Monday, 30 December 2013

Women's Cycling News 29.12.2013-05.01.2014

Bronzini opens 2014 season - Van Paassen to Boels-DolmansBoels Qatar squadGunnewijk to ride in UK - Women's Tour of the Reservoir - World Cup jersey design contest won by rider - Shorts and Interesting Links - more to come...

Bronzini opens 2014 season
Read the Neutral Service "10 Minutes
With... Giorgia Bronzini" interview here
It isn't every day that Orica-AIS find themselves entirely outclassed and you can bet your packet of energy gel that the Australia-based team will make damn certain it doesn't happen again this year, but they were definitely playing second fiddle to Wiggle-Honda in the first round of the Mitchelton Bay Classic on the 2nd of January.

While Giorgia Bronzini - and Orica's Nettie Edmondson - kept themselves to themselves in the pack, the Italian's team mate Peta Mullens handed out punishment right from the start, attacking virtually non-stop and rapidly whittling down the field to just a handful of tough riders, then continued beating them into submission too while fellow Wiggle riders Linda Villumsen, Emilia Fahlin and Charlotte Becker kept the entire race under control. Orica's new recruit Valentina Scandolara was first to respond to most of Wiggle's attacks, chasing them down one after one, but it was Wiggle that controlled the race and by the time Tiffany Cromwell (Orica) launched her surprise attack coming into the final straight, Orica could not help her and she had to try to take on Bronzini unassisted.

Cromwell's attack, had events have played out only slightly differently, could well have won her the race; however, Bronzini and Edmondson had done such a fine job of conserving energy up until this point that it was clear they'd be the ones to take the top two places. Bronzini proved the strongest, generating the enormous amount of power that has rightly led to her being regarded one of the fastest sprinters in cycling history; Edmondson stayed close but could not find the extra burst she'd have needed to get past.

"It’s my first experience racing at this time of year, but maybe Geelong brings me luck,” Bronzini said afterwards. “I have some good memories of Geelong, so I’m happy to win again in this area."

Van Paassen to Boels-Dolmans
25-year-old Sanne van Paassen, who took second place in the Dutch National Cyclo Cross Championships, won the Heerlen CX and was second at Gent-Wevelgem in 2013, will move from Rabobank-Liv/Giant to Boels-Dolmans for the new season. Currently recovering from a knee injury, it is not yet known when she will make her debut for the team.

Boels reveal Qatar team
Meanwhile, Boels-Dolmans has already revealed its roster for Qatar. The team will be led by Ellen van Dijk, making her debut for the team after her switch from Gunnewijk's Orica, and will include Lizzie Armitstead, Marieke van Wanroij, Kasia Pawlowska, Christine Majerus and Romy Kasper.

Gunnewijk to ride Women's Tour
Orica-AIS rider Loes Gunnewijk has confirmed that she plans to ride the Women's Tour in 2014, making her the latest rider to confirm her interest in what is rapidly becoming the most talked-about race in women's cycling for years. She will also ride the Bay Classic, the Tour of Qatar and the Ronde van Overijssel.

Women's Tour of the Reservoir
Organisers of the Tour of the Reservoir, due to take place at Blanchland in Northumberland on the 12th of April, have announced that their event will include a women's race for the first time. Few details have yet been made public, but the race will be only 70km in length according to British Cycling - which may prove unpopular with riders, who have been calling for longer events.

World Cup jersey contest won by rider
You may remember that back in October the UCI announced a competition to design a new women's World Cup jersey. It's since been won by none other than Iris Slappendel, the Rabobank rider who won the Open de Suede Vargarda round of the World Cup in 2012. Slappendel left university after graduating in design and produces a range of fashion accessories created from recycled inner tubes.

Slappendel had initially designed three jerseys, once of which was chosen to be used; she then made some improvements and added a fourth, impressing judges so much that all four were chosen as winners. The UCI had expected the competition to be won by a fan and had offered an all-expenses-paid trip to a round of the World Cup as a prize; they'll now have to come up with an alternative as Slappendel is a member of favourite Marianne Vos' team and will be riding at most rounds of the Cup.

Shorts and Interesting Links
Cant wins Diagem (Velonews)
Mullens gears up for hectic year of racing (Bendigo Advertiser, Australia)
Wiggle-Honda fields formidable line-up [for Bay Classic] (Bendigo Advertiser)
Calamity Jo out of World Track meet (Star Online, Malaysia)
White Spot Delta race gains UCI 1.2 status (Delta Optimist, Canada)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Women's Cycling News 22-29.12.2013

Energiewacht Tour remains five-dayer - more to come...

Energiewacht Tour to remain five day event
The UCI have denied organisers of the popular Dutch Energiewacht Tour permission to extend their race from five days to six, stating their reason as being the large number of races taking part in the same month.

The race committee had hoped to hold a night-time prologue in Appingedam and expressed disapproval at the UCI's refusal to let them go ahead. "This is very annoying, especially for anyone involved in the organisation at Appingedam," said race director Thijs Rondhuis. "We have no reason to suspect that this sixth day would pose a problem. There was no prior signal from the UCI, so their decision came as an unpleasant surprise."

Meanwhile, details of the six stages, to be run over five days in April, have been announced:
Stage 1 (09.04): Delfzijl-Delfzijl, 95.5km
Stage 2 (120.04): Westerwolde-Westerwolde, 117km
Stage 3 (11.04): Ploegentijdrit Oldambt, 16km
Stage 3b (11.04): Tynaarlo-Tynaarlo, 100km
Stage 4 (12.04): Eemsmond-Eemsmond, 143km
Stage 5 (13.04): Veendam-Veendam, 108km

Monday, 16 December 2013

Hillingdon GP 2014

01.06.2014 Official Site
Hillingdon, London, England
61km (40 laps) closed-circuit race
Women's National Series
51°30'46.84"N 0°24'2.20"W

The Hillingdon GP is unique in the National Series in that it takes place on a 1.526km dedicated cycle racing circuit in North-West London. Some people, upon reading that, will think that any race on such a parcours couldn't possibly be interesting, but think about it for a moment - Hillingdon combines the mass-start excitement of a road race with the high-speed thrills of the velodrome.

And it is high-speed - not only is the track flat flat and smooth, it's six metres wide and has been deliberately to allow riders to continue pedaling around the seven bends. That makes it very fast indeed, and with little other than speed to act as a deciding factor it often results a big bunch sprint finish.

View Hillingdon GP in a larger map

In 2013, the race was particularly hard-fought due to the Series leaders Anne Ewing and Karla Boddy, who both had 87 points, staying away; this left ample opportunity for several riders just behind them in the standings to move up into top place, but the riders decided among themselves to ride together and without attacks through the first few laps. After 20 minutes, Emma Trott and Karen Poole decided the time was right for action, opening up a small gap that was rapidly shut down again by the MG-Maxifuel riders in an effort to make certain Charline Joiner remained in contention. When Clemence Copie of High Wycombe CC attacked a little later, they wasted no time in bringing her back too; they would keep a tight rein on the remainder of the race, also nipping in the bud attempted breaks by Louise Borthwick, Amy Hill, Tanya Griffiths and finally Sarah Byrne, who upped the pace and enlivened the race when she attacked in the final laps. Although they'd set out a textbook example of how to control a race, the MG squad were about to be reminded that sometimes you can do absolutely everything right and still be denied victory: having brought Joiner to the final corner, they set her up in the ideal position for a sprint that everyone knew she could win. But then, she didn't - Copie, despite having used energy in her attack earlier, was too fast for her and took second, while Emily Kay of Scott Contessa-Epic was faster still and beat them both to the line. 

