The club run rolled along in the warming March sunshine as we gave our pale winter legs their first outings after winter. The countryside was greening pleasantly and the winds were light. Looking back now, it was an idyllic, innocent springtime for riding our bikes. The Spring Classics were just getting underway too so it would be good, we thought, to go and watch the Pro’s at work.
“It’s only 50miles there, bit of climbing as you get to into Rutland, but the ride home will be down hill all the way”, and “Yes, the end of April will be lovely”. The seed of an idea grew into a plan and a group of us from the club decided we would ride up to Owston village to watch the Rutland-Melton Cicle Classic. Once there we would gorge ourselves on tea and hotdogs in the spring sunshine and end the day with a relaxed ride home.
Drought stricken March gave way to rain soaked April. The 5-day forecasts stayed stubbornly consistent; rain and wind in abundance. Race day approached, the dissent started, until by Sunday morning only Wayne and I still planned to ride up. We would not be without support though. Some of the guys would be driving and offered to take spare clothes and towels. It was a welcome offer we didn’t dare refuse. Saturday night I went to bed listening to the wind howling around house, the rain lashing against the window. My final thought before sleep took over; surely it must blow itself out by morning?
I woke up, buried my head in the pillows and tried not to hear the wind howling around the house, the rain lashing against the window.
Over breakfast self doubt crept in. The wind was viscious, the rain plentiful. The idea of standing around watching a race after riding 50miles in that was losing its appeal. I messaged Wayne, was he still riding? The reply came back. Yes. The trees outside whipped back and forth.
Please do not mis-understand. I am no fair weather cyclist. I commute in the rain, shunning the car, and I’ve never abandoned a race (notwithstanding punctures) or missed a club run because of wet weather. But today… I looked at the clock, Wayne would be leaving soon, the point of no return was fast approaching. I suggested we might want to find a lift. To my relief Wayne had now drawn his curtains and agreed. However, I had allowed the rain dictate to me and I felt a couple of degrees softer because of it.
Later that morning Mark and Steve picked us up and we drove through the driving rain up to Owston village, Rutland.
The Rutland-Melton Cicle Classic is the UK’s biggest 1 day bike race and is known as Britain’s Belgian Classic. It is raced in the spring and is notable for its off-road gravel sectors; a tough circuit for hard men. Owston village features one such section around which the riders do 4 circuits. Usually their passage is marked by a cloud of dust. Not so today.
Not unexpectedly, Owston was quieter than usual. The first reports came through that the conditions were taking their toll and the field was being ripped into tatters. A group of 23 riders had put nearly a minute advantage on a chasing pack led by Olympian Ed Clancy. Coming through the village for the first time the two groups had rejoined. A smaller group pursued followed by stray riders trying to keep ahead of the broom wagon (although I suspect some would have been quite happy to be swept up!). Of the 155 riders who started less than half had made it to Owston.
Inevitably the rain and the punctures provided an attrition rate only the hardest and luckiest would survive. A smaller group came through the 2nd time. The grimacing faces of Ed Clancy and Russell Downing chasing the leaders succinctly expressed the hurt this race was causing.
We walked round to the gravel sector for the 3rd circuit and waited. And waited. Flooding had caused last minute course alterations and the race was falling behind schedule. Hugh Porter, providing commentary, tried to keep the crowd entertained, but it was slowly thinning as spectators abandoned. The rain came down harder. We stood vigil with jeans clinging soggily to our shivering legs. In the distance we heard whistles and cheers, carried on the wind, muted by the rain. Then the riders came, soaked, covered in mud and grit. Mud splashed, mottling our clothes, but we cheered them on. The team cars rushed by, more rally than road race, then they too were gone. We drew our hoods tight and walked back to shelter.
Back in the village hall a young Cycle Premier Kovert rider sat shivering under a loaned St Ives CC Jersey. Standing in our warm wet weather gear we averted our gaze, decided to abandon our positions and go home. We joined a long list of DNF’d spectators. It had been a cold, wet watch, certainly not the day we had envisaged, but we had braved the weather to watch some tough, tough cyclists in hard race, and I hope they appreciated it as much as we enjoyed the show!
Over at the finish line Alex Bain of Endura Racing soloed to victory followed by Jamie Sparling (Raleigh) and James McCallum (Rapha-Condor-Sharp) – BC Race Report. Chapeau to all who raced, especially the 22 who finished. Thanks also to the organisers and Mark for being our driver Hopefully next year the dust will be back!