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!)
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.
I have noticed recently that there have been many articles flying around about women’s bikes, but so far nobody has given a review of a women’s specific design bike for racing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you can’t race on one – for the past two years I have been riding a female specific Boardman, which I bought from Halfords for £1,000, but I have always complained about the sub-standard groupset, despite the bike being very light. I also don’t like racing on clinchers, so I upgraded the wheels that came with the bike and changed the saddle to one I am used to using.
So what are your options?
If you read the vast majority of articles on women’s bikes, you would think that there are loads to choose from. That may be the case, but the majority of brochures for women’s bikes talk about comfort on long rides, and the women’s geometry is supposed to be more relaxed to compensate for this. But if you’re looking for a bike to race on, this might not be what you’re looking for, so do yourself a favour and look at both the men’s and women’s options but bear in mind the main differences between men’s and women’s bikes, namely:
- Women’s bikes tend to have worse groupsets than their “male” alternative (although some manufacturers are starting to buck this trend);
- Men’s bikes tend to have wider handlebars, making control difficult for women who tend to be more petite in width;
- The top end men’s bikes are very light and very stiff – most women don’t benefit from a stiff frame as much as men due to the difference in power output.
It is possible to change components on the bike before you buy, you just have to be prepared to negotiate with the shop before you buy. Some changes are easy to make, for example by asking for narrower handlebars or women’s specific ones, which tend to have a shallower drop. Furthermore, many bikes have compact chainsets, with 50/34 chainrings, but you may prefer to change it for a double, with 53/39 chainrings, depending on who you are going to race with and what events you intend to ride.
My Top Tips
Remember my top tips and get what bike you want:
- Research the bike you want before setting foot in the shop – if you have a top price in mind, try not to go above it;
- Ask fellow cyclists for their opinion, but remember that its your money and ultimately your decision;
- Remember that just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t ride a men’s bike;
- If you’re going for the full bike, ask to take it for a test ride;
- Remember that you can change components at a later date, although some are easier (and cheaper) to change than others;
- Take advantage of a bike fit;
- Don’t pick the bike because of the colour – get one that fits both you and the purpose you want it for (this also means that you have to be honest with yourself in order to get the right bike);
- Be prepared to negotiate with the shop to change the components;
- Buy what you want not what the shop assistant says you should buy.
Putting my own advice into practice
This year, I decided to buy a new bike. I didn’t want to spend more than £3,000 (which still seems a lot considering). The women’s specific bike that I was going to buy seemed to have weird sizing and I knew before I made the final decision that I wouldn’t want to keep the wheels (the majority of wheels that come with full bikes are not as good as the wheels that you would want to race on), or the compact chainset or the saddle.
I have ridden Giant bikes for quite a while – men’s and women’s – and I like the compact frame (Giant call it “Compact Road Design”). I had a look at the men’s bikes, as well as the women’s, and for £3,499 RRP I could buy a full bike (the men’s TCR Advanced and the women’s Avail Advanced), both with Ultegra Di2, but the women’s version came under the heading “Endurance” not “Performance”. Indeed, it is described as a bike for “sportives, centuries, fast group rides and epic solo days” – no mention of a race. This did put me off, as I was looking to upgrade my race bike.
I decided to go with the men’s frameset option instead – the tag line for this bike is “if road bike racing is in your DNA, this is your machine” – well, it mentioned racing so that was a good start! I was keen to buy a 10 speed double groupset (rather than a compact) before everything changes to 11 speed, and I was lucky enough to buy it for a really good price online. I shopped around and got some slightly narrower handlebars too. My local bike shop did a phenomenal job in building it up for me, even managing to get hold of matching bottle cages!
As for the Boardman, well that has been transformed into my new low profile time trial bike – there will be an article on that in the coming weeks. Until then, enjoy your riding!
On Sunday 3 March 2013, at an industrial estate just outside Skelmersdale, Lancashire, 37 ladies lined up for the start of the first round of the inaugural Cycling Development North West’s (“CDNW”) women’s road race league.
