Previews Races

2021 Women’s CiCLE Classic: race preview

Detailed preview of round 1 of the women's National Road Series

OK bike racing fans. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be enormously excited by the Tour de France. And yes, Sunday’s stage 2 finish on the Mur de Bretagne looks like a corker. But, while Alaphillipe & co. jostle for stage glory and the yellow jersey, a truly momentous UK road racing landmark will be being unfurling on the roads and farm tracks of Rutland and East Leicestershire. So please do take time to celebrate the return of elite road racing on home soil after a painful absence of 666 days.

Yes, it’s finally here! Round 1 of the 2021 women’s National Road Series – the Women’s CiCLE Classic – takes place this Sunday 27 June. Here’s a preview of the race, including race insight from organiser Colin Clews and 2019 winner Emily Nelson.

What is it?

This is the fifth edition of the Women’s CiCLE Classic. It’s a young race, but it has quickly established itself as an important race on the women’s road race calendar in the UK. Like the men’s version, it’s famed for its off-road sectors and Belgian roadside atmosphere. To the local community and visiting fans, it’s much more than a race too. This year, more than ever, it will be an opportunity to come together in celebration for the first time in a long while.

The previous winners of the race are Emily Nelson (2019), Neah Evans (2018), Katie Archibald (2017), Rebecca Durrell (2016). Last year’s race was of course cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The race runs in the afternoon with the Junior CiCLE Classic – which this year forms round 2 of the men’s Junior Road Series – running in the morning on the same course.

2019 Women’s CiCLE Classic – Leicestershire, England – Emily Nelson of Team RST/Cycle Division Team wins the Women’s CiCLE Classic 2019. Photo: James York/SWpix.com

The route

The race starts and finishes in Melton Mowbray, famous for its pork pies (more on that later). 104.9km long, and in three ‘parts’, it’s a very circuitous course that will take in the off-road sectors of Sawgate Lane, Somerberg, Manor Farm, and Newbold Manor, and the three categorised climbs of the day: Burrough Berg, Cold Overton Berg, and Cuckooberg.

In the first part of the race (in green on the map above), the race rolls out from Melton Mowbray on some fairly wider roads. Once the riders reach Owston, they will ride the Owston-Burrough circuit in the opposite direction to normal. This completely changes the complexion of the lap, Colin Clews tells us, as there are some sharp inclines to tackle immediately after tight corners which riders will need to take at almost a dead stop: “it could be fireworks”, he told us on the podcast.

Sector #SectorLengthRating
7 & 3Newbold Manor1100m**
6, 4 (ridden in reverse & 2a Manor Farm700m****
5 & 2 (ridden in reverse)Somerberg2200m*****
1Sawgate Hill500m****
The four sectors

Riders then head into the second part (blue) where they will take on the most challenging of the sectors, the Somerberg, for the first time. The final part of the race (red) takes in more sectors before sending the riders back to Melton Mowbray. The first rider across the finish line with 15 km to go wins the famous giant pork pie (so big that Emily Nelson told us that she and her family had to eat some just to be able to fit it in the fridge). Riders then do a full lap of the finishing circuit before heading back to Melton Mowbray to decide the race winner.

For spectators, the loops and laps around the village of Owston is the place to catch the action, and as always the atmosphere promises to be fun-filled. It is a race of lefts and rights, of ups and downs, and staying alert is paramount. 

Colin Sturgess (current DS at Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling) told us before last year’s race, “There will be hard fought racing into the sectors, and the smart riders will race harder still off the sectors to consolidate any advantage and cause more splits. Luck does play a part, but I’d argue skill and positioning (as well as a decent bit of good old “grunt”) is more crucial.”

He also advised that, “The weather can and does play a big factor over these lanes and roads, as does a well-organised team and helpers. Knowing where to have staff and helpers with wheels is paramount to success if the worst happens. Too often teams rely on the car (or neutral service) when a bit of forethought and planning could have a rider serviced at the road side and back on in seconds without the car having to make its way up and waste valuable seconds. Riders too are at times their own worst enemy when they simply stop. Don’t! Ride it flat until you get to the helper, or the car comes up! All this said and done, don’t for a second forget that there is an awful lot of hard racing to be done between sectors, and those three QoMs will cause splits and whittle the field down in numbers.”

Riders to watch

View the startlist here.

A race of this nature is always unpredictable at the best of times, and with little racing over the last two years, it’s difficult to judge the form books. So let’s hedge our bets a little…

Drops-Le Col p/b Tempur and Team Breeze (à la the GB Senior Academy) look set to have the strongest line-ups, on paper at least. Between them, these two teams boast four of our U23 riders to watch. Drops-Le Col’s Lizzy Bennett is a classics specialist and finished third in this race in 2019. Her teammate April Tacey, meanwhile, is a local rider with a fast finish who we have high hopes for this season.

