The inaugural Women’s Cicle Classic took place on Sunday 17th July 2016. This is my story of the day in pictures.
Affirmation, were it needed, of just how far and how rapidly women’s cycling is advancing in this country could be found on Sunday with the inaugural Womens Cicle Classic.
The men’s event has been a staple on the domestic calendar for over a decade now and attracts competitors from both the domestic scene and abroad. It continues to grow in prestige and thanks to the efforts of organiser Colin Clews and others has now secured television coverage which will further broaden its appeal to fan and sponsor alike.
The Cicle Classic has been likened to Paris Roubaix and, probably more accurately, Italys Strade Bianche insomuch as it is run over a parcours not wholly of metalled roads. It uses many of Leicestershires farm tracks and bridleways to produce an event unique on the British Road calendar and manages to set a challenge that no amount of experience is guaranteed to overcome
Logic thus dictated that with the ever growing profile of womens racing a Womens Cicle Classic had to be born. The Lincoln GP has done it to great effect now it was Cicle Classics turn.
And so it was that a large and strong field of some of the foremost names in UK womens cycling gathered in Melton Mowbray to tackle the 95km course. The weather was untypically seasonal , perhaps a little too warm for the challenge ahead as the race got underway.
Now as regular readers of this blog will be aware I am a champion for Sunsport Velo WRT and followed this event with a main focus on them. This was a big race for all of the teams and Sunsport had a strong squad with a determination to make their mark.
I met up with the team as they were setting up at race HQ and the mood was relaxed considering what was ahead of them. The four riders, Jane Hellewell, Maddy Scott, Alice Sharpe and Sophie Thackray have different strengths and characteristics but gel nicely as a unit. Manager Tony Orrell provides a calm and steady influence which seems to hit the right note with the girls-they are a young and inexperienced team so need a particular style of management to get the best from them.
As the race got underway from Melton town centre at noon I drove over to the village of Owston. Having worked on several editions of the men’s race I knew that this was a prime spot for getting the right shots. A reasonable sized crowd had gathered in the village and were being suitably informed and entertained by on course commentator Carl Lawrenson, a veteran of this kind of event.
As the race came through Manor Farm for the first time it was clear that an early selection had taken place and the field was split into about four reasonable sized groups. Alice and Sophie were in the second group who were a handful of seconds behind the leaders. They were followed by a third group containing Maddie. Jane was finding the going tough, as were several others, and was hovering precariously close to the broom wagon as they emerged from Duvel Corner and into Owston village.
As they came through Duvel Corner on the next lap (and from the opposite direction) more fragmentation had taken place. Sophie was still within touching distance of the leaders but Alice had dropped slightly more behind. This was proving to be a real grueller. Maddie was further back and Jane, having disappeared, had presumably been chewed up by the broom wagon.
My final sight of the bunch was on the Hot Spot Sprint out of the village and I then headed for the finish back in Melton.
Over in Melton and news came through of a traffic accident on the course resulting in a detour for the latter part of the race. Arriving later than anticipated a much depleted field made its way through the town centre and onto the final lap. At this stage there were no Sunsport riders and it looked like they had all dropped out, along with 90% of the field. Fears were allayed however at the finish.Coming home first and collecting the £1000 winners prize was Rebecca Durrell for the all conquering Drops Cycling Team. She just beat Elizabeth Holden from Ford Ecoboost in a sprint to the line.
Shortly afterwards as the field rolled in Alice emerged in a very creditable 12th place. She suffered a puncture around half way which put paid to her challenge but still managed a smile. Its testament to a successful first season as a roadie that there was still a tinge of disappointment as to what might have been.
A couple of minutes later Sophie crossed the line for an excellent 17th place. She is still a junior (albeit one of the best) and to mix it at this level on this course was incredible.
“It was a tough course with lots of tight sections meaning that positioning was key from the start, but I managed to stay high up and get a good position so I could stay with the leaders for the first 60km. After this I dropped off and was met by a group of 6 with Alice in and so we battled to the finish from there. It was an incredibly hot day which made conditions even tougher, but I really enjoyed it!!” Sophie Thackray
With two of the four woman team crossing the line within minutes of the winner this was a good solid performance from Sunsport. Again they mixed it with some quality athletes on what is possibly one of the hardest women’s races on the calendar (and I mean internationally also )
‘It was great to be a part of the first women’s Cicle Classic. Although it was such a tough course, it was a new challenge with the gravel sectors, which made a nice change to the usual road races. For me it wasn’t my day, but I was chuffed for my team mates and it was a great experience’ Maddie Scott
As for the race in general it was a real triumph. The experienced organisation of Colin Clews and his team and the generosity of sponsor Peter Stanton has resulted in an instant classic on the women’s calendar. It needs time to grow to attract the same quality of field as the men’s and the same level of support that they get on the route but Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will definitely get there.