That figure, to many, may not seem astounding but there are two facts that must be remembered in order to consider this fully. Firstly, when the men’s road race league was set up 10 years ago, the first event had just 10 riders. Secondly, the number of riders who lined up in the event on Sunday included nearly a third who were experiencing a road race for the first time – for some it was their first event on the open road (having just raced on closed circuits previously) and for others it was their first foray into either competitive cycling or bunch racing, with quite a few riders making the switch from time trials and triathlon to road racing.
I can’t lie. I was quite emotional when I arrived at the headquarters. We knew that we had to get at least 15 women to break even, so I have worked hard since October to spread the word through social media. I think it has worked – I have just populated the results for the league and we have 50 riders registered – a far cry from the 10 that we were told to expect.
But it gets even better – there are many sceptics out there of women’s racing – it can be negative and there have been some comments about bad riding – but the event at Pimbo was testament to the quality of racing that professionals would be proud of – there were heroic attacks, team tactics and a bunch sprint, all of which did not fail to impress the officials and spectators.
Every single girl who turned up to Pimbo on Sunday should be proud that they were part of hopefully the start of something very special in women’s cycling. This is the only road race league for women in the country where all events are road races (no closed circuit races or time trials) and my only wish is that the girls who competed on Sunday keep it up – the CDNW women’s road race league is just that – a league – with all events counting towards the main league title. Everybody who finishes an event gets counting points towards the league.
It’s an exciting time to get involved with women’s competitive cycling. Can you afford not to get involved?
The next event is on 17 March 2013 at Pilling, Lancashire. There is still plenty of room for any second, third or fourth category ladies to enter. Please visit www.cdnw.org for more information.
Thanks to Ed Rollason for the photographs.
In advance of the Salt Ayre Spring Series at Lancaster (9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th March – 4th cat men at 13.30, Women only at 13.30 and E/1/2/3 men at 14.30) Salt Ayre Cycling Association are holding novice training on the circuit on 2nd March at 12.30 to 15.00.
If you want toimprove your confidence or just learn the corners on this circuit please come along, all are welcome.
Please note that this is not a race, it is an opportunity to practise your technique (including cornering) and your bunch skills.
Cost is £1 toward circuit hire.
Any queries contact Nev Pearson on [email protected]
If you’ve seen my recent articles, you will know that I am trying to encourage women with their first steps into racing. Well this article is about an organisation that has been doing that since 1949 – Manchester & District Ladies Cycling Association (“M&DLCA”). And the good news for women starting out in cycling who may not yet be certain which club they want to join but still want to have a bash at time trialling, well you can join the M&DLCA as an individual, which will then enable you to ride time trials as an M&DLCA member – good, eh?
M&DLCA Best All Rounder Competition
The organisation runs a number of events, including a Best All Rounder (“BAR”) competition, which is based on performances at events run at 10 miles, 25 miles and 50 miles with the performances being calculated in m.p.h. and the average taken of the resultant speeds. When choosing your counting events, the 10 mile time trial must be one of the events promoted by the M&DLCA (see below). For counting events at 25 and 50 miles, there is no restriction except that it must be on any “J” course (the Cycling Time Trials Manchester division, which are all courses based in Cheshire). Once you have completed your counting events, you just need to submit a copy of the entry form and result sheet to the BAR Secretary before 1st October of the current season.
This BAR competition is a great way to try out time trialling, as the women’s British BAR uses 25 mile, 50 mile and 100 mile events as counting events, which could be a step too far for people new to time trialling.
- 27 April – Invitation “10”
- 4th May – “10”
- 1st June – “25”
- 22nd June – Invitation “10” again, and GHS (School age) heat
- 29th June – Open “50”
- 13th July – “25”
These events are only open to women however at the “Invitation 10” events you can invite a man, but you still ride on your own. Your combined times count for the prize. If you don’t know a man to invite, don’t worry as the M&DLCA will pair you up with somebody.
The overall vibe at these events is for everybody to have a go, do their best and then celebrate at the end with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Everybody is friendly and welcoming and if you are thinking of doing a time trial and you are based near Manchester, I would seriously recommend the M&DLCA events for one of your first. Just remember that you have to enter in advance for time trials, there’s no entry on the day, with the closing date generally two weeks before the event.
For more information, please visit http://www.mdlca.org.uk