Just over a month after a thrilling Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix, the women’s National Road Series returns this weekend with the women’s edition of the CiCLE Classic. Taking place on roads and farm tracks across the undulating landscape of Rutland and East Leicestershire, the course has all the ingredients for an enthralling afternoon of action.
What is it?
This is the sixth edition of the women’s CiCLE Classic. It’s a young race, but it has quickly established itself as an important event 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, a cherished part of the British road racing scene. This season it forms round 2 of the women’s National Road Series.
The race’s future was in doubt earlier this year after losing its longstanding main sponsor, Pete Stanton, in protest at British Cycling’s suspension of its transgender policy. Happening just ten weeks out from the race itself, the event’s future looked bleak. A massive crowdfunding campaign ensued, backed heavily by women’s rights groups, which ensured the continuation of the race this year. It placed the race somewhat at the heart of the thorny debate about transgender and non-binary inclusion in cycle sport. We have our own views here at The British Continental, which we’ll save for another day. But it’s nonetheless a relief to see the race continue given the paucity of quality one-day races on the women’s road racing calendar.
Promisingly, race director Colin Clews has also secured a three-year sponsorship deal from 2023 which, together with support from Dame Laura Kenny, means the future of the race is now safeguarded until at least 2025.
Abi Smith, now a pro with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB won last year’s edition after a stunning 40-kilometre solo break. The race’s other previous winners are Emily Nelson, Neah Evans, Katie Archibald and Becky Durrell.
The women’s race runs in the afternoon with the men’s Junior CiCLE Classic – which this year forms round 2 of the men’s Junior Road Series – running in the morning on the same course.
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 circuitous course that will take in the off-road sectors of Sawgate Lane, Somerberg, Manor Farm, and Newbold Manor, as well as 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 wide roads. Once the riders reach Owston, as in 2021, they will ride the Owston-Burrough circuit in the opposite direction to the way the course was run in previous years. This completely changes the complexion of the lap, Colin Clews told us last year, 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.
|6, 2a and 4 (ridden in reverse)||Manor Farm||700m||****|
|5 & 2 (ridden in reverse)||Somerberg||2200m||*****|
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 – which includes the final ‘sector’ of Sawgate Lane – 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.
Riders to watch
View the startlist here.
This is one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar, with mechanicals and the treacherous terrain making it hard to judge, but let’s run you through some of the names to watch.
The race features a strong line-up of over 100 riders. Series leader Becky Storrie (CAMS-Basso) will be on the start line, fresh from an outstanding ride at the Women’s Tour where she was the best-placed Brit. She will be joined by her closest rivals in the Series standings, Bianchi HUNT Morvelo’s Alice McWilliam, and Jessie Carridge of the Brother UK-Orientation Marketing, who were second and third respectively at the Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix.
There are plenty of other names to watch besides. Three of the top five finishers from last season’s race take to the start. Team Boompod’s Ellen McDermott was second and comes into the race after a Tour Series win in Barking. Le Col-Wahoo duo Eluned King and April Tacey, meanwhile, were third and fourth in the race fourth last season and are both contenders in their own right. Cyclocross specialist Amira Mellor (Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus) finished sixth last year, while Becky Storrie’s teammate Sammie Stuart – a new signing at CAMS-Basso after a superb Tour Series – looked in good shape at the Women’s Tour and has the strength to improve on her tenth place in 2021. The ever-strong Pro-Noctis – Rotor – Redchilli Bikes by Heidi Kjeldsen team should also feature strongly.
Don’t rule out the juniors either. Super-talent Zoe Bäckstedt (Acrog-Tormans) was eleventh last season, and the newly-crowned junior national road race champion is more than capable of beating her senior-level competitors. 2022 Tour Series revelation Emma Jeffers (JRC-INTERFLON Race Team) is another exciting junior to watch, as is Tofauti Everyone Active’s Ella MacLean-Howell.
So who will win? Predictions are a fool’s game and this fool is going for Alice McWilliam, with Becky Storrie, Sammie Stuart and Zoe Bäckstedt also in the mix.
14.00 – 16.30 approx
At the time of writing, the forecast says it should be warm and dry with a gentle breeze. Rain is predicted the day before, however, which could mean conditions are slippery, especially after the junior men have churned up the course.