Coming Up This Weekend. “Women’s Cicle Classic-A Story in Pictures”
Midweek MTB Madness came around for the third time this season last Thursday , the latest venue being Beacon Country Park near Upholland. Beacon park is set within 300 acres of countryside with a great variety of terrain much of which was brought into play for this event. Conditions were quite heavy, the area having suffered from more than its fair share of warm British rain recently and the course, familiar to many competitors who contest the NWCCA series over the Winter, proved quite challenging.
The sun actually made a brief appearance as racing got underway, although this was soon pushed aside by a more familiar grey blanket which successfully dulled the natural light (photographers notice these things). An enthusiastic field of off roaders paid little heed to the adversities of the elements however. After all there aren’t many of this type of good quality races going on in the middle of the week (hey that must be where they get some of the title from…) and the North West is particularly blessed to have a group of people dedicated to providing these well organised and challenging events throughout the Summer.
With the victors from the previous round, Giles Drake and Becky Preece absent without leave, the results were bound to have an air of unpredictability and the men’s favourite based on current form was now Will Lewis. He wasn’t going to have it all his own way however as the field included Yorkshire based pro Tom Bell, fresh from the MTB Marathon worlds in France and making his first appearance of the season on the madness stage.
The womens field was short on numbers but not on talent. Martha Gill and Alison Rushton would battle for top honours here but more of this later.
Back to the mens and Bell and Lewis got off to a flyer, distancing the rest of the field from the off. This was going to be good!
Lewis’s slight frame and boyish appearance belies his natural athleticism and on his day he is a match for anyone. And so where Lewis had pushed Giles Drake previously Bell was getting the same treatment here. Lets get all three racing together for the next round. It would make great tv!
As the race progressed the pair widened the gap back to the main field headed by Dave Powell and Christian Smith but these were always going to be racing for the final podium spot barring accidents. And so it was after an hour of nip and tuck racing including a tactical go slow towards the end the two charged for the line resulting in Bell nipping away from his younger rival to claim the honours. Lewis again had to be content with the runner up spot with Powell grabbing third.
Back to the women and a similar battle was shaping up between Martha Gill and Alison Rushton until mysteriously, on the penultimate lap, Gill seemed to fall away, allowing Maggie McPhillips to get between them. Gill fought back on the last lap to overtake McPhillips but Rushton wasn’t going to be reeled in. She crossed the line exhausted but satisfied with her efforts.
In the post race interviews, conducted by series lynchpin and (for this event) race commentator with a helmet on, Karen Long, Lewis declared this the best course of the series and despite being beaten enjoyed the event immensely.
Bell too enjoyed the racing after his DNF at the MTB Marathon Worlds and we look forward to seeing his return and maybe that triple header with Lewis and Drake.
The next round in the series is at Lee Quarry, Rossendale. This is another challenging venue and should make for great racing. Ideal scenario is a Lewis/Bell/Drake showdown.
On Sunday, whilst in another world- on another planet even, Mark Cavendish was touring Normandy in his new yellow top, a dedicated group of grass rooters were giving their all in memory of Iestyn Kier and Kirsty Saunders, two young members who sadly passed last year.
Yes it was Mossley CRT Memorial Races at the Tameside Cycle Circuit in Ashton Under Lyne. Proceeds from the day were going to Manchester Childrens Hospital and Child Death Helpline and a strong turnout witnessed a spread of events throughout the day from under 8s through under 10s,12s etc. In short a thumping good family day!
As I arrived the U16 boys race was underway. A lively and vocal crowd cheered, cajoled and issued orders to their chosen jockeys. An age old tradition passed through the generations occasionally resonating and generating success (see Mark Cavendish opening paragraph)
The track is flat with the occasional hairpin to test skill and brinkmanship but generally suited to a diesel engine rather than a goat. Furthermore a strong April wind (in July!) played a great part in separating wheat from chaff and taught the youngsters an instant lesson regarding teamwork and cooperation. Nobody could surely take the full brunt of the elements and come out on top?
And so it was that after an hour of racing it boiled down to a 10 ish up sprint for the line. Coming out on top was Jack Ford from Albion Cycling followed by Oliver Rees Holmfirth CC and Isaac Peatfield Bolton Hot Wheels. There was some fine talent on show, names that will come up again in the future.
The main event was the womens race. Again run over an hour and this time won by first cat racer, Rebecca Rimmington of team WNT.
