The decision to ride to this year’s Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic was as easy to make as last year’s decision not to. A touch of frost was the only hint of adverse conditions, and that soon melted away beneath a cloudless April sky.
I met Adrian, another club rider at St Neots Market Square. We couldn’t persuade Chris, early for the club run, to join us, some excuse about having to meet his mum for lunch, so we set off, picking up Gareth at one of the next villages. From there we struck northwest for Owston, to watch the race.
Rutland isn’t that far from St Neots, but the terrain is a world away. Looking at the route profile, the lumps we normally think of as climbs on our club runs were squashed down to rumble strips. We reached Oundle at 9.45am and decided to press on to Uppingham for a cafe stop. From Oundle we gained height steadily, but this was cruelly reset at Harringworth where we descended into the Welland Valley. However, the ride up the other side of the valley, to Seaton, quickly made up for the lost metres.
From Seaton it was a rolling ride to Uppingham. Along the way we started to encounter a few old bangers, or classic cars if you prefer, heading in the opposite direction. Soon the quiet lanes became congested with Minis, Midgets and many more I wouldn’t recognise. Arriving in Uppingham the riddle of the classic cars was quickly solved: the town centre was closed off for the Stilton Cheese Classic Vehicle Run. We didn’t stop to admire the cars though, preferring instead bacon, eggs, flapjacks and coffee, before tackling the Rutland hills.
After Uppingham we crossed the A47 into superb cycling country for the final few miles to Owston. The road fell into a predictable pattern of fast descent followed by sometimes steady, sometimes steep climbs.
Knossington was the last village before Owston. Now there were more riders on the road, making their way to spectate while marshals loitered at junctions. We passed race signage and sponsors’ banners and wondered, just how hard must it be to race on these wildly rolling roads?
We arrived in Owston ahead of the race. I later learned from the commentary it is pronounced Oo-ston, although I think many of the day’s competitors would argue the phonetic Ow-ston is more appropriate. Around the village hall it was heaving with bikes and spectators. There were riders from Rutland Velo, Spalding and Bourne clubs, Leicester and Nottingham CTC, St Ives and Welland Valley, now we added St Neots colours to the mix. And like many others, headed straight for the BBQ.
Stomachs satisfied, we met up with friends and family who had driven up. Soon after, Hugh Porter turned up to give the commentary (from a butcher’s trailer). I got some inflatable clappers for my daughters then we took up positions on the verge, between the daffodils, and waited.
The race had started in Oakham and a strong breakaway group of 10 riders had a 2 minute advantage by Owston. They swept up the hill into the village, Ian Bibby, Ian Wilkinson and Yanto Barker among them. A few minutes later the bunch arrived. Without representation in the bunch, Rapha, with support from Node4, commanded the chase.
Then the race switched to the village circuit and the notorious gravel sector. We had recce’d it earlier and Duvel corner looked as nasty as ever, with potholes, loose stones and a two inch high ridge of dried mud running down the middle. I went back to my family, perched on a slope overlooking the course, and enjoyed a picnic lunch.
The breakaway managed to maintain their lead, despite the best efforts of riders like Ed Clancy at the front of the bunch. As they came through for the penultimate lap the gap had extended to over five minutes. But this gap was becoming the source of some tension among the crowd. There was an eight minute cut-off, riders falling foul of that would be forced to abandon. For the bunch it was now a race for survival rather than contention.
The bunch made it, but the ride to Owston is hard. On the faces of the riders, beneath the sweat and dust, pain fought with desperation.
The leaders came through for the final circuit and still the gap remained. A race official held a pair of scissors and waited by an inflatable banner. For the leaders the banner marked the prime sprint, for the rest it was the difference between a placing or a DNF on the results sheet.
The minutes again stretched out. Then the riders came, fractured and tired. About fifty made it through, but many did not. A race official ordered them off the circuit, then, like a Rutland Kite on a piece of carrion, the scissor man swooped in, without sympathy, to hack off their race numbers.
The race moved on to Melton for the finish. It was clear the podium would be decided amongst the breakaway. Some spectators raced off to Melton but we packed away our things and headed home.
Five race leaders contested the final sprint, which was won by Ian Wilkinson of Team UK Youth (his team mate, Yanto Barker, came in 4th, a good day for their team). Of the 160 riders who left Oakham, 4hours 56minutes and 115miles later, 60 crossed the line. Still an improvement on last year.
A good ride, a good race, a good day out. If only Owston had a pub!