Andy Wood of Weaver Valley Cycling Club has achieved many things in his first year as organiser of arguably the biggest and most hotly contested women’s race on the domestic calendar – the Cheshire Classic. Not only did he source amazing sponsors in Epic Cycles, Delamere Dairy, De Vere Hotels and Roberts Bakery, as well as support from the Breeze Network and Halfords, but he also managed to persuade British Cycling to get their act together with the Accredited Marshals Scheme that has been promised for so long.
Closed roads for a road race are pretty much unheard of – for a start it costs too much, and when, as an organiser, you are often pushed to the limit financially to put your event on, then road closures are the last thing on your list. It also depends on where your course goes too – and the Cheshire Classic goes up and down a bypass, so the local council are never going to go for that. However, with Accredited Marshals comes a new concept – stopping the traffic with lollipop signs but instead of them saying “Stop! Children!” the say “Stop! Cyclists!”
The first thing that I noticed on the way to the headquarters, was the large number of “Caution! Cycle Event!” signs on your approach to the bypass. This meant that drivers had warning from an early stage that there was an event on – not a small side hiding in a grass verge – but a sign on every lamp post in the couple of hundred metres leading up to the area where the accredited marshals were going to be in place, so drivers had no excuse. The next tell tale sign was “Traffic Control Ahead” which is probably what the drivers didn’t want to see!
How did it affect the race? Well there were two main sticking points on the course – firstly the entry on to the bypass – this is a single carriageway bypass, with no central reservation and cars will speed down that section of road so it is very dangerous. The presence of the accredited marshals meant that the bunch was able to enter the main road from the sweeping left-hand bend without worrying about oncoming traffic. The second tricky place was the main climb, where the finish is, “The Cliff” on Acton Lane, where the gradient gets steeper towards the top. Again, the presence of the accredited marshals meant that cars had to stop at the top of the climb whilst the riders came through, which also meant that all of the road was used (until you came around the bend to find the stopped car!)
© Ed Rollason Photography
It was a classic Cheshire Classic, with Karla Boddy of MG Maxifuel taking the win in a tight sprint finish with Emma Grant of Matrix Fitness. A superb ride by Karla, who was understandably emotional at the finish! But, in my humble opinion, there was another star in the making – it was Andy Wood’s first solo attempt at organising a bike race, which was one of the most well-organised events I have been able to attend. I only hope that the riders appreciate all the hard work and effort he put into the event to make it such a great success.
With a new title sponsor on board in the British Cycling women’s network, Breeze, an updated website (www.cheshireclassic.co.uk) and a Twitter campaign (@cheshireclassic), together with the race being pushed back to the second event in the National Women’s Road Race Series, it is all change in 2013.
Andy Wood, the event’s organiser on behalf of Weaver Valley Cycling Club, has forwarded the press release to me for sharing to our readers:
“Breeze supports new look 2013 Cheshire Classic
“After an incredible summer of women’s cycling, the Cheshire Classic Women’s Road Race launched its 2013 campaign by announcing that British Cycling’s Breeze network is to be an event partner.
“With cycling becoming more and more popular in the UK the Cheshire Classic wants to make the most of the opportunity to encourage more women to ride their bikes. Funded by the National Lottery via Sport England, Breeze is the biggest programme ever to get more women into riding bikes for fun.
“The Cheshire Classic takes place a week later than usual this year on Sunday 28th April in Northwich, and is organised by Weaver Valley Cycling Club. Last year’s edition was won by Paralympic superstar Sarah Storey with previous winners including Olympic Silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead, Nicole Cooke and two time Junior World Champion Lucy Garner.
Network Manager at Breeze, Natalie Justice replied “our partnership with the Cheshire Classic was a no brainer; a reputable race with great heritage to inspire more women to get out on their bike, at whatever level. The race is a fantastic way to raise awareness on a National level”.
Organiser Andy Wood commented “the potential growth of Women’s cycling is huge. There is a lot to think about from which bike to get, to what clothing, to getting fit to join a club – it can all be quite intimidating. A major goal for me is to use the race to help people out, we’re bringing on board partners to help us provide advice and Breeze was the perfect fit”.
“The race also sees a brand new identity alongside a redeveloped website which includes a dedicated area with tips and advice from Sarah Storey, Lucy Garner & Hannah Walker. The area offers support to riders from grass roots to those wanting to start racing.
“We are hoping that 2013 will be the best yet, some of the most exciting racing at the Olympics was in the Women’s races and we want to build on the back of that. We are looking to add new features and more prize money to the race, every single penny raised is invested back into the race”.