Rimmington broke away early on and miraculously, conditions considering, managed to stave off the bunch for the entire duration. Intelligent racing from the peloton, sharing the workload through and off, through and off was all to no avail and the final sprint was merely for the consolation prizes. Second was Flora Gillies Team 22 and third Ellen McDermott Team Jaden Weldtite
As I said previously I only witnessed the Under 16 boys and the women’s races but can surmise from this that the whole day was a success and a fitting tribute to the two youngsters. The organisers at Mossley have ambitions to make this an annual event, and why not? Good talent on a crowd pleasing tight circuit and a good spread of events is a sure fire winner. All for a good cause to boot. Count me in for next year.
Full results are available on British Cyclings website https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/147410/Mossley-CRT-Memorial-Races and a full set of photos from the U16 Boys and Womens are free to download from http://www.chrismeadsphotography.com
A rare blog entry as it contains no photos and its largely about me. This may not happen again (hopefully)
Being involved in bike events as I am I do appreciate that in terms of exertion levels and blood sweat tears etc I do have the cleaner end of the stick. We all make choices and mine is to choose the camera over the bike. Not an easy decision and don’t get me wrong there are countless times when I have to resist the temptation to cast aside the camera and remount. My first off road race was the Cheshire Classic in the early 90s. I finished third in the sports category.It never got any better than that. Legends such as David Baker and a young Helen Mortimer were out there that day also. Styrene helmets with plastic covers, GT Tequesta, no shocks, no disc brakes. Happy days
I digress. I got an email last week from a participant of a sportive I had recently photographed. He liked the photo I had taken of him but not enough to pay £5.50 for the download. He offered me £1.50 on the basis that I may reduce it to this price in a year. Don’t get me wrong, he was very polite and we engaged in some witty online banter, but of course I refused.
I refused because I value my work and my ability as a photographer. I also believe it is a reflection of the effort that goes into covering an event. A sportive is a good example. Many of my events are in the Peak District. I live in Wigan. Most events start around 8.00am and I like to be in position at least 30 minutes prior to this. So on a sportive day I will get up around 5:30am. I will get my shots then typically depart for home around 2:00pm.
Back home for 3:30pm and an hour off to recharge the cranial batteries. Then the fun starts. I upload my photos (typically 600+) onto the Mac and start editing. This takes around 4 hours. I crop, tweak colours, convert to monochrome sometimes. I then upload to my website and this takes 2 to 3 hours. T’interweb is slow in Wigan where electricty is still a phenomenon. Once they are on I do all my marketing, tweeting etc. The time is now around 11:30pm. So up at 5:30am job done for 11:30pm, total 18 hours. All done in a day and to the highest possible standard. Of the many thousand photos I have sold there has never been one, not one, complaint. Other events are slightly less intense, cyclocross, MTB, road racing but still not easy. And if its press work there are deadlines.
Now none of this is a complaint. I said at the start that it is a choice and I love it, really love it. I must do! Its just my way of conveying the process that goes into producing the end product. You may see me taking your photo and then see the photo the next day. There is a big bit in the middle, between A and B if you like. Similarly if you are a cyclist I see you riding a bike. I don’t see the big bit where you are out training in all weathers and eating hamster food to keep your body in tip top, race ready condition. Similar, except yours physically hurts a hell of a lot more than mine. Choices.
We are lucky as we all, in some capacity or other, involve ourselves in a wonderful and from my standpoint highly photogenic sport. I admire each and every last one of you for playing your part (not quite true as I have met the odd pillock) and express my thanks for letting me stick my camera into your face, occasionally at times when its the last thing you want. You will thank me later though when you are sending it off to Moon Pig! Its all good fun.
So spare just a tiny thought for the photographer, whether it is me or some other poor soul, next time you see him and in return I will continue to shoot you at your sweatiest, most exhausted, distressed and sometimes elated best
Enjoy the ride and I promise that the next post will a) contain photos and b) not be about me
Occasionally I will wander away from covering cycling related events. I have been known to do the odd wedding or baby portrait but this season I seem to have developed a whole new string to my bow. Through my association with Dark and White Events and their sportives I have had the opportunity to get involved with trail running . Now I wasn’t a bad cross country runner in my youth so this type of event floats my boat somewhat. It also helps that the events are all held in the glorious Peak District with its stunning scenery and idyllic villages. I am definitely up for this kind of gig on a weekend.
One of the most appealing factors in the running events is that you can clearly see the competitors faces. This is not a criticism of cyclists as shades and a helmet are a necessity for their events. Not so the runners, and this reveals the character and gives an insight into how the race is going for them ie showing pain, joy etc.