2013 Top Ten
Emily Kay (Scott Contessa-Epic)
Clemence Copie (High Wycombe CC)
Charline Joiner (MG-Maxifuel)
4 Hayley Jones (Node 4-Giordana)
5 Francesca Morgans-Slader (Lee Valley Youth CC)
6 Sophie Faulkner (Solihull CC)
7 Coryn Rivera (Breast Cancer Care)
8 Abigail Dentus (De Vere Cycles)
9 Flora Gillies (Team ASL360)
10 Amy Hill (Abergavenny Road Club)

2014 Start List
Not yet available

Getting There and Staying There
Getting there: Being in one of the world's major cities, Hillingdon has numerous train (nearest: Southall, 2.7km) and underground stations within walking distance of the circuit as well as regular bus services. It can also be reached easily by car, but since parking is at a premium and public transport is so convenient there's really no need at all to drive there unless you're with a team and need to take bikes with you. Hillingdon can also be reached with ease from overseas due to being in the same borough as Heathrow Airport.

Staying there: It's London, and just up the road from the third busiest airport in the world - there are hotels and bed and breakfasts all over the place, ranging from super-pricey to very cheap.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Women's Cycling News 15-22.12.2013

Giro Toscana protestors will not face action - 2014 Route de France under threat - Vos makes early return to 'Cross - Hanley's vision for women's cycling - Wiggle-Honda celebrate excellent year - Interesting Links

Giro della Toscana protest - case dismissed!
Giorgia Bronzini - and her team,
 Wiggle-Honda - are in the news
for all the right reasons this
Noemi Cantele, Giorgia Bronzini and Elisa Longo Borghini will not face disciplinary action after the Italian Cycling Federation found in their favour, ruling that they - and most of the other riders in the 2013 edition of the race, including General Classification leader Marianne Vos - had been justified in refusing to ride the final stage as a protest against dangerous conditions. The future of the race is uncertain after organiser Brunello Fanini stated that he would no longer hold the event. (Link)

No Route de France in 2014?
The future of the Route de France is uncertain, with director Hervé Gérardin stating that the 2014 edition may not go ahead due to difficulties in finding sufficient sponsorship.

The race, which was due to take place between the 9th and 17th of August next year, is one of the longest events on the women's calendar. However, the 2013 edition was not popular with fans, many of whom believed organisers' attempts to keep it interesting by omitting decisive features such as mountains in an effort to prevent any rider or group of riders gaining a big lead in the overall standings before the final stage made for a boring race, which has almost certainly contributed to the event's problems.

Vos makes early return to 'Cross
Marianne Vos likes to take a break at this time of year, proving that she is in fact human and not a machine sent from the future to win races. She had planned to return to competition at the Heusden-Zolder round of the World Cup on the 26th of December, but announced via Twitter on the 16th that she would come back earlier in order to take part in the Namur round taking place on the 22nd.
@marianne_vosSunday my cx (season)-comeback; earlier as planned, but don't want to miss WC Namur. Cool to go there with 3 @RaboLiv teamies! #NoMudNoGlory

Monique Hanley's Cycling Vision
"Women’s cycling needs to be treated as a product that needs investment for five to ten years before you start seeing the real returns." (Link)

Wiggle-Honda's first season
I said three race wins would be fantastic and five race wins would be an exceptional year... So once we got the first win, I was thinking 'at least we've won a race in our first season' and we went on to win 22 races" - Rochelle Gilmore (Link)

Interesting Links
Giorgia Bronzini - Sprinter of the Year! (Link)

Anna Meares praises Becky James for golden 2013 and admits she is daunted by Briton (Link)

"Like throwing a guy into the Tour de France!" - Tayler Wiles on the difficulties in moving up to the top level (Link)

Amy Cure and Georgia Baker aiming at inaugural Aussie Madison Championship (Link)

More coverage of women's cycling, demands Emma Pooley (Link)

Total Rush's topless models draw cyclists' ire; bike shop claims to have been inspired by other organisations including breast cancer charities (Link)

Old Mutual Namibia sponsors women's team - to the tune of N$20,000 (Link)

“I personally hope that it gets really rainy. The muddier the better,” says 'crosser Meghan Korol at the NC CX GP (Link)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

North Norfolk 100

17.05.2014 Norfolk, UK
Individual Time Trial, 161km
Start: 52°50'32.07"N  0°48'37.15"E

Everyone knows that women's cycling hasn't been in a healthy state for several years, and has only started to show signs of recovery - thanks to the hard work of riders and fans alike, as well as the unsung believers who toiled under McQuaid and will now hopefully be able to make a real difference under the more favourable tenure of Brian Cookson - over the last couple of seasons. If you ask people what it is that needs to be done, you'll get a whole host of ideas and opinions, and one you'll hear again and again is "more effort at grassroots level, to encourage more women to get into racing in the first place."

So how do you do that? Well, the organisers of the North Norfolk 100 have a pretty good idea, and they've proved beyond reasonable doubt that they're fully committed and truly dedicated not just to the future of women's cycling, but to cycling in general - they've made it free for women and juniors to enter their event. This 100 mile (161km) individual time trial is not as widely known as it deserves to be despite having existed in some shape or form for more than decade, but with organisers that passionate about the sport it soon will be. Likewise, North Norfolk is not nearly as well-known as a cycling destination as it ought to be - a look at the parcours for this event demonstrates that the district is perfect for a short break.

In 2013, the race was hit by torrential rain and only 36 riders finished. Five were female, in this order (numbers in brackets are their overall placings in the mixed result)...

1(26) Kathryn Smith (Sleaford Wheelers CC) 5h21'10"
2(28) Naomi Shinkins (Tri London) 5h27'40"
3(29) Roslyn McGinty (Tri London) 5h28'17"
4(34) Martina Geraghty (Penzance Wheelers) 6h02'56"
5(35) Maria Greaves (North Norfolk Wheelers) 6h05'16"

The race is also contested by tricycles as the Tricycle Association (East) 100, with five riders taking part last year - including one woman, Jane Swain (Willeden CC), who later in the summer became World Tricycle Criterium Champion!

The Parcours

View North Norfolk 100 in a larger map

Other than the fact that the county is home to Alan Partridge, a lot of ill-fated turkeys and Stephen Fry, the one thing that everyone knows about Norfolk is that it's very flat. This is indeed the case - the highest point in the county, Beacon Hill near West Runton, rises to just 103m above sea level and makes Norfolk the flattest British county (only the City of London, sometimes considered a county, is flatter - its highest point is High Holborne at 22m above sea level). However, cyclists who visit North Norfolk will find that it's flat in the same way that Flanders is flat: the hills are low and few and far between but some are surprisingly steep, and there are many dips (some of which drop below sea level) which have much the same effect on the legs when climbing out of them. This parcours, being a long time trial, avoids the worst of them but is still considerably more rolling than someone who has never been to the county might expect - the steepest section anywhere on the circuit is no more than 5.4%, but the total elevation gain in a complete lap is 234m. Over the course of three laps, that has an effect.

Altitude profile
The race starts at a large layby on the A148 just south of Sculthorpe and a few kilometres west of Fakenham with the riders setting out west past the operational airfield RAF Sculthorpe and the tiny villages of Coxford, Tattersett, East and West Rudham and Harpley (where there's a long barrow by the side of the road on the way to Little Massingham). This section, 18.9km in length upon arrival at Hillington, is on wide roads with several long, straight sections that permit high speed - a great opportunity to set pace and start working on a decent overall time, but also a place where early in the race an inexperienced rider could easily and unnecessarily expend energy he or she will need later.

At Hillington they'll turn left for the first time, taking the B1153 south - the corner isn't tight, but some care needs to be taken (especially if conditions are as slippery as in 2013, when the race was hit by torrential rain) due to a traffic island immediately upon entering the new road, and riders should be aware that there may be loose gravel on the road just before the church approximately 0.25km from the turn. 21.7km from the start and still on the B1153 is Congham which is probably a far more pleasant place without the oil mill that once stood in the village and processed dead whales brought from the docks at King's Lynn. There are a couple of rather awkward drain covers upon entering the village, just as the road bends slightly left and a likelihood of more loose gravel just ahead where it bends right again, then the buildings thin out before the race comes to Grimston - a tiny village today, Grimston was once an important producer of pottery and that is was once a wealthy town can be seen by its large and grand church. The road bends left and then right just past the church by a row of white cottages on the right, then left as it leaves the village behind before coming to a sharper left and right 23.1km from the start. It then enters a fast 2.45km section leading into Gayton where the section of the race heading south comes to an end at a crossroads near the windmill which no longer has its sails.

