There very easily might not have been a women’s National Masters Championships this year, because with only a couple of months left nobody had come forward to organise it. When Nick Clarke of the Lovelo-Cinelli club heard about that, he decided something needed to be done – but with so little time, and having organised only one race before (the Lovelo-Cinelli RR, back in April), could the club possibly pull it off?
At the HQ in the little Buckinghamshire village of Quainton, thanks to the hard work of the club and its backers, including Tero Cycling, along with help from some good people from British Cycling (and a lot of us do tend to forget sometimes that there really are some good people with a real desire to see women’s cycling grow and develop working away behind the scenes at BC), you’d never have knownthis was an event put together in a hurry. The riders knew how much effort had gone into it, though, and the race had a full field of sixty riders; they were in a good mood as they gathered behind the lead car to head out into the neutral zone.
This was a National Championship, so Lovelo-Cinelli had picked out a worthy parcours: four laps of the hilly 24.1km Winslow Course which, with its short but steep climbs quickly proved selective with a small number of riders dropping off the back even in the neutral zone, then the peloton stretched out and began to break up into groups as soon as the racing got under way. The first successful attack came early with Michelle Lee (Team Milton Keynes, and current Masters Crit Champion for her age group) gaining a significant lead within the first lap and looking a likely winner when she climbed the hill into Pitchcott right after beginning her second lap. Faith Fisher (3C Cycle Experience) caught her but with Lee cranking out the watts soon began to feel the burn, wisely deciding to wait and see what happened in the remaining 80km and conserve energy ready to deal with it.
With Lee still a good two-and-a-half minutes out in front, the main group behind her began working harder in an effort to prevent her having it all her own way: with riders such as National Hill-Climb champ Maryka Sennema driving the pace up the climbs and five-time National XC champ Jenny Copnall-John using her MTB bike-handling skills to do the same on the descents (and regular pot-holed, gravelly sections), the main bunch split up again with several fast riders failing to respond quickly enough to make it into the group now bringing the hammer down as theywent after the Milton Keynes rider.
As Lee began her fourth and final lap, the general consensus among the fans and photographers gathered at the finish line was that she’d as good as won – looking as strong as ever despite having led almost since the start, it seemed almost impossible that anything other than a mechanical or a crash could ruin her chances. However, Chanel Mason wasn’t done yet: in what was among the most impressive attacks NS has seen this season, the Army Cycling rider dug deep and began to edge away from the chasing group. She was no doubt hoping for some help, but by now nobody was able to offer it so she simply dug even deeper, caught Lee and then rode with her for a short time – then left her behind, and won overall with a sufficient gap to take her hands off the bars and raise her arms in the air in celebration on the final climb to the finish.
Lee took second, and was if anything even more celebratory than Mason after such a heroic ride; Jen George (Drops) was third, also a remarkable result considering how hard she’d worked to get back into contention after dropping back to assist team mate Laura Cameron following a mechanic early on – she had, however, won in the 30-34 age grouping, with Bex Rimmington (WNT; 4th overall) second and Cameron third (6th overall). Mason’s overall victory also gave her the win in the 35-39 grouping, Gemma Sargent (Aprire-HSS; 5th overall) was second and Lydia Brookes (Sigma Sport; 14th overall) was third. In the 40-44 grouping, Lee was fastest with Sennema second (8th overall) and Susan Freeburn (PMR@Toachim House; 18th overall) third, while Jayne Dickens (Vision; 7th overall), Victoria Collins (London Dynamo; 10th overall) and Lyndsay Atkinson-Wright (Albarosa; 12th overall) were 1-2-3 in the 45-49. Superstrong track star Jayne Paine (Willesden CC; 17th overall) won the 50-54 followed by Tracey Fletcher (EmpellaCycloCross.com; 31st overall) and Alison Gravatt (Twickenham CC; 35th overall), and Linda Endicott (Kent Velo Girls; 51st overall) took the 55+ class.