The 35th edition of the Otley Town Centre Cycle Races takes place on Wednesday 30 June. It represents another important milestone for the return to road racing in the UK and contains a stacked field for both the men’s and women’s elite races. Here’s our preview…
Featured photo: James York
What is it?
The Otley Town Centre Races is one of the most prestigious criteriums in the UK. The course runs through the heart of the picturesque Yorkshire market town of Otley, birthplace of Lizzie Deignan. The event includes a balance bike race, youth races and a men’s race for lower category riders, culminating in the two elite races: the Spatz Women’s Otley Grand Prix and the Property Development Men’s Otley Grand Prix.
The event has a rich history. The elite men’s race has been running since 1985 and previous winners include Jonny Clay, Chris Walker, Russell Downing, Steve Cummings, Mark Cavendish, Graham Briggs, local rider Scott Thwaites, Adam Blythe, Dan McLay, Chris Lawless and Matt Walls. Matt Bostock (Canyon dhb SunGod) won the last edition, in 2019, and is back this year to defend his title. The elite women’s race began in 2013 and winners include Elinor Barker, hometown girl Lizzie Deignan and 2019 champion Jess Roberts.
The elite races form Round 1 of the shortened 2021 National Circuit Series.
The circuit runs anticlockwise and is just over two kilometres long. After rolling out from the flat finishing straight, riders take a left and then swing right up the circuit’s main climb, Burras Lane. It’s up here that much of the attacking action should happen. The first part is the steepest, but riders will benefit from the momentum they carry into it from the previous section. The road then dips a little before climbing again on a wide well surfaced road to the highest point before the riders take two ninety-degree left turns onto Birdcage Walk.
This road is fairly straight and flat. At the end, riders turn left again, plunging back downhill towards the town centre. At the bottom of the hill is a left-hander into the finishing straight; 2015 Grand Prix winner Dan McLay once described this as ‘the best last corner in cycling’. Getting this final bend right is crucial if you want to win this race. Once negotiated, the riders then have a dead straight 190 metres to the finish line.
The men’s race will cover approximately 50 km in 23 laps. The women’s race will cover around 30 km in 15 laps.
Riders to watch
The startlists for the men’s and women’s races are stacked with talent. It will be the first time since 2019 that all of the top of men’s domestic teams have gone head to head, and only the second time for the women’s teams.
The Women’s CiCLE Classic provided a good indication of current form in the women’s peloton, but a 105 km road race with gravel sectors is a very different affair to a flat-out crit over 30 km.
Team Breeze will once again be amongst the favourites, although perhaps this will be one more for Eluned King or Ella Barnwell than Women’s CiCLE Classic winner Abi Smith (famous last words). Both riders have shown themselves to be fast in a sprint finish this year. King was third in the CiCLE race and hasn’t been outside the top ten in a race all year. Barnwell won the Halesowen road race and was second in the Geared Up Cycles day at the races.
Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur is another strong squad, with April Tacey (fourth at the CiCLE Classic) perhaps the pick of their riders on this course. Beth Morrow (Storey Racing) has looked very strong in circuit races so far this season, winning the Jose Gilbert Memorial Trophy, and finishing third at the Cams Basso race.
Who else to watch? Well, speaking of CAMS-Basso, Megan Barker has already won a crit against a strong field this year, winning the Geared Up Cycles day at the races. CAMS-Basso also field current national circuit race champion Rebecca Durrell, who returns to racing after the birth of her first son earlier this year. Our journal contributor Charliiy Berry (Pro-Noctis – Redchilli Bikes – Heidi Kjeldsen) excels in this type of race and has impressed this season too (4th at the Banbury Star, 3rd at the CAMS Basso race and a win at the Team LDN – Brother UK Crit Series 2). Team Boompods’ Ellen McDermott is clearly in form after her second place at the Women’s CiCLE Classic and is a former Irish crit champion. And the in-form junior pair of Zoe Bäckstedt (Tormans-ACROG) and Flora Perkins (VC Londres) are more than capable of a good result too.
But who will win? Predictions are a fool’s game. So let’s be foolish and stick our neck out: Eluned King.
The top men’s domestic teams go up against each other in an elite race for the first time since 2019 and this should be a tasty encounter.
The two strongest teams are likely to be UCI Continental teams Canyon dhb SunGod and Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling. The former boast defending champion Matt Bostock. Bostock won five of the six National Circuit Series races in 2019 and has three top 10s in UCI races this season already. He’s supported by an incredibly strong team and must be considered one of the pre-race favourites.
The same can be said of Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling’s Matt Gibson. He was national circuit race champion in 2018 and has been enjoying something of a renaissance this season. He’ll take confidence from his recent 7th place on stage 5 at the Tour of Slovenia. He’s backed by a team of other fast men and crit specialists and it will be fascinating to see how they fare against Canyon dhb.
There is strength in the field well beyond these two teams though. Elite team Crimson Orientation Marketing RT have a line-up capable of upsetting the UCI opposition, not least current national circuit champion Joey Walker and Toby Barnes, winner of the Loughborough Cycling Festival elite criterium. Team Inspired has some of the country’s best under-23 riders and in Rhys Britton and Sam Watson (winner of the Crimson Performance road race at the weekend), they have at least two contenders.
TRINITY Racing include Ben Turner, who has looked incredibly strong in sprint finishes so far this season. Ollie Rees is another fast man who might be given a chance to ride for himself after some sterling work for teammates Gloag and Healy at the recent Baby Giro.
Who else? Chris Latham (SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling) could come close if he can rediscover his form of old, Isaac Mundy (Richardsons-Trek) was painfully close to winning the 2019 national circuit championship (unclipping at the last in a two-up sprint against Walker) so has form in this type of race, Theo Obholzer (Dolan-Ellesse) demonstrated at the Return to Racing for Big Dogs that he can outsprint some of the best, Matt King (Team PB Performance) won the Geared Up Cycles day at the races beating top opposition, Harry Tanfield (Team Qhubeka NextHash) is a fascinating WorldTour wildcard, and Alec Briggs (Tekkerz CC) shouldn’t be discounted.
Our finger-in-the-air pick for the win? Matt (Bostock or Gibson).
Women’s race here.
Men’s race here.
The first of the races, the balance bike race, begins at 17.30.
18.00 MAS Design Super Prestige Youth Race for boys
18.01 Milner Richards/B&TS Builders Merchants Super Prestige Bike Race for girls
18.40 Chevin Cycles Classic Race
19.30 Spatz Women’s Otley Grand Prix
20.30 Property Development Men’s Otley Grand Prix
At the time of writing, the forecast indicates it will cloudy but dry, with temperatures in the mid to high teens.
How to follow
After a successful crowdfunding effort, the race will be streamed live here from 18.00.
There will be race updates from the British Cycling Twitter account.