The left turn onto the B1145 heading east at Gayton is not technical, but it is essential that riders obey the rules of the road here and race organisers warn that marshalls will be in position and will disqualify any rider who does not check to the right for traffic.This is not a closed circuit; the penalty for failing to give way could be far worse than disqualification. The B1145 section is another fast road that climbs gently through the first half of its 12.7km length, with no villages or tight bends to distract riders from getting their heads down and pushing hard. The hedges along the road, however, are low in many parts; if the wind is blowing from the north (as is frequently the case) or the south, crosswinds may cause problems (if you're visiting the race with a bike, this would be a good place from which to spectate as it would be possible to ride along the pleasingly-named Drunken Drove 5.9km from Gayton, then to Great Massingham and north to the A418 at Harpley for the next lap. Presumably an old sheep drove - the economy of Norfolk was, in former times, based largely on sheep farming, rather than arable farming and tourism as it is today - Drunken Drove bears a slight resemblance to Koppenberg - but with a maximum gradient of 5.5% and asphalt rather than "children's heads" cobbles, you don't need to be a pro cyclist to get up it and will probably beat the riders who are taking a longer route in the race).

After covering 38.5km from the start, riders come to the A1065 and turn left to head north. There may be loose gravel on the road immediately before the turn due to a parking area on the right. The turn is wide, but once again it's essential to check for traffic before joining the new road. Shortly after the turn, the road passes through woodland - something that isn't seen often in Norfolk - for 2.1km; there is an increased chance of punctures here. On the other side it reaches Weasenham All Saints, where the once very convivial Ostrich Inn has stood derelict for twelve years and looks ready to collapse; locals in search of a pint now have to go to Weavenham St. Peter, which the race passes through a kilometre further north. Wandering gradually to the east, the road continues to first South Raynham and then East Raynham, location of Raynham Hall where one of the most famous photographs purported to show a ghost - the Brown Lady - was taken. The Hall is not open to the public, but can be viewed from a circular walk that passes through the estate.

13.2km from the turning onto the A1065 and 51.7km from the start, the riders pass Shereford Road on the right. Just beyond it, separated from the road by a patch of grass with a red post box, is a area in front of a row of cottages; during the first and second laps the riders will continue straight past, while on the third lap they will arrive at the finish line here. Less than half a kilometre further ahead they cross a bridge which doesn't narrow sufficiently to be a hazard, then pass Fakenham on the left after another half a kilometre, then continue for another half a kilometre to a roundabout where they'll turn left to rejoin the A148 heading west. They pass a graveyard on the left then, 1.88km from the turn, arrive back at the layby from which the race began and start a new lap.

Start List
Not yet available

Getting There and Staying There
Fakenham has an undeserved reputation as a boring town, mostly as a result of a retracted comment on the Knowhere Guide website that was misconstrued in the press as stating that the town had been voted the most boring place in Britain. It isn't; it's probably not a bad place at all to live and most certainly a pleasant place to visit, and enough people are aware of that for there to be a good selection of small hotels nearby ranging from the expensive to cheap. TripAdvisor is a good place to find them. Cheaper still is Greenwoods Campsite, located just off the A148 at Tattersett some 5km west of the start. Do be aware that stays of one night at the site must be booked and paid seven days in advance.

The largely unspoiled North Norfolk coast is perfect for bike exploration if you plan to make your visit to the race part of a short tour. Hunstanton is worth a visit, but for what must be one of the best beaches in Britain head to Brancaster - which nearly became the rocket launch site for the British space programme in the 1950s. While you're in the area, why not make the 25km trip straight down the A1065 to Swaffham where you can pay your respects at the grave of one of Britain's first female cycling heroes, Evelyn Hamilton? Hamilton lived an amazing life, setting numerous cycling records in the 1930s and acting as Gracie Fields' body double in Sing As We Go before setting up a bike shop which might have in reality been a front for the Free French Forces and possibly employed one of the Pélissiers (the brothers of 1923 Tour de France winner Henri Pélissier) during the Second World War while she was away in France where she just might have been a secret agent. She died in 2005, and her gravestone bears the name Evelyn Alice Helsen - leave a bidon or something similar, like we do when we pass Tom Simpson's memorial on Ventoux, to show that a truly remarkable woman has not been forgotten.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sheffield GP

23.07.2014 Official Site
England, 45 minutes + 3 laps
Women's National Series
Start: 53°22'47.32"N 1°28'13.11"W

When most people imagine a bike race, they picture a peloton crusing along a picturesque road surrounded by Alpine meadows with the lofty snow-capped peaks soaring far overhead. There are plenty of races in which that sort of thing can be seen, and they're one of the reasons that cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world. There are other kinds of racing too, of course, and if it's sheer eyeballs-out, high-speed, scrape-yer-knees-off-going-round-the-corners excitement you want then you can't beat a good city centre criterium style event - and the Sheffield GP is a very good example.

The 2013 edition was an absolute joy to watch with most of Britain's top female road racers fighting hard throughout the race and leaving the thousands of people that turned up to watch in no doubt whatsoever that women's cycling is every bit as tough, fast and exciting as men's cycling. The top five looked like this:

1 Helen Wyman (Kona)
2 Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel)
3 Eileen Roe (Breast Cancer Care)
4 Hannah Walker (Matrix Fitness)
5 Melissa Lowther (Matrix Fitness)

When Neutral Service asked for confirmation of the 2014 circuit, the race organisers sent a link to a Strava segment. Top female riders are Lauren Creamer (2'01"), Eleanor Jones (2'15"), Nicola Soden (2'21"), Keira McVitty (2'28") and Ruth Taylor (3'31").

What's a criterium...?
If you've never been to a bike race before, a criterium - or crit, as cyclists usually call them - is an ideal choice for your first. The riders race for a pre-set time rather than over a specified number of laps (usually; at some crits it's the other way round), completing many laps of a short circuit that will often be located in a city centre. This sometimes worries people who haven't seen one before, in case the riders take it easy right up until the last few minutes, but in fact the first third tends to be full of attacks as riders who don't have much chance of winning go on the attack in an attempt to wear down riders from other teams, thus heightening their own chances, while the final third is when the favourites start to pile on the pressure. There might be a quieter time during the middle third - but the lulls in a crit are the best time to make the sort of attack that sometimes results in victory. What's more, there will be a "prime" prize for the fastest rider every now and again during the race, encouraging them to ride hard.

With the races frequently taking place in the evening, as is the case with this one, they tend to attract large numbers of people and often generate a festival atmosphere that keeps the whole family enthralled - even those who don't have much of an interest in the sport. Another advantage is that spectators will see the riders pass by numerous times and can walk around the circuit to see it from different angles.

The Parcours

View Sheffield GP in a larger map

Taking place on the same short 1.374km circuit as used in 2013, the GP features a number of bends that, though wide, become challenging due to the sheer number of riders trying to get around them at the same time - with the high speeds on a parcours that demands sharp bursts of power (which is precisely how Helen Wyman, who specialises in sharp bursts of power combined with the sort of bike-handling skills that cyclo cross riders need in drives, won last year), this can easily lead to complications. The temptation is always to get out in front in an attempt to be well away from danger if anyone does go down and starts off a domino effect, but on a circuit this short there are very few opportunities to get away without everyone else going with you.

The start is on Pinstone Street by the Peace Gardens on a wide, smooth road that immediately travels downhill, encouraging high speed, then bends gradually to the right after approximately 50 metres and passes through a pinch point that will force the peloton to change shape. Another pinch point, caused by a traffic island at a T-junction, lies 500m ahead where the race turns left onto Furnival Gate and enters a 110m straight section that descends more steeply towards a roundabout whee the riders turn left again to join Arundel Gate - there is plenty of room going into the corner but less on the way out, and it'd be a good place to spectate.