Team Breeze have a number of potential winners. Our journal contributor Abi Smith was already picking up top 10s in National Road Series races as a junior. El King was 6th in this race in 2019 when she too was just a junior and has started this season strongly. Winner of the Halesowen Women’s Road Race Ella Barnwell is another Team Breeze rider to watch.

2019 Women’s CiCLE Classic – Leicestershire, England – Abi Smith, RFDA. Photo: James York/SWpix.com

As 2019 winner Emily Nelson told us in our podcast interview with her, riders with a cyclocross background can use their bike handling skills to their advantage on the off-road sectors. In this respects, keep an eye on riders like Anna Kay (StarCasino Team), Amira Mellor (Team Spectra p/b Wiggle), Abbie Manley (Montezumas Race Team) and junior Millie Couzens (PH-MAS – Paul Milnes Cycles).

Speaking of juniors, Zoe Bäckstedt (ACROG-Tormans) is a top cyclocross rider and has been in fine form on the road this season already, winning the Junior Tour of Yorkshire and finishing third in Halesowen. Similarly, Flora Perkins (VC Londres) has impressed in junior and elite races in 2021 (third in Yorkshire, 1st at Banbury). Her teammate, Ellen Bennett, has looked good too.

To stick a few more names in the mix, Jessica Finney (CAMS-Basso) has looked strong this season and has performed well in the CiCLE races in the past. Other riders that have caught our eye so far this season include Jazz Jones (Bianchi Dama), Lucy Lee (Team LDN – Brother UK), Frankie Hall (Loughborough Lightning -TRG), Isabell Darvill (Team Boompods) and Beth Morrow (Storey Racing).

More than anything, given the recent dearth of elite road racing for most of these riders, this race is their first opportunity for a long time to make a real mark. In reality, there are probably 30 or so riders capable of winning this race, and the competition will be fiercer than ever. We can’t wait to see who wins.

2021 Junior Tour of Yorkshire – Girls TT, Harrogate, England – Zoe Backstedt of Tormans-ACROG during the TT. Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com

Timings

14.00 – 17.15 approx

Weather

At the time of writing, the forecast says it should be cloudy but dry, with around a 10% chance of rain throughout the day. Temperatures will get to 20 degrees and the breeze will be gentle, so wind shouldn’t interfere with the race.

How to follow

TV

There will be no TV highlights of the race this year after British Cycling decided to shelve TV coverage of the National Road Series at the beginning of 2020. At the time, they had said instead that they would commission Cyclevox to provide news packages on the day of the event as well another edit within days that will focus on the teams competing in the series. However, we understand that that idea has been dropped too, so there will be no official TV highlights in any form of this race alas.

Social media

In 2020 British Cycling had said that Cyclevox would continue to provide the in-race social media coverage as they did in 2019. This won’t happen in 2021, however.

Instead, British Cycling will be providing race updates through its Twitter account. #NatRoadSeries is the hashtag to follow/use. And we also expect the Women’s CiCLE Classic Twitter account to be active throughout the day too.

Where to watch

As organiser Colin Clews explains in our podcast interview with him, the village of Owston will be the main focal point of activity for fans and the local community. But there are many other spots to watch too. He recommends:

  1. The start in Melton town centre with the start of the Junior Men at 09.30 and the Elite Women at 14.00.  
  2. In Somerby for the first passage of the race there.
  3. Owston or Burrough on the Hill for the races 5-6 passages through those villages. At Owston enjoy the party atmosphere of the day, or enjoy a more relaxed view of the race from The ‘Stag & Hounds’ Public House at Burrough over Sunday lunch and or a welcome drink.
  4. The top of Cold Overton hill for the second Queen/King of the Hills climb. 
  5. Or onto ‘Somerberg’ (Bruce’s Lane) for the ultimate CiCLE Classic experience.   
  6. The entry or exit of the penultimate rough sector of the race at Sawgate Lane just on the edge of Melton.
  7. In Melton town centre for the first passage and then spectacular finish of the junior men’s race, and the first passage of the town by the riders in the women’s race who will contest a sprint for the ‘Pork Pie’ sprint award donated by Dickenson & Morris and Brentigby Gin before commencing their finishing circuit via Burton Lazers and Stapleford.
  8. At the finish in Sherrard  Street around 12.00 noon for the Junior Men, and 16.30 for the Women.