“’Why would people tune in to watch a race other than the Tour de France?’ The answer is simple. We in the UK don’t make races look special enough. You go abroad and there’s so much razzmatazz and activity around it. TV companies in Belgium are vying for every event! [They’re] so attractive, it gets the crowds out. That’s what we have to do [at the CiCLE Classic] when it comes to road racing.” – Colin Clews to Always Riding.
You’d be right to associate the ‘Spring Classics’ with Belgium or France, perhaps even Italy, anywhere but the East Midlands of England.
The Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, all legendary events which are held on foreign soil. But during one day in April for men, and one day in June for women and juniors, winding stretches of road, combined with bergs and sectors, à la some of the famous one-day races in cycling, are awoken. Make no mistake, the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic being in Britain rather than France or Belgium doesn’t make it any easier. Take 2012 for example, torrential rain had caused roads to be flooded, the race to be re-routed numerous times, and the ruined course was littered with trees and remnants of banners. Only 22 riders finished that day.
The inclusive creation of Colin Clews (the race features UCI Continental teams alongside national and club teams, with a mix of ages in a multinational peloton) relies heavily on twisting, tight roads accompanied alongside uneven road surfaces, sectors, and sharp climbs. Just like at Roubaix, the sectors are classified through stars. This includes the Barleyberg (Sector 11) with its 5-star severity, a new addition in 2017 alongside the 4-star StaplePark, whose brutality is juxtaposed with the beautiful scenery of yellow flora covering the side of the roads. The StaplePark is scaled twice (Sector 3 and 1), along with the 5-star Somerberg (Sector 7 and 4).
I did a lot of work for the UCI, over in Belgium. You see the races and you think to yourself “Well, what’s different?” And the answer actually is nothing is different, apart from the actual will to do something and make a race look good! – Colin Clews.
Despite somehow enjoying watching races that seem incredibly difficult to ride, I’d actually never been to Rutland-Melton before. The 188km race had eluded me, always falling when I was back home in Lancashire, until now. My friend and I, along with her father, travelled up to a bunting-covered Oakham town to catch the start – where the weather was warmly welcomed in stark contrast to a gloomy Chorley Grand Prix just one week prior. After watching the team presentation and witnessing a somewhat awkward recollection of events last year (with the mentioning of the, quote, “finger situation” on the finish line from Hayden McCormick as One Pro took to the stage), we watched the flag drop and headed to the sectors.
On arrival at Newbold, the scenery for Sector 10 looked interchangeable to that of a Spring Classics race abroad; Clews had previously compared the CiCLE Classic to Flanders in an interview with Always Riding, and it’s easy to see why. A vast countryside that seems at odds with the punishing drama that occurs within it; the choking dust kicked up from bikes and car wheels, the loud sound of gears shifting, the shouting for riders to change or keep position on the bike from teammates. As the cyclists passed through – some looking like they’d rather be anywhere but on the bike – we crossed the road to see Sector 9 and Sector 8. The road surface for Manorberg seemed tougher in comparison to Newbold, with more uneven patches and even a slight spot of rain to contend with. At this point, the combined fighting forces of the leading quartet (Morvelo Basso’s Mottram, Kenway from Vitus Pro Cycling, Guerciotti’s Rodríguez Gil and Kibble of the Wales national team) was enough to maintain a gap of around 3 minutes. Yet, seeing the determined Moses-led peloton speeding around the bend onto this sector meant their time at the head of the race would soon come to a close. Following being shrouded in a cloud of dust, mechanicals and the designated ‘last vehicle’ travelling through, we advanced to one of the three feed zones.
This was situated between the two attempts that riders would pass through the Somerberg sector, and it was clear here that riders were becoming more drained. Dust-covered faces were looking pained, and some climbed off at this point, through injury, fatigue or facing more mechanicals. We soon made our way to the finish in Melton Mowbray, where the sprint finish would take place, and even more importantly to some, the winner of the prestigious pork pie would be announced.
Melton’s streets were lined with eagerly awaiting spectators behind barriers, children banging inflatables together, and an air of suspense as the race was reaching its climax. Cullaigh for Wiggins led the break onto the final lap around Melton Mowbray, and while One Pro’s Domagalski was close to a repeat of his Chorley Grand Prix win last weekend, Cullaigh proved the strongest in the two-up sprint to the finish line.
Of course, one of the most interesting aspects of the CiCLE Classic are the unique prizes received at the end. Cullaigh won the day, the yellow jersey, and also a gargantuan pork pie for leading into the final lap, while Kenway was King of the Bergs for Vitus. Sprints winner Mottram won his weight in beer, while ‘lanterne rouge’ Orr of Memil CCN was awarded a bottle of wine after arriving to the finish 18 minutes down. Pretty rewarding, no matter your result, isn’t it?
After being unable to see the CiCLE Classic before this year, it’s certainly an event I wouldn’t want to miss out on again. There’s something special about witnessing a classics-style race without having to travel to a different country, and Rutland-Melton looks a perfect match under the control of Colin Clews. I, for one, can’t wait to see the day the race gains the attention to which it deserves, TV presence included. Also the direction it takes – will there be opportunity for expansion? Only time (and sponsorship) will tell. I hope the CiCLE Classic gains as much prestige in Britain as the Belgian Classics one day, but without the loss of UCI Continental and club teams to the UCI World Tour.