After the roundabout is a 90m section that climbs very slightly to just past a crossroads, then flattens out for the remaining 470m to the end of the Arundel Gate section and the left turn onto Norfolk Street. The corner is sharp, but sufficiently wide for riders to get round en masse; however, the road narrows considerably as it enters the 0.2km cobbled section running between the rest of Norfolk Street (the cobbles are flatlook for the Coventry Building Society by the church to mark the start of the section) and Pinstone Street. 80m from the start of the cobbles lies the only right corner on the circuit, leading onto Surrey Street - and it's a tricky one due to a combination of the narrow roads, the cobbles and several drain covers lying right in the middle of the roads where they'll be a serious test of bike-handling skills if it rains at all on race day. The cobbles continue for another 120m after the corner and the road bends gradually left before arriving at a junction with Pinstone Street, where the riders turn left onto asphalt and begin a straight 100m sprint to the line.

Start List
Not yet available

Getting There and Accommodation
Sheffield will forever be associated with heavy industry, especially steel production, and for some reason a surprising number of people imagine that it's still the smoggy, noisy, grimy place that it was in late Victorian times. The reality is very different: today, it's a clean and modern city with much to offer to tourists, and is surprisingly and pleasantly green - 61% of the total area is green space, including 250 public parks and gardens, and it has the highest ratio of trees to humans of any city in Europe. Perhaps of even more interest to cyclists is the city's proximity to the Peak District (in fact, roughly a third lies within the Peak District): even before it became a National Park in 1951, this region was popular among cyclists who came for the stunning roads that wind through, up and down some of the most beautiful natural countryside in Britain. Come and see the race, then spend a few days on a bike tour - you will not be disappointed by either the southern part, known as the White Peak, or the more difficult and often stormy northern Dark Peak.

As it takes place in one of Britain's major cities, it's easy to get to this race by road (whether by car or, as is always a better option, bike) or by public transport, from anywhere in Britain or overseas, and to find a place to stay once there. The M1 and M18 motorways connect the city to the rest of the country, while A, B and unclassified roads provide a choice of routes suited to bikes (Google Maps' route planner will come up with a few if plotting journey plans isn't your thing). There are rail links to all regions including to St. Pancras in London, making it possible to travel directly from Belgium and France; and an airport.

With literally hundreds of hotels, ranging from pricey luxury to bargain basic, it'll be easy to find accommodation to suit any budget. The Peak District has numerous campsites and Youth Hostels.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Women's Cycling News 08-15.12.2013

ASO discuss women's TdF with Le Tour Entier - Women's Tour sponsorship difficulties - Holland Hills moves finish - Good weekend for Compton - Boot Out Breast Cancer's new sponsor - New French superteam - Interesting Links - More to come...

Le Tour Entier and ASO discuss women's TdF
Le Tour Entier, which is campaigning for a women's Tour de France, has confirmed that it is in discussions with Tour organisers the Amaury Sport Organisation. Emma Pooley, one of the cyclists who set up the campaign, says that the ASO is "not ruling it out, a women's race of some kind."

Brian Cookson, who made his support a key part of his successful campaign to be elected UCI president, played a pivotal role in setting up the discussions.

Read more at The Guardian.

Women's Tour sponsorship difficulties
Organisers of the Women's Tour have told The Independent that despite huge public enthusiasm for the race, they're having difficulty in finding sponsors - depressing news when the race has already served to encourage a feeling of optimism among fans and riders.

SweetSpot, who are organising the race, have declined to publish a list of corporate sponsors who won't get involved but say they're usually told that the companies they approach "don't believe anyone is interested in women's sport."  Why, then, the difficulty in securing backing?

Most companies, SweetSpot say, claim to love the concept of the race with only a small number making what director Guy Elliott calls "'stereotypical' adverse comments." The reason, then, is surely risk adversity - companies are simply not willing to get involved in something new, despite the likelihood of it being a success.

That they are wrong is evident - the women's road race at the Olympics drew a larger audience than anyone had predicted, and the women's events at televised track meets continue to do well despite often being broadcast on the Red Button digital channel. Companies that do get involved will reap the benefits - let's just hope that a sufficient number of them have the foresight to do so, so that the Women's Tour can become everything it has the potential to be.

Holland Hills moves finish
Organisers of the ever-evolving Boels Holland Hills Classic have announced that the finish line of the 2014 edition will be moved from Sittard (which hosted the start and finish in 2013) to Geulhemmerberg in Valkenburg. The hill, which climbs 58m in 1km at an average gradient of 5.8%, reaches 9% at its steepest point. Rgularly featured in the Amstel Gold Race, it is also famous for the cottages built into caves in the rockface running alongside the road.

Good weekend for Compton
Katie Compton enjoyed a fine weekend with Belgian cyclo cross victories on Saturday and Sunday. The first of the two was at the Soudal Scheldecross and the second at the Vlaamse Druivencross; she beat Sanne Cant and Nikki Harris into second and third place at both races.

Boot Out Breast Cancer takes on new sponsor
Sports clothing manufacturer Pearl Izumi have extended their support of women's cycling by signing a sponsorship deal with Sarah Storey's Boot Out Breast Cancer team, which will now be known as Pearl Izumi Boot Out Breast Cancer.

New French superteam
The Fédération Francaise de Cyclisme is seeking new backers for a cross-disciplinary superteam that has distinct similarities to Britain's Team Sky. The new team would include road race, cyclo cross, mountain biking and BMX riders to be based at the new St-Quentin en Yvelines national cycling centre near Paris and would include women's squads in addition to men's.

Interesting Links
Cycling World Cup: GB women smash own pursuit record – twice (Independent)
Anna Meares breaks own 500m world record at world cup event in Mexico (Guardian)
Moolman Pasio ends successful year (SuperSport)
Becky James wins Young Sportsperson of the Year award (Cycling Weekly)

More to come...

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Women's Cycling News 01-08.12.2013

Vulpine Cyclogames - Qatar launches women's team - Shorts and Interesting Links - More as it happens...

In London this weekend...?
Then you really do need to get yourself to Hackney, otherwise you'll have missed your opportunity to be at the Vulpine Cyclogames - and one day, your grandchildren are going to want to know all about it.

More here.

Qatar launches women's team
The Qatar Cycling Federation has launched its first ever women's team - and has recruited Finnish cycling legend Pia Sundstedt to coach them towards the 2016 World Championships.

According to the Federation's General Secretary Majed al Naimi, there were moves to create a team as long ago as 2005 but at that time it was felt to be impossible due to the difficulty in locating a coach able to speak Arabic to the necessary standard. However, Qatar is one of the most open and free Arab states and as such the population have access to Western culture and the Internet; the 22 members of the team, who range from 13 to 17 years old, all speak English sufficiently well to understand and converse with English speaker Sundstedt - who won six National Championships, two European Championships and two editions of the Giro del Trentino.

Shorts and Interesting Links
Cycling revolution for sale at the paltry price of a few hundred thousand pounds
"Perhaps, though, the biggest draw in women's cycling is one single person: Marianne Vos. The Dutch rider is the greatest cyclist who has ever lived, man or woman. She has won two Olympic gold medals and 11 world titles in road and track racing and cyclocross. Still only 26, she is a phenomenon..." (Herald Scotland)

Lizzie Armitstead: The future looks brighter than ever for women’s cycling (Metro)

Jeannie Longo suing AFLD for more than one million euro (Velonation)

Katie Archibald's meteoric rise (Cycling Weekly)
Chloe Hosking ups tempo in pursuit of gold (Canberra Times)
SKCC Super Crit and the rise of women’s cycling (Roar)
How should bicyclists handle harassment? D.C. area groups teach empowerment tactics (Washington Post)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cheshire Classic

27.04.2014 Official Site
England, 77km (+2.41km neutral zone) Road Race
Women's National Series

Due to sponsorship issues and host of other problems faced by the people that run them, races in women's cycling tend not to last as long as in men's cycling - the fact that the Cheshire Classic has been in operation since 1980, and has been held every year with the exception of 2001 (when it had to be cancelled due to the BSE crisis) and has gone from strength to strength is therefore testament to the dedication of the organisers, Weaver Valley CC, and to their love for the sport - which is proved further on the official website by the presence of an excellent advice section for women taking up cycling.

