of the village, but I would not recommend the field for cars with a low-slung suspension.
Predicting the winner of a road race can be tricky as the best of times, but in a race of this nature with its off-road sectors and prevalence of punctures and mechanicals, luck – or rather the avoidance of bad luck – will play a part. Those with a strong team around them both in and out of the saddle will be at a distinct advantage.
Storey Racing will be working to protect the Series lead of Chanel Mason, who is adept in almost any race scenario and can count on the support of EJ Harris, who is the Tour Series sprint jersey winner and a potential winner in her own right.
Team Ford Ecoboost principal Nikki Juniper has recently made a winning return after her crash at the Tour of the Wolds, and with riders such as Charmaine Porter, Kelly Murphy and the increasingly powerful riding of Jenny Rutter, has a team around her with both strength and depth. Given her criterium pedigree and a technical town centre finish, Juniper must be near the top of any list of potential winners. The same can also be said for Eileen Roe from Team WNT and with Lydia Boylan and Emily Kay in the team, the town centre finish will also suit her.
Last year’s winner Rebecca Durrell, and Rebecca Womersly who unluckily punctured on the reverse pass of the Manorberg sector and made a valiant effort to chase back to the leaders, return in a strong Drops Cycling Team entry.
Essex Giro winner Grace Garner will also be a serious contender, but as the lone representative for Wiggle High5 she will lack the team support available to the likes of Mason and Juniper. The same can also be said for Annasley Park another solo rider who should be in the mix at the end of the day.
Cycle Team OnForm, the leading team in the Series, also have a strong team with local rider Sian Botteley, 3 Days of Bedford winner Amy Hill and 2016 CiCLE Women’s Queen of the Hills winner Julie Erskine.
The final mentions in this preview must go to event organiser Colin Clews and event sponsor Peter Stanton who have created this race and taken it to National Series status in only its second year. This event has the potential to grow year on year and become one of the biggest races on the women’s domestic race calendar. It is already one of the most challenging.
(Text and photos © Simon F. Blackwell)