The final leg of today’s club run took us from Kimbolton to Keysoe and Bolnhurst. Along the way I saw a few bike race signs and racked my brains trying to think what they might be for. Slogging into a headwind and up the 30m ascent of Mill Hill, through Keysoe village, the penny dropped. With long blond hair flowing in their slipstream, three riders in Team Matrix colours came flying down the hill towards us. Our tired heads turned to follow them, then questioned the powder suspended in our bidons. We avoided collapsing in a tangled heap at the roadside in astonishment but, you must understand, women in road gear, especially as professional looking as these, is a rare sight. We were on the race circuit for stage 3 of the 3 days of Bedford women’s race. I felt stupid for not realising that sooner.
Through Keysoe and into Bolnhurst we saw more riders and support cars. We passed the race HQ, forested with teardrop banners between which riders on rollers warmed down from the morning team time trial.
I knew the race was on this weekend, but I hadn’t really followed the build-up. The May Bank Holiday was planned to be a busy weekend for our household, so I had had no expectations of seeing the race. Besides, for some reason I had thought the race was mostly taking place the other side of Bedford, rather than a couple of villages away from our doorstep. So, the morning’s club run route had turned out to be a fortuitous one.
In the afternoon my family and I were off to our daughters’ friend’s birthday party. This is the main reason I hadn’t looked into the race for Sunday; if only I had, our afternoon plans might have been a bit more organised. However, as luck would have it, the race circuit was en route to the party. The race started at 1.30pm, the party, a few miles further on from the course, at 3.30pm. We may not have time to see the finish, but events were working in our favour to watch a couple of circuits at least.
We pulled into a lay-by half way up the Mill Hill climb in Keysoe. Our younger daughter was asleep, while the older seemed, if anything, a little bemused as to why we had stopped. I saw a photographer and got an update on the race situation from him. A few minutes later the first rider came struggling through. Having at first thought that this was a breakaway leader, we soon realised she was the last woman out, someway off the pace and soon to be relegated. She wasn’t yet in the lead group’s sights, but they were not far behind. The spectacle of a peloton steam-rollering up the hill certainly galvanised my daughter’s interest, and really that’s what I was after.
We then moved to the top of the climb and the finish line. There was more activity here, but sadly spectators were thin on the ground and most seemed to be associated with the race. It’s a shame, as I’m sure the hard sprint up to the finish would provide as much spectacle as any men’s race.
I did meet Jake from the club there, and I know a couple of other members been out watching, so I was pleased that St Neots CC had some representation among the spectators.
I also bumped into a rider I know from Bourne Wheelers. His daughter was racing, and at 16 she was the youngest there. She had just been pulled out, but he was still clearly a very proud, if competitive, dad. And I don’t think he was the only one there either. Annis, my wife, heard other middle-aged men shouting advice to attack or hold a wheel and, like all advice from father to daughter, I’m sure it was gratefully received. I must admit, I did imagine myself in their position a few years from now.
I want my daughters to take an interest in sport and naturally I hope it is cycling they turn to, but I think keeping girls inspired by sport is hard. Our girls loved the Olympics, especially the women’s cycling and swimming events, and the GB competitors became household names. But events such as the Olympics, and indeed cycling, athletics or swimming championships, are rare in TV schedules dominated by men playing football, golf or cricket (none of which I have much enthusiasm for). So next year I’ll pay more attention in the run-up to the 3 Days of Bedford and, as long as my girls are interested, I’ll have them cheering from the verges, while in the back of my mind will be that dream where I’m at the roadside, dispensing winning advice.
Anyway, back to the race. We stayed for the penultimate lap. It looked like a small group had attacked near the bottom of the Keysoe climb gaining a 15-second advantage over the main bunch by the summit. We had to leave before the finish, but the breakaway stayed away, gaining a minute over the rest of the field. The stage was won by the appropriately named Welsh junior Amy Hill.