Partly because it's so well organised, it's always been a very popular race among the riders and a list of winners reads like a list of the best British female riders of the last 33 years: a pair of Swinnertons (Catherine and Margaret), Mandy Jones, Judith Painter, Lisa Brambini, Maria Blower, Marie Purvis, Megan Hughes, Nicole Cooke, Rachel Heal, Lizzie Armitstead, Sharon Laws, Lucy Garner, Sarah Storey  and, last year, Karla Boddy,who told me afterwards that she liked my write-up of the race because it made her "sound better than I really am" - delightfully modest, considering she'd just won a race won in the past by some of the greatest cyclists Britain ever produced!

In addition to its official website, the Cheshire Classic has a Twitter that is active throughout the year, providing and forwarding women's cycling information, as well as supplying up-to-date details when the race in in progress. If you only follow one account today, make it theirs.

The Parcours

View Cheshire Classic 2014 in a larger map

The parcours begins at the race headquarters located at Grange School Sports Pavillion on Northwich Road (B5153), Hartfordbeach; the riders set out into a 2.41km neutralised zone runniong north-west along Northwich Road and through Weaverham to a junction, there they'll turn right onto Sandy Lane (B5142). Wide, fast and non-technical, it descends 30m in 1.19km at an average gradient of -2.5%, which is just sufficient to encourage high speeds as it curves gently west to arrive at a junction with the A49. Once there, the riders will turn left; since there is limited space immediately after the apex of the turn due to a central reservation and riders will enter the turn at speed, there is a chance of crashes here - especially in early laps before the field has been split.

Altitude profile. Following the neutralised zone, riders enter the circuit and head
towards the finish line at the top of Acton Lane Hill where they begin a new lap. Ten laps,
each 7.7km in length, will be completed.
Straight and 3.85km in length, the A49 Weaverham bypass section of the race is lightning-fast and can be used by time trial specialists to grab serious advantages - or in the case of a team that had spent a lot of time practicing team time trial tactics, a winning advantage (imagine what a team like Specialized-Lululemon would do here). It was on this section in 2012 that Natalie Cresswick tried to attack Sarah Storey and Molly Weaver, but was matched and overcome by both; Storey, the eventual victor, said after seeing the data downloaded from her computer "I had averaged somewhere not far off what I would expect to do in a time trial when there are no sudden changes of pace." It does, however, feature a climb - starting within 0.1km from the B5142/A49 junction, it gains 22m in 0.75km at an average gradient of only 2% but reaches 7.5% after around 200m.

If the ten separate climbs came together, they'd look
like this: 340m in 3.5km, with ten 12.5% sections along
the way. Brutal!
Passing by the B5142, the route continues for another 0.89km along a gentle descent with an average gradient of no more than -1% before coming to a left turn just tight enough to causes clashes if the entire peloton tries to get around it en masse. It leads onto Acton Lane and, 0.23km from the turn, the Acton Lane hill, which may decide the outcome of the race. The hill isn't very high and gains only around 34m but it does so in 0.337km, creating an average gradient of nearly 9.2%. That's steep, but on a hill this small not steep enough to bother a cyclist who is good enough to compete in a race such as this one. The thing is, a significant percentage of that gain comes in a short section halfway up, where the gradient rises to in excess of 12.5% - which is really steep, by anyone's standards. What counts for even more, of course, is that there are ten laps, and each one includes the climb. Multiply the effort and effect by ten, the number of laps, and the answer is "brutal" - expect to see riders in real pain as they force themselves up for the final time en route to the finish line.

At the top, the riders follow the road as it bends first right and then left to become Hill Top Road, beginning a straightforward and gentle 0.91km descent to a junction where they'll turn left to join Cliff Road, which runs straight and wide for the next 1.26km over rolling terrain (with two small rises) to a junction by the Hanging Gate pub. Here they turn left, arriving moments later at the point where they first left the neutralised zone and joined the circuit, thus beginning a second lap. The tenth and final lap finishes at the top of the Acton Lane hill, which is also the location of the intermediate sprint to be held at the end of the fifth lap.

Please note: there is very little space along the roadsides at the Hill Top Road/Station Road, StationRoad/Sandy Lane and Sandy Lane/A49 junctions and at the roundabout at the southernmost end of the A49 section. This means that race marshals may not be able to monitor the race or respond to accidents if spectators gather there; organisers would like to request therefore that spectators choose other points from which to watch the race.

Start List
Not yet available

Getting There
Weaverham lies only a short distance from Chester, Runcorn, Liverpool, Crewe and Macclesfield and as such is easily reached by motorway from anywhere in the United Kingdom. A much better way to get there is, of course, by bike - Google Maps' Get Directions function will work out routes suited to your abilities. If you can't cycle to the race, the train is the best option - Acton Bridge station lies just a few metres from the parcours and a pub, the Hazel Pear Inn, so fans arriving before the race begins can have a refreshing pint before heading out onto the parcours to find a vantage point. Finally, Liverpool John Lennon Airport receives flights from all over the world, making it possible to reach the race from Europe and elsewhere with ease.

There is one hotel, the Oaklands in Weaverham itself (some might be a little put off by the horrific abuse of apostrophes on the website), while Northwich has a Premier Inn. Due to the popularity of the race, rooms are likely to be limited - fortunately, the larger towns nearby have much more and are close enough to make getting to the race easy. There are several campsites in the area, including Woodbine Cottage right on the parcours. It has a small number of pitches but accepts caravans, campervans and tents (static caravans can be hired) and would also be a good place from which to watch the race, as well as being easy walking distance to anywhere on the parcours.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Women's Cycling News 24.11-01.12.2013

Compton conquers Koksijde - Photo of the Week - Wyman grabs glory at Gieten - Opinions sought on Otley Sportive - Boels confirms commitment - Shorts and Interesting Links - more as it happens

Katie Compton
Compton conquers Koksijde - again
For many fans it's the best round of the World Cyclo Cross Cup, simply because the sand dunes on which it's raced make it so very different to the usual mud and slippery wet grass, so while the weather in Flanders is completely unpredictable at this time of year (and at any other time of year, for that matter, though if you bet "rain" you'll generally get good odds) Koksijde is always guaranteed to get huge crowds. Which is good, because it means a huge number of people got to see a superb victory by Katie Compton.

Compton had won here three times before (2008, 2010, 2012) and, with Marianne Vos (who won in 2009) taking her customary end-of-road-racing-season break, was the easy favourite and started the race with 110 points in the rankings, but if you've ever tried to ride a bike in sand, you'll know it's not at all an easy thing to do and requires constant concentration - fail to get a turn just right and you're pitched headfirst into the terrain and even if you have the bike handling skills of a CX god, there's always the possibility that your tyres will keep sinking in, sucking every scrap of strength out of your legs before you can even finish the first lap. Compton dealt with it using a simple but highly effective tactic of running where others tried to ride and managed to beat her nearest rival by a huge margin of 1'08".

British rider Nikki Harris was just 15 points behind, causing many to wonder if she'd go all out for a win today - she certainly had a good go and for a time looked the strongest of the group of six that chased the American, but once the race neared its end it was clear she'd given too much to challenge: it was Sanne Cant who powered away from the group, presumably well aware that she wasn't going to catch Compton but going after as glorious a second as she could take. Thousands of adoring fans cheering you on does more for a rider's performance than the contents of Willy Voet's glovebox, which meant that Cant - who isn't quite a local, being from Ekeren around 150km away in Antwerp, but is undoubtedly a Flemish national hero - was also expected to do well (she's well-known for her ability on sand, too); she may have been outclassed by the victor, but she'll be happy to have finished 14" ahead of Harris.

