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"Welcome to Hell"
The 2023 CiCle Classic was crazy.
It’s always nice to race back in the UK. There are familiar faces all around you, people you raced with as a junior but haven’t seen for years, and without doubt the best peloton banter in the world.
The CiCle Classic is the highest level one day men’s road race in the UK, a UCI 1.2, and always attracts a solid start list. The race is characterised by its ten or so off-road sectors through gravel and farm land.
Lots of races are easily forgettable. Not the CiCle Classic. It was a wild ride.
The race is 185km long, and there are sixty or so kilometres before we hit the first off-road sector. In theory, this should be sixty relatively calm kilometres with a big fight for the breakaway and then a relative settling down. I’d go as far as saying it was the sketchiest first couple of hours in a race I’ve ever had.
We were on country lanes merely four riders wide, often with a big stretch of wet mud down the middle that would double up as an ice-rink if you were to hit it. People would be moving up the outside on the grass, and it crashed galore.
I was going to try and write this in chronological order but the whole race is a blur. There was the moment when somebody crashed out going around a corner but somehow landed on his stomach with his helmet facing the oncoming peloton. God Save the Disc Brake, I managed to come to a stop about an inch in front of his nose.
There was another moment where we were descending at well over 60kph and cars were coming at us not realising it was closed roads. That part was scary. There was another moment where out of nowhere I saw someone do a Superman dive into a hedgerow.
It’s one of those races where the more you think, the crazier the things you remember.
I distinctly remember seeing a promotional banner which said “Welcome to Hell” at the start of one of the sectors. Given the weather conditions and therefore the state of the sectors “Hell” was quite an accurate description. Ironically for a writer, I cannot put into words how crazy the race was. I can try, but it wouldn’t do it justice. Simply, I spent a lot of yesterday scared.
With all that said, I had surprisingly good legs. You often go into races having a good idea of how you’re going to feel. I had super low expectations. I’d DNF’d an interval session midweek and had back-to-back long days in the car to Ribble HQ. Even in the first hour or so of the race I felt awful.
I’d start in sub-par positions going into the off-road sectors as I simply didn’t want to be involved in the crazy fight at the front. I’d then find myself being able to ride back to the front.
I thought I’d taken it a step too far going into the last 50km. I was chilling at the back of the group taking some food on, and all of a sudden there was a split in the peloton. I was very much on the wrong side of the split but somehow (after what felt like forever chasing) came back to the front by myself. That surprised me, and made me realise that even though I was feeling rough, I wasn’t going to get dropped.
That was until I punctured out of the front group of forty with 15km to go. There was less than 150m to go on the penultimate sector of Sawgate and I heard the dreaded hiss coming from my back tyre. I begged the tubeless technology to do it’s work, but alas it was dead.
I throw my hand up for the team car…it’s not there. I’d later learn that the team car itself had punctured earlier on. For the second time this season, neutral service was nowhere to be seen. I looked around the teams that had stationed people there with wheels and begged them to give up a spare.
I say begged, I was using some colourful language, as you may expect for someone who’d just punctured out of the front group with less than twenty minutes of racing to go. After what felt like an age, (I checked, it was two and a half minutes), some kind soul gave me a spare wheel so I could ride home.
I was 39th. If I’m honest, which I promised I would be here, I didn’t really enjoy that race, I’l be back though, so that says something.
It was crazy, in every sense of the word. It was dangerous too, but that’s as much our fault as the riders. It’s not right that there were multiple cases of cars driving towards the peloton, but that happens all over the world at all levels of races. As far as the racing is concerned, I can’t complain about that, we’ll always do stupid stuff.
It’s sad how that’s Britain’s only one day UCI for the men. There is a lot of talent in the country, and with foreign teams coming over, it makes for a good race.
My next race on home shores is the Lincoln GP, in the meantime I have the Traka 200 Gravel Race in Girona. Wish me luck. I’ll need it.
Oh, and if I had a pound for every time I heard a shout of “OIL” yesterday, I’d be a rich man. Just one of the many quirks of the British peloton. A shout of “OIL” doesn’t actually mean there’s oil on the road, more that something has gone wrong, or is in the process of going wrong. A big crash? Oil. Puncture? Oil. Almost die on a descent? Oil.
While you’re here…
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Any money that I make from either my Substack, or BMaC link will go straight back into supporting my 2023 racing project. I am planning on keeping all content on here free to view though.
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