The competitors are, almost to a person, happy and generally delighted to be there and the banter I have with them is as good as I have had in any event over the years.
And so it was to my third one of the season on the 18th of June, a mere 26km (11km for the shorter route) along the Tissington trail and its surrounds near to Ashbourne.
The course was perhaps not as brutal as the other races I have covered this year (or at least the section I was patrolling) and the weather seemed just about right-temperatures in the mid teens and an unfulfilled threat of rain hanging in the air.
Almost three hundred competitors took to the start line in Ashbourne with approximately 200 tackling the long course and 100 on the shorter one. The start was staggered in groups to avoid a huge scramble at the outset with the first runners getting underway at 8:30am
One thing that struck me was the amount of runners who had dogs in tow. Now you don’t see that at a bike event do you?!
I snapped the runners both in the village of Thorpe close to the Peveril of the Peak hotel and also along the Tissington Trail. The trail is superb for offroad adventure and was busy with walkers, runners, cyclists and horses. I guess this is typical and the lack of any motorised traffic makes it safer and a lot more relaxing.
The runners that came down what was called section two of the trail were on their second passage just before Thorpe having turned off the first time to take in the delights of the river path in Dovedale. That would have been my ideal spot for shots but would have meant forgoing photos of the folk on the shorter run which I wasn’t going to do.
Come midday the last few went past me, all still smiling and making the most of this great event and I headed off to get some editing done.
I have a few more of these on the cards this season and am looking forward to the next one and there are a few regulars who are becoming familiar to me and vice versa. It’s all good
To view/buy photos from the day the full set is online chrismeadsphotography
Round 2 of the ever excellent Midweek MTB Madness series of 2016 took place on Thursday evening at Chorlton Water Park, (yes, sorry about the title but every pun intended). A large field of mixed abilities spent an hour in this sunless, humid and dusty desert of South Manchester.
Charles Dennison of Manchester Wheelers organised an excellent event with a course which had everything for everybody-ups, downs, gravel, grass, woods, midges, and the unique atmosphere of a midweek crowd fresh from work and raring to go.
The great interest in the mens event was the anticipated duel between established star Giles Drake (Leisure Lakes) and the young upstart snapping at his heels, Will Lewis (High Peak Cycles RT). This did not disappoint and from the the off the pair established a joint lead that was never going to be challenged. Indeed as they went through the finish line for the first time the distance they had over third place was quite staggering. Drake knew he was in a battle and effort and exertion was written all over his face.
Drake shows the strain as he keeps Lewis at bay
As the race progressed Lewis seemed comfortable to sit an extremely close second wheel, high skills from Lewis and great respect to Drake for setting the pace and trying to shake the youngster off. The elastic finally snapped on the last lap when the greater experience of Drake and his endurance hardened legs allowed him to steal away and grab the victory by a couple of seconds. It was close and on another day a reversal of this result will happen.
As the winner crossed the line so the other weary racers trailed in, faces caked with dust and, by the sounds of one or two, lungs also!
In the womens event Becky Preece (Leisure Lakes), fresh from her victory at the North of England Champs,stormed unchallenged to the win. She is a class act and was on another level to the others here. She is now well on track to take the overall series honours, even at this early stage. Both Becky and Giles are competing in Powys this weekend in round four of the National Cross Country series. They will both put up a good showing and should a mixed tandem event ever be introduced will surely be world champions! Actually I could have hit onto something there.
Becky Preece winning even with her eyes closed!
So a great evening of racing and as the field made their way home in the fading light of an early Summer evening there were plenty of stories being swapped and backs being patted. Makes a welcome change to Coronation Street. Wonder how Norris’s roof is?
The Men’s Podium: Giles Drake, Will Lewis and Christian Smith
The Women’s Podium Becky Preece, Alison Rushton and Sarah Harris
and as with all Midweek MTB Madness races thanks to the sponsors there are plenty of prize winners
Round three of this series, scheduled for Sutton Manor, has unfortunately been cancelled due to a lack of parking spaces. The series will be poorer for not having this particular event as last years was a cracker.
The next bout of Madness will therefore be on 7th July at Beacon Country Park. It seems like ages to wait but it’ll be here before you know it.
Alice Sharpe is a recent convert to road racing having moved across from triathlon where she has enjoyed a great deal of success, including a top ten in last years Nationals.
First spotted by Sunsport Velo WRT team manager Tony Orrell at the Tameside Crits Alice was signed up to the Sunsport roster and has shown great promise in her first season on the road, culminating in her being crowned the British University Road Race Champion last month. She is currently racing for Sunsport in the Matrix Fitness Tour Series where a string of consistent finishes and a showing in the intermediate sprints has made her the teams main points winner by a long way.