Koksijde Top Ten
1 Katie COMPTON 43'32"
2 Sanne CANT 44'40"
3 Nikki HARRIS 44'54"
4 Sabrina STULTIENS 45'27"
5 Sophie DE BOER 45'28"
6 Helen WYMAN 46'03"
7 Pavla HAVLIKOVA 46'14"
8 Martina MIKULASKOVA 46'49"
9 Loes SELS 46'57"
10 Ellen VAN LOY 47'12"

Photo of the Week
Been a while since I last did one of these (sadly, the pressures of life require me to occasionally suspend my otherwise constant monitoring of Twitter in favour of, like, working and stuff), but "cyclist and wannabe photographer/designer" Jon Baines' shot of Gabby Durrin battling the strength-sucking sands of Koksijde deserves to make it into the eyeballs of as many people as possible. Gabby finished 13th at 47'39" (which she wasn't too pleased with, but just finishing on a parcours like Koksijde is an achievement); Jon says this is the only picture he took of the race using his mobile phone instead of his camera - if it's any indication of how good those will be, I think it's safe to say he's a "gonnabe" rather than a "wannabe!"

Koksijde by Jon Baines
(used with the kind permission of the photographer; please do not reuse with approval from him)

Wyman grabs glory at Gieten... with video!
European cyclo cross is looking rather like a battle between three riders at present with the Brits Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris and Belgian Sanne Cant dividing the spoils between them during the absence of Marianne Vos (who takes a short break from competition after the road season) and Katie Compton (who has been busy at home in the USA, but flew in to win Koksijde this week - see above): Harris won at Hamme-Zogge, Cant won Jaarmarktcross the following day, at Hasselt the next week then Gavere a day after that and now Wyman, who recently successfully defended her European CX title, won at Gieten on the 24th.

Wyman used her usual tactic of taking the lead in the first lap but was not, for a change, fastest off the line - Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn literally catapulted herself onto the parcours and had the advantage for a short time before Cant took over, then Wyman powered into the lead and remained out in front for the remainder of the race, eventually coming in 16" ahead of Cant, who was five seconds ahead of 20-year-old Sabrina Stultiens, who fought her all the way in an attempt to grab second place but finally had to concede to the Belgian's greater experience on the tricky sandy parts of the track - but third when riding against athletes of Wyman and Cant's calibre is not a bad result at all for the Dutch rider, especially considering her recent knee problems.

Opinions sought on Otley Sportive
Organisers of the Otley Sportive say they want to "shape the event to be specific to women, provide value for money, encourage individuals into cycling, and benefit our community." To do that, they need to know how much riders would be willing to pay, what they'd like for their money, whether they'd wish to pay extra for a jersey and a few more things. You can help by sharing your opinions here.

Boels confirms commitment
If only every company was like Boels (well, shared its desire to get involved in women's cycling, anyway - you wouldn't want all companies to be exactly like the plant machinery hire firm, because sometimes you want to buy bikes, cakes, fish, duvets and, like, stuff, rather than hire plant machinery), which has just confirmed its outstanding commitment to women's cycling by signing new contracts in which it agrees to sponsor the Holland Hills Classic and the Holland Ladies' Tour until 2016. Boels also sponsors the successful Boels-Dolmans racing team (which also has secure backing until 2016) and provides money to a number of other women's cycling events.

Shorts and Interesting Links
Beryl Burton photo exhibition (Yorkshire Evening Post)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Women's Cycling News 17-24.11.2013

Latest: Bury St. Edmunds to host Women's Tour Stage 5 finish - On The Drops' new website - All UCI commissions to include "at least one woman" Trott says no to World's Sexiest Women Awards - Transfers and Team News - Shorts and Interesting Links: Binda confirmed for 2014 - more as it happens

Latest: Herts, Essex and Suffolk host Women's Tour stages 
Tendring, in Essex, made an impassioned bid in early October to host a stage of the inaugural Women's Tour, realising that the race was going to be big and would bring all sorts of benefits to the locale, and they'll be glad they did because, now when they've been confirmed as hosts of Stage 3, the race looks set to be even bigger than the most optimistic of women's cycling fans ever hoped. In fact, it's not at all far-fetched to say that after years of being a cycling backwater, Britain will from this point onward be the home of one of the most prestigious events on the women's calendar, a race that rivals even the Giro Rosa - the last Grand Tour in women's cycling.

Stage 4 will run through the neighboring county of Hertfordshire, beginning in Cheshunt (to pay homage to Laura Trott, who calls the town home) and ending in Welwyn Garden City.

Details of the fifth and final stage were revealed on the 21st and brought more good news for cycling fans in Essex - the stage will begin in Harwich (Tendring's efforts have been repaid twice) before snaking through the country and up into Suffolk, where it'll finish at Bury St. Edmunds (always a fitting place for a race as it was the birthplace of James Moore - who won what is often said to have been the world's first organised bike race). Bury St. Edmunds has hosted stages of the men's Tour of Britain in recent years and has put on a good show, attracting many thousands of people to Angel Hill in the city centre, which seems the most likely location for the finish.

Further details of the routes will be announced early in the new year.

Stage One: Oundle to Northampton
Stage Two: Hinckley to Bedford
Stage Three: Clacton-on-Sea
Stage Four: Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City
Stage Five: Harwich to Bury St. Edmunds

On The Drops launch new-look website
On The Drops - racing in 2014 as Matrix-Vulpine - has for many years now been much more than just a team dedicated to getting good results. From early on it was deliberately structured to act as a supportive home for young riders before propelling them onward and upward to the top Elite teams (and was remarkably successful in that role, as a look at the team's ex-members will show); now, as well as planning on moving its racing up a gear or two in the new season, the team has a redesigned website featuring the all-new Neutral Service.

The brainchild of team manager Stef Wyman, Neutral Service aims to address a need for a central point where people can find information on women’s racing. "We will look to provide that here on our site. This will be neutral, not Matrix Fitness news and we will be looking for contributors to become part of the OTD team," the introduction continues (before mentioning that some bloke called John Orbea will be writing race previews). To find out more about contributing, check the site or speak to Stef.

More on the new OTD sponsors from BikeBiz

All UCI commissions to include "at least one woman"
The Union Cycliste Internationale has announced that in future all of its commissions will include "at least one woman." Similar "positive discrimination," designed to increase involvement of women and ethnic minorities in politics and other fields, has met with some criticism; however, many examples have been successful in engaging groups that display high levels of disenfranchisement in the political process - which is the same result that new UCI president Brian Cookson is hoping to achieve: "I am delighted by this announcement, which helps reinforce the presence of women in cycling," he said in an official press release.

Most members have already been announced, and there are several figures known for their intelligent and passionate arguments in support of women's cycling. Multiple British and European Cyclo Cross Champion Helen Wyman has been appointed to the Cyclo Cross Commission, Catherine Gastou to the Paracycling Commission (with Sarah Storey as riders' representative), Yvonne Mattsson to the Road Commission (with Marianne Vos as riders' representative), Tanya Dubnicoff to the Track Commission, Georgia Gould as riders' representative (cross country) to the MTB Commission, Jolanda Polkamp to the BMX Commission, Karin Moor to the Trials Commission and Claudia Bee to the Indoor Cycling Commission. Cycling For All will henceforth be split into two separate commissions - Mass Participation, which governs sportives and suchlike, where Tone Lien is the female member; Advocacy and Cyclists' Rights has Pia Allerslev. Other commissions include Anti-Doping (Marjoline Viret), Medical (Katharina Grimm), Disciplinary and Arbitral (Norma Gimondi and Maria-Laura Guardamagna), the Athletes Commission (Marianne Vos, Anna Meares, Georgia Gould, Vilma Rimsaite), the Commissaire's Commission (to be announced), Ethics (Noemi Cantele), Licences (no female member announced) and Equipment (to be announced).

Three new commissions have been created and also have female members. They are the Constitutional Review Panel (members to be announced), the International Development and National Federations Panel (Tracey Gaudry) and, most notably, the Women's Commission, where Kristy Scrymgeour and Karen Bliss are on the panel and the riders' representatives are Emma Pooley and Katie Compton.

Trott says no to World's Sexiest Women Awards
Laura Trott found millions of new fans when she was on screen during the Olympics, but not all of them were impressed by her athletic ability - some just liked the way she looks, which is why she was invited to attend a "Sexiest Women In The World Awards" event taking place in the 1970s... er, earlier this year.

