Rebecca Durrell became the first winner of the Women’s CiCLE Classic as a sprint finish provided the climax for the ‘toughest-ever’ women’s race.
The inaugural race drew acclaim from riders for providing a real road race compared to the short circuit events which traditionally form the women’s race calendar in Britain.
Just 15 riders finished the 104km course, but a clamour has already grown for the 2017 edition which is secure thanks to the support of race sponsor Peter Stanton.
Race director Colin Clews, from Wymondham, said: “The race organisation are delighted with the way the riders responded to what we had billed in advance as probably the hardest women’s race anywhere in the world.
“We made no concessions in our course planning or to any difference in toughness of the women’s course alongside that used for the men, the only exception being a reduced overall race distance.
“We set out to raise the standard and quality of women’s racing in Britain, and the result was a unanimous thumbs-up and a demand for more of the same.”
A total of 56 riders set out from Melton town centre, and no sooner was the flag dropped for the official start just outside Burton Lazars than the race was ignited by attacks from the top names.
The first casualties of this fast start were felt as early as the ascent of Cuckoo Hill, later to become the last categorised climb in the Queen of the Hills competition.
The first proper split came on the first passage of Owston village and first lap of the Owston, Burrough-on-the-Hill and Marefield circuit.
It sparked a war of attrition at the front with an initial 30-strong group slowly whittled down over a succession of the Classic’s trademark succession short, sharp climbs and off-road sectors.
Julie Erskine (Team Ford Ecoboost) staked her claim to the Queen of the Hills prize with second place on the Burrough Hill climb, and a first on the following Cold Overton hill.
Durrell made a late bid to take the points on the day’s final climb up Cuckoo Hill shortly before the race entered the finishing circuit, but Erskine held on.
A serious road accident on the A606 forced a sudden diversion to the race route towards its finish point in Melton town centre.
Clews added: “It’s a tribute to the local police that despite this more urgent and unplanned call upon their time, they were still able to maintain support for the race.
“Without it the race would have been cancelled before its finish.”
As the race entered Melton town centre to begin its final lap through Burton Lazars and Stapleford, a group of four, comprising Durrell (Drops Cycling Team), Elizabeth Holden (Team Ford Ecoboost), Bethan Hayward (Podium Ambition) and Steph Clayton (Mammouth Lifestyle RT) had established a lead of more than a minute on a chasing group of six.
None of the top four were willing to give anything away to their rivals as the group increased their lead to more than two minutes.
The appreciative crowd awaiting their arrival were treated to an all-out sprint for the line, with Durrell edging out Holden by the slimmest of margins.
Race organisers will negotiate with British Cycling to set a more suitable date on next year’s national cycling calendar.
With a £,4000-plus prize list and £1,000 first prize, the event already exceeds the rewards offered at all Britain’s domestic races for women. Organisers hope this will lure overseas teams, giving the race international status similar to the well-established men’s version.
Vehicle sponsorship was provided by the Sandicliffe Group, and TimeFix of Sherrard Street, Melton, sponsored the lead timing car as they also do at the international race.
The race also received support from Melton BID, while Manor Farm Feeds sponsored the Hotspot sprint competition in Owston.