Prior to the Stoke on Trent round of the Matrix Fitness Series we caught up with Alice for a quick q and a to find out who she is
- Name…………………. Alice sharpe
- Age……………………. 22
- Hometown…………. Cambridge
- Live…………………… Manchester
- How long have you been cycling………… I’ve been doing triathlon since I was 11 , but decided to focus on cycling and racing this season.
- Career highlight so far………………. Erm, well my cycling ‘career’ hasn’t really start yet … But I think getting to ride the Lincoln GP, it’s such a prestigious race with the chance to race against some big names.
- Biggest influence on your cycling………… My friend Rob, we are out training together most days (he loves to drop me on the hill) and he gives top advice!
- What are your ambitions in the sport…………… To continue training and racing (and enjoying it) to become the best athlete I’m capable of becoming.
- Who do you most admire outside of cycling………….. Sheryl Sandberg (C O O Facebook)
- Away from cycling what would be your career……… Events planner. I studied sports management at university and aspire to run works class sports event.
- You’re stranded on a desert island with three famous people (dead or alive) of your choice. Who are they…………. Mary Berry, Serena Williams and Bear Grylls
- Adele or Pierce the Veil
- Pizza or Salad
- Dogs or Cats
- Eastenders or Corrie
- Suffering, I like long flat drags.
Look out for Alice on the road (and currently on the tv) and the way she is heading I would say that triathlons loss is cyclings gain.
Follow Alice on twitter @Alice557
Womens cycling has made a stellar leap in profile over the last couple of years. The calendar has increased dramatically and thanks to increased television coverage advertisers and sponsors are latching onto the fact that it is a great shop window for their wares.
The Tour Series is one of the leaders in this field and piggy backing onto the established success of the mens events the Womens Matrix Fitness series is now a firm favourite with the watching public. Indeed several of the leading riders are establishing themselves as household names to the viewer, the likes of Alice Barnes, Nikki Juniper and, with no introduction necessary, Dame Sarah Storey.
It is no mean achievement that first year team Sunsport Velo have not only put themselves up for the challenge but are rapidly making a name for themselves and competing on an even footing with some of the more established and heavyweight set ups.
In the previous round at Redditch Alice Sharpe took 13th place and a hatful of points and in the process elevated Sunsport into a creditable 6th position overall and tonights line up of Alice Sharpe, Jane Hellewell, Josie Knight, Anoushka Edwards and Maddy Scott looked professional and ready for action during the warm up.
A testing course and a strong field in Stoke on Trent was going to make it difficult to maintain that position but talking to the team beforehand it was clear that they had the bit between their teeth and would be up for the test.
The race was held in warm and pleasant early Summer conditions, not too hot and not damp under wheel either. Racing was fast from the outset and even on the opening couple of laps many girls were distanced under the hammer of Sarah Storeys Podium ambition squad, the Drops team led by Alice Barnes and Nikki Juniper of Team Ford Ecoboost. Two distinct factions formed within the field and the second group contained Alice Sharpe, Maddy Scott and Anoushka Edwards. Jane Hellewell and Josie Knight seemed to be feeling the pace along with probably half of the other riders.
As the race wore on with predictable dominance from the leading teams and an eventual victory by Claire Rose of Podium ambition Alice seemed to grow stronger. She eventually finished in a lofty 12th position and helped herself to a handful of those all important points. Maddy, looking completely unruffled throughout the race bagged a few points also and the overall posiiton was maintained.
For some it was a baptism of fire. Crit racing is tough and we caught up with Jane Hellewell afterwards to get her thoughts.
“The race can be summed up in three words- overwhelming, exciting and FAST!
It was my biggest race so far. I am very new to racing and only started racing this season, so I was really thrown in at the deep end. Nevertheless I had a fantastic night and it was such a great experience. Running up to the race I felt relatively calm and i was doing a good job of managing my nerves.
However, the nerves did not stay away for long. As soon as we were lining up on the start the heavy beats of the music and the timer above that seemed to count down ridiculously slowly, rapidly raised my nerves. I was just itching to get going!”
“Once I found a group to sit comfortably in, I rode round absorbing as much of the atmosphere as I could. The crowds were amazing and really provided motivation to keep on pushing
My next race will be the NW road race championships tomorrow and yesterday’s race has really put me in a fantastic mind set to go in and give it a good smash!”
There now follows a further three rounds for the team in Stevenage, Croydon and Portsmouth. They are going from strength to strength and it is only a matter of time before a big result comes their way
COMING UP SOON Sunsport at Stoke Photo Gallery