Of course, she didn't let down her true fans. "That was just a no-go for me," she explained. "That whole other side of things just does not appeal to me. I do sport because I like being an athlete. I want to inspire young girls to get on their bikes, and I just believe there is a certain way of doing that, a certain way that I want to be seen."

Transfers and Team News
Widnes-born British rider Lucy Martin - who began as a  professional with Garmin-Cervelo in 2011, moved to AA Drink-Leontien in 2012 when sponsors pulled the rug from under Garmin's women's team and then went to Boels-Dolmans for 2013 - is moving on again, this time to Faren-Kuota. Martin looked set for a career on the track when she won bronze in the National Championships and a silver in the World Cup back in 2008, but has scored consistently good results on the road since, including two eighth place stage finishes at the 2011 Giro Donne. Fellow Brit Sharon Laws, who started with Halfords Bike Hut in 2008 before spending two years with Cervelo, then moved to AA Drink with Martin for 2012 and on to Lotto-Belisol for 2013, is going to American team United Healthcare, as is Hannah Barnes who steps up into the highest level of cycling.

Meanwhile, BePink has signed up Susanna Zorzi - with Faren-Kuota in 2013 - and Anna-Maria Stricker of MCipollini-Giordana. Zorzi has been a big-hitter since 2008 when she came third at the Novice's National Individual Time Trial Championship and is current Under-23 European Road Race Champion; Stricker was Junior National Road Race Champion in 2012.

Shorts and Interesting Links
Trofeo Binda confirmed for 2014
Organisers of the Trofeo Binda, who professed themselves very disappointed that the newly-upgraded Gent-Wevelgem would take place on the same day as their race in 2014 and even hinted that they might kill off their prestigious event, have announced that the Trofeo will go ahead as planned on the 30th of March.

What will the Women's Cycling Tour bring to Northamptonshire next year? (Northampton Herald&Post)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Curlew Cup 2014

22.06.2014 Official Site
England, 103km Road Race
Women's National Series

Now in its third edition, the Curlew Cup has become one of the most popular National Series races among riders and fans alike for numerous reasons: the high-calibre field it attracts (Sarah Story won in 2012, then Hannah Barnes in 2013), the beautiful route running through the Northumberland countryside, a respectable prize fund (£2000 in 2014) and, perhaps most of all, a hard and testing parcours - while some races organisers, even to this day, seem to think that female cyclists can't cope with difficult roads, the Curlew organisers know they relish a challenge and appreciate an opportunity to show their athletic ability and technical skills, so they've come up with a testing 103km circuit that has much in common with the (in)famous Flemish Classics and promises some very exciting racing indeed. Two especially notable sections are the very narrow roads stretching between the points marked as the 14th and 15th corners and the 16th and 17th corners on our map. In addition to a variety of hazards caused by loose road surfaces and mud, both of these sections are sufficiently narrow that team cars may experience problems reaching a rider who finds herself in difficulties, which can easily result in loss of a significant amount of time.

The Parcours

View Curlew Cup 2014 in a larger map

Altitude profile
Something of a sprinters' race in previous editions, the Curlew Cup features more climbing this year - but not too much; the organisers seem to be aiming for a similar concept to Italy's Trofeo Binda, a race that takes place on a near-perfectly balanced parcours that does not allow either the sprinters or the climbers to gain a race-winning advantage until near the end. However, their bike-handling skills will be put to the test: in addition to the gravel and mud on those narrow roads, much of the parcours - especially the hilltops - are very exposed and subject to powerful crosswinds, another factor that riders with experience of the Flemish Classics will be best placed to deal with.

The Women's National Series race consists of three laps of the shorter 22.37km (13.9 miles) circuit depicted in blue on our map followed by one lap of the 35.89km (22.3 miles) circuit, depicted in red on our map. The official distance given is 62 miles, which is equal to 99.78km; I think it's more like 103km.

22.37km Circuit
A number of small climbs along the parcours seem, at first, to present little challenge; however, the effect of the brief steeper points on them will accumulate as the three laps progress. Although that seems to give climbers a small advantage, the heavier riders and sprinters have plenty of opportunity to take back time over the last half of the circuit as it's almost entirely downhill from the 7th Corner to Stamfordham - with a number of difficult corners where the lightweight climbers find it harder to maintain control at high speed still to come, there is little opportunity for anyone to gain an unassailable lead before starting the longer circuit.

Riders set out from Stamfordham's attractive village green near to the 18th Century market cross (which can be seen circa 1900 in this photo), on section of road sufficiently straight and wide for a fast start to the neutral zone.

1st Corner
In the first kilometre, a slight climb leads into the first corner, a wide left-hander to join the B6309 heading north, then up another short but steeper climb (maximum, though only briefly, 7.7%) and into a flat and exposed section through fields to Heugh, 1.25km from the start. Beginning at 2.2km, a little past Heugh, is another short climb nearing 4% at the steepest point. The top is marked by some farm buildings on the left and the descent isn't long enough to make much difference to anyone.

2nd and 3rd Corners 
1st lap: (2.98km, 4.44km)
2nd lap: 25.35km, 26.81km
3rd lap: 47.72km, 49.18
At 2.97km lies a relatively tight right-hand bend which, due to a wide gap in the left-side hedge at the apex, could prove technical if strong winds are blowing from the north-west. A short flat section follows, leading into a wide left-hand bend which marks the beginning of a gentle 1.7km climb carrying the race through Black Heddon and on towards the 173m summit 4.93km from the start - the road is protected by high hedges, but exposed sections may be subject to string crosswinds. The 3rd Corner at Black Heddon carries the race right and may be a hazardous spot - loose verges on both sides tend to lead to mud on the road, and the stone wall on the right is close enough at the apex on the right to catch elbows.

Once the riders pass the summit 4.93km from the start, there is a 1.52km descent with a steepest section of -5.9% by the woods on the left. Loose, muddy verges and a slight left-hand bend make this section technical and it would be easy for tyres to lose their grip in wet conditions; there is also a lot of bramble growth, making punctures a possibility.

4th, 5th, 6th Corners
1st lap: 6.45km, 7.25km, 7.37km
2nd lap: 28.82km, 29.62km, 29.74km
3rd lap: 51.19km, 51.99km, 52.11km
The race reaches a junction and turns left to join a narrower road heading west towards Ingoe - once again, muddy verges may lead to slippery conditions, especially on the left at the apex of the corner. Immediately after the corner, the riders begin the most difficult climb of the lap, rising 54m in 1.58km - that's an average gradient of under 3.5%, but there a steeper sections. The steepest, just beyond the 5th Corner at 7.25km (the bend isn't technical, but is quite exposed and may be subject to crosswinds), is around 7%. The 6th Corner is wide and relatively non-technical, but crosswinds may be an issue.

7th Corner 
1st lap: 11.2km
2nd lap: 33.57km
3rd lap: 55.94km
From 8.9km, by a row of bungalow cottages on the right, the riders begin climbing towards the highest point (222m) on this circuit, marked by the 7th Corner. However, it is not a challenging climb: the vertical gain is 39m in 2.23km, giving an average gradient of less than 2% and even the steepest point at 10.2km is manageable at 4.5%. The 7th Corner has a drain cover near the left verge just beyond the apex; as water tends to collect along this side, it may be very slippery during and after wet weather.

The remainder of the parcours back into Stamfordham is downhill.

8th Corner 
1st lap: 12.42km
2nd lap: 34.79km
3rd lap: 57.16km
Coming immediately after one of the small climbs that punctuate the rest of the parcours, this is a wide, fast corner that may be subject to crosswinds.

9th Corner
1st lap: 13.5km
2nd lap: 35.87km
3rd lap: 58.24km
Potentially the most dangerous point on the parcours due to a combination of factors: it lies in between two fast, straight descents; the road surface on the approach is sufficiently poor as to cause split-second changes to a rider's chosen line around the corner (and thus collisions with other riders); there is loose gravel on the left coming into the apex and the exit from the corner is exposed and subject to crosswinds.