As part of their new strategy you can follow the build up to the Cheshire Classic on Twitter (@cheshireclassic) and Facebook. Race entries are now open to riders.”
If you feel that racing is a step too far at the moment, you can find more about the Breeze network below:
British Cycling’s Breeze is the biggest programme ever to get more women into riding bikes for fun. Our aim is to help thousands more women feel confident and comfortable about going on a ride. Breeze is part of British Cycling’s programme of free bike rides, information and support designed to help and inspire women of all ages and abilities to re-discover the fun of bike riding. It has never been easier to get back on a bike as the Breeze network offers some great information, advice and support on a wide range of topics including access to cycle hire, someone to ride with and safe routes in their local area.
To join a Breeze bike ride in your area, register at www.breezebikerides.com or contact the Breeze network at British Cycling on 0161 274 2117.
So, with the number of Premier Calendar races at just 6 events in 2013, you would think that road racing has hit an all-time low. I am glad to say that in the North West we are actually working hard to show that is not the case, and I am pleased to be involved with the inaugural Cycling Development North West Women’s Road Race League next season. It is not unique in that it is the first women’s road race league to exist, not at all, but it is unique in that it gives women in the lower categories an opportunity to race at a competitive level over a reasonable distance.
“How is that different?” I hear you cry. Well, for a start, due to the various costs of organising a road race, and the relatively small numbers of women riders that compete, most road races are open to all categories of women, from Elite to fourth, and many are over a distance in excess of 50 miles. The remaining races that women can compete in are usually circuit races which can last anything from twenty minutes up to an hour, covering a distance of say approximately 20 miles. So, if you’re a fourth or third category rider looking to make a move into road racing for the first time, you could be totally unprepared for what is waiting for you when you get on the line at the road race.
Yes, there is a big difference between finishing a circuit race over 15 to 20 miles and being able to be competitive in a race over more than 50 miles when you’re not used to it. Unfortunately, some women have to travel hundreds of miles to get a ride in a road race, only to get shelled out of the back on the first lap because it is totally different racing on the open road than it is riding around a closed circuit. Worse still are the crashes that can occur because some riders can lose concentration because they are not used to riding in a bunch/riding over such a long distance (compared to your 40 minute circuit race), tiredness and fatigue sets in and you either get shouted at for nearly knocking somebody off or you just get really disheartened because you aren’t as good as you expected to be and you think, “why do I bother?” All the fun is taken out of the race and you forget why you are there in the first place.
The CDNW Women’s Road Race League is only open to second, third and fourth category riders, with the longest race being over 65km (40 miles). The courses being used are not hilly or too technical however they are well-suited for practising your race technique, and are races that will provide the stepping stone up to the longer road races, including the National Series Road Races. There are two main reasons for these races – they assist younger (Junior) riders who are making the move from Youth “A” circuit races on to the road for their first season as a Junior, and they are also to assist women who are new to the sport of competitive cycling (as opposed to sportives, etc).
Unfortunately, women’s cycling will not continue to develop unless there are these “stepping-stones” to help women riders build up their confidence to move on to the next level. I understand that there were over 15,000 women riders on the Breeze rides this year, many of whom may want to take the next step with their cycling “career” but don’t have the confidence or inclination to mix it up with the elite riders at this time. The CDNW women’s races aim to be all-encompassing, where encouragement is the theme of the day.
The road race league events will be held as follows:
#1) 3 March 2013 – Pimbo Industrial Estate – 50km
#2) 17 March 2013 – Nateby/Pilling, Lancashire – 65km
#3) 21 April 2013 – Great Budworth, Cheshire – 65km
#4) 7 July 2013 – Pimbo Industrial Estate – 65km
#5) 1 September 2013 -Nateby/Pilling, Lancashire – 50km
In order to ride the events, it will cost £5 to enter the league itself, with each event being £20 in advance. I have had a number of people telling me that the price is high, however these races are on open roads, with National Escort Group motorbike marshals. The cost of first aid has risen by 100% for next season, and the men’s events will also be the same amount (as opposed to £17.50 plus online entry processing fee this season). I would prefer for people to concentrate on the fact that these are five new races, which are aiming to attract people to competitive road racing, as unfortunately, if the grass roots level doesn’t develop, there won’t be a sport in a few years’ time.
We are still looking for a series sponsor who could help with prizes (for example, most improved rider, best 4th category rider, best 3rd category rider, etc), so if you think you could help with promoting the development of grass roots women’s racing, please get in touch.