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Sebastian Ottley interview: Goodwood revival

An interview with the organiser of the RCR FatCreations Road Race, which recreates the course of the 1982 Goodwood world championships

In September 1982, Great Britain’s Mandy Jones (now Mandy Bishop) and Italy’s Giuseppe Saronni won the world road race championships on a rural, leafy circuit around Goodwood in Sussex. It was just the third time that the worlds had been held in the UK. The third time too that a British woman had become world road race champion. Yet this little corner of West Sussex, nestled between Chichester and the South Downs, is rarely celebrated by the cycling world these days despite its importance in British road racing history.

Mandy Jones (centre) after winning the 1982 world championships. Photo: Graham Watson

One man that hopes to change that is Sebastian Ottley. Forty years after the worlds came to Goodwood, Ottley’s club, Racing Club Ravenna, is hosting a road race on the same circuit used by Jones, Saronni and co. It’s a revival that has been a long time in the making…

I have always thought it was a shame there wasn’t more publicity around the fact the world road race championships finished in Goodwood

Ottley moved to Chichester back in 1999 and has regularly trained around the Goodwood area. He knew of the area’s historical significance and quickly began dreaming of recreating a race using the same course once ridden on by some of cycling’s greats.

“I have always thought it was a shame there wasn’t more publicity around the fact the world road race championships finished in Goodwood”, Ottley tells us. “I’ve spoken to many other local riders about how great it would be to get a road race back there.”

For a long while, Ottley’s aspirations were on hold; organising a race that required road closures to facilitate numerous right-hand turns seemed logistically insurmountable.

“It was never possible due to the number of right-hand turns there are. Racing the opposite way just wouldn’t feel the same as you wouldn’t have that tough iconic climb to finish on.”

Ottley (right) riding on the RCR Fatcreations Road Race course. Photo: Tom Austin

Then, a few years back, when British Cycling introduced the accredited marshall scheme (AMS), the prospect of closing junctions suddenly seemed more achievable.

I started working on the course in early 2018 with the help of Phil Webber from British Cycling. Without his help this wouldn’t have been possible

“That’s when I thought this might finally be possible,” Ottley says. “I started working on the course in early 2018 with the help of Phil Webber from British Cycling. Without his help this wouldn’t have been possible; I can’t speak highly enough of Phil.”

The original plan was to hold the race in 2020, but Covid put the race on ice. “The risk assessment got passed in late 2019 and we planned on the first event for mid-2020 but Covid had other ideas”, Ottley says. But it is perhaps serendipity that the race’s first edition will now coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Goodwood worlds.

Like the course itself, Ottley himself has notable cycling lineage. He tells us that his grandfather – Phillip Ottley – was national champion on the track and only missed out on a spot in the 1948 London Olympics due to a crash. Even after his grandfather had hung up his racing wheels, he continued his cycling exploits; his grandparents rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats on a tandem in the 1970s. His Auntie, Joanne Ottley, was also a national champion.

A racer himself, Ottley helped to set up Racing Club Ravenna – better known as RCR – a few years ago and decided to use it as a vehicle through which to organise races, motivated by the idea of giving something back to the cycling community.

I thought after over 20 years of taking from the sport it was my time to put something back into it

“I thought after over 20 years of taking from the sport it was my time to put something back into it. Since then, I’ve run mini-series of circuit races sponsored by Alistair McLean at FatCreations. The first year was a bit of a shock – how much actually goes into running an event. The second year almost ran it’s self. The third year was a different type of challenge due to Covid but turned out to be extremely successful and we hit a record high of entries.”

Despite his growing experience, organising a road race will be new territory for Ottley. “This year is completely different,” he explains. “It’s the first road race I’ve done. Things like lead cars, neutral service and feed zones are all things you take for granted as a racer but I haven’t had to think about them before. And you need so many extra marshals too.”

The race itself takes place this Saturday (2 April) and is called the RCR Fatcreations Road Race and features a 127-kilometre National B road race for the men in the morning, followed by a 70-kilometre Regional A race for women in the afternoon.

The circuit differs slightly from the course used for the world championships. In that event, the circuit took in a lap of the Goodwood motor circuit, whereas this course sticks to the roads. Ottley was keen to retain the main climb to the finish line, however, which is what he has done.

“The world’s circuit was just under 10 miles. My main aim was to make sure the new course took on the main climb on the world’s course. The course we ended up with is 10.7 miles long, with the same climb and it actually has more climbing, which I’m sure the locals will love.

It was super important to me to make sure a women’s event was put on too

“As the women’s event was won by GB rider Mandy Jones back in 1982, it was super important to me to make sure a women’s race was put on too. I was in talks with her about whether she could attend the event but a prior arrangement meant she couldn’t which was a real shame. As with all my events, we make sure we offer equal prizes to both men and women.”

The women’s race takes on four laps, and the men’s race has seven laps and Ottley is expecting “some good aggressive racing.”

Ottley on the RCR Fatcreations Road Race course. Photo: Tom Austin

The men’s race has attracted a strong line-up. UCI Continental teams Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling and Saint Piran both field four riders each, and Elite Development Teams such as Richardsons-Trek DAS, Spirit BSS and Embark-Bikestrong are also well-represented. The women’s race will feature a 60-strong field, including Emily Proud (Grinta Coaching), who was second last weekend at the Dave Peck Memorial, as well as riders from teams such as Pro Noctis-Rotor-Redchilli Bikes p/b Heidi Kjeldsen, Bianchi HUNT Morvélo and Brother UK-Orientation Marketing.

Long term I would love to turn this in a ‘spring classic’, a race that’s on everyone’s target list early season like the Perfs Pedal, Wally Gimber or the Eddie Soens

Looking ahead, Ottley would like the race to establish itself as a key race in the domestic road racing calendar.

“Long term I would love to turn this in a ‘spring classic’, a race that’s on everyone’s target list early season like the Perfs Pedal, Wally Gimber or the Eddie Soens. Obviously this is only the first year, so I’ll have to see how this one goes first.”

And what advice can he give to other budding road race organisers?

“If anyone out there is looking at organising events my advice would be to start small and work your way up. If I had started in the deep end with the road race it probably would have put me off as there’s a lot to take on, but once you’ve got a few circuit races under your belt it does make the road races a bit more straight forward as you have the basics,” he says.

“You’ll also need thick skin as you can’t please everyone no matter how much you try! But at the end, once the event is over and you see what you’ve put back into the sport, it’s totally worth it.”

Featured photo: Tom Austin