10th Corner 
1st lap: 13.8km
2nd lap: 36.17km
3rd lap: 58.54km
A fast and non-technical corner in the dry, but mud may collect on the road here at times. Marks the point at which the route of the 35.89km circuit converges with that of the 22.37km circuit on the final approach to the finish line.

There are two small climbs at 15.2km (37.57km and 59.95km on the 2nd and 3rd laps) and 16.7km (39.07km; 61.44km), neither long nor steep enough to have much of an effect.

11th Corner
1st lap: 16.3km
2nd lap: 38.67km
3rd lap: 61.04km
A wide left-hander with an excellent road surface. Caution is required due to the very fast approach.

12th Corner 
1st lap: 17.2km
2nd lap: 39.57km
3rd lap: 61.94km
The final corner on the small circuit, marking the beginning of the approach to the finish line. Fast, with caution required due to loose gravel on the left and muddy verges on both sides.

Further caution is required at 19.6km (41.97km; 64.34km) where two farm entrances (first on the right, then on the left) tend to result in mud on the road. A similar situation exists at 21.5km (43.87km; 66.24km).

End of Lap
From 21.7km (44.07km; 66.44km), a short but steep climb leads back into Stamfordham. On entering the village, the road forks three ways; the central road leads back to the start line to begin the next lap.

35.89km Circuit
The climbs play a larger part in deciding the outcome of the large circuit, especially the tough 1079m ascent between 89.71km and 92.21km (average gradient 4.5%; maximum, at 95.51km, painfully close to 13.5%). However, from Ryal at 92.81km, the parcours is downhill all the way to the finish - so, if the climbers are out in front, everybody else once again has opportunity to catch them.

As for the 22.37km circuit.

1st Corner 
As for the 22.37km circuit.

2nd Corner (70.9km)
As for the 22.37km circuit.

3rd Corner (71.55km)
As for the 22.37km. When the race arrives at the junction where riders turned left toward Ingoe, they now continue straight ahead remaining on the B6309.

4th Corner (74.56km)
Riders turn left to leave the B6309. A tight corner, made hazardous by the presence of a rough area of hardstanding on the right, used as a truckstop - there is as a result a likelihood of loose gravel and spilled diesel and/oil on the road. Keeping to the left should avoid the worst of it.

5th Corner (78.71km)
A difficult corner. made so by a combination of the poor road surface, muddy verge along the right and very narrow road after the turn.
Narrow Section
The next 1.48km descend quite steeply, encouraging high speed, and are potentially narrow enough to create problems and to prevent team cars getting to riders quickly. There are also a number of added hazards before the next corner: at 78.91km, loose and sharp stones on the left side of the road; at 79.41km there may be mud on the road; at 79.59km, at the bottom of the descent where riders will enter it at high speed, is a narrow bend; at 79.81km (on a small climb this time, and thus less dangerous) is a narrow left-hand bend with muddy verges along both sides.

6th Corner (80.11km)
Tight left-hand corner with muddy verges along both sides. marks the beginning of a relatively non-technical 5.5km section leading to the 7th Corner just beyond Little Bavington. There are a number of small but not especially difficult climbs (though some riders, having already experienced all the hills that came earlier, won't be finding the going easy by this point) leading to the highest point anywhere on the parcours at 83.61km, 217m above sea level. The next kilometre or so is simple enough; the remaining distance to Little Bavington and to the 7th Corner descends steeply enough to be a hazard, reaching -8% in places and once more allowing heavier riders to catch the climbers.

7th Corner (85.61km)
The approach is wide, but a poor road surface may prove slippery - which, combined with the narrowness of the road the riders are now joining, makes this potentially a very hazardous corner; especially since it lies on a fast descent.
Narrow Section
The road becomes much narrower just a few metres after the corner and remains narrow for 4.2km, sufficiently so that team cars may not be able to reach riders experiencing problems rapidly enough to prevent them losing significant time - any rider, even a favourite, suffering a mechanical problem here might see any chance she had of finishing well vanish right before her eyes here. In addition, several other hazards are encountered: muddy verges through the forested sections from 86.61km, which also marks the beginning of a steep descent; loose gravel at 87.61km; more muddy verges in the forested section from 87.91km; mud on the road at 88.31km; cobbles along the left verge at 88.41km and two final points where the road is often muddy at 89.01km and 89.41km. The final part of  this section, leading to the 8th Corner, descends steeply.

8th Corner (89.91km)
Tight, at the bottom of a fast descent and complicated by the presence of a gap in the hedge where farm vehicles enter and exit the fields right on the apex, the 8th Corner is a technical part of the race and requires caution.

The corner marks the beginning of the biggest - and, in all likelihood, the most decisive climb anywhere on the parcours: the Ryals, which due to looking like a vertical wall on the approach has as devastating an effect on the psyche as it does on the calf muscles when encountered for the first time. Over the next 2.5km, the road will gain 109m at an average gradient of nearly 4.5%, but much of that gain takes place in a section starting at 91.31km, where for a short time the gradient tops 13% - a serious challenge coming so late in the race, and one that will put some riders out of contention. The summit is at 92.21km and is followed by a short flat section leading to Ryal. A 1.1km section starting at the crossroads in the village leads to the junction termed the 10th Corner on the 22.37km circuit, where the two routes reconverge. The remainder of the 35.89km circuit is, therefore, identical to the 22.37km from this point to the finish line at Stamfordham, and offers the same opportunities for heavier riders to catch the climbers.

Finish (103km)
From 101.61km, a short but steep climb leads back into Stamfordham and provides the climbers with one last chance to kick for the finish. On entering the village, the road forks three ways; the central road leads to the finish line.

Start List
Not yet available.

Other events
In addition to the Curlew Cup, a number of other races take place throughout the weekend including the men's Premier Calendar UCI 1.2 Beaumont Trophy. There are also various races for non-professional riders and two non-competitive sportives. More details here.

Getting There
Stamfordham is only 22km from the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne which, as a city and port, has links to the rest of Britain and beyond, making this an exceptionally easy race to reach. The best way to get to the race itself is, of course, by bike; spending half an hour with a map (or Google) will reveal numerous quiet routes linking different points along the parcours and making it possible to zip from one to another and see the riders go by more times than would be the case if you remained in one place.

Newcastle can be reached by road (A1 from the south, A68/A696 from the north, A69 from the west), by rail (details here), by air (regular flights from 84 cities in Europe and elsewhere) and by sea (regular sailings to IJmuiden and Amsterdam in the Netherlands).


Rooms in the local hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns will soon be taken up. However, there are many hotels from the basic to the luxurious in Newcastle. There is a very reasonably-priced campsite (campervans, caravans and tents) at Hexham; places are limited to 45 so book in advance.

Local Attractions

If you'd like to visit the race as part of a family weekend away but can't persuade your nearest and dearest that standing by a roadside is a fun way to spend the day, there's plenty for them to go and do in the local area.


As a large city, there's plenty in Newcastle to keep people from any age range happy. The official tourism site and Trip Advisor both have plenty of details.

There's not much to see at Matfen (well, apart from four passages of a bike race), but the village is an interesting example of a planned estate village, laid out and built by an 18th Century landowner for the benefit of his workers. 


For the incurably boring, there's a large and apparently very popular golf range open to visitors (by prior arrangement) at Matfen, right on the parcours.

Belsay Castle

Located just off the parcours, the medieval Belsay Castle - and the 19th Century Belsay Hall, into which the castle's inhabitants moved after abandoning the older structure - are an ideal destination for bored family members while you watch the race. Universal Paintball, which is on the parcours close to Belsay, offers a range of activities including various paintball games and quad bikes.

Food and Drink

The Swinburne Arms and Bay Horse pubs in Stamfordham both offer food and both have decent reputations.


If your family want to drop you off and then go off for a drive, this is the idea place to do it - the countryside is beautiful, every village has a unique church and attractive cottages, and there are numerous cafes, restaurants and tea shops.