Diehard cycling fans from across the UK are expected to join a cast of thousands lining the route for Sunday’s Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic.
The latest chapter of the UK’s ‘spring classic’ is billed as the best contested edition in the race’s 15-year history, with 16 UCI-registered squads joining a field of 35 teams.
From defending champion Gabz Cullaigh (Team Wiggins-Le Col), wearing race number one, through 10 overseas-based teams and Britain’s six UCI Continental teams, the choice of a winner is once again wide open.
Cullaigh’s team also includes the reigning world U23s cyclo-cross champion Tom Pidcock (race number 6), but as CiCLE Classic aficionados will know, reputations mean nothing when its brutal course serves up its unseen challenges.
For the first time the race will include the current British national road race champion, Connor Swift (Madison-Genesis) who will wear race number 13.
He was a surprise winner to some, but showed his potential here in Melton with a strong fourth-place ride at last year’s Classic despite a badly-timed puncture on the race’s penultimate special sector at Sawgate Lane which robbed him of his victory chances.
This year, Swift heads a team which includes 2016 race winner Tom Moses (race number 16).
WPG Amsterdam’s challenge will be led by Koos Kers (race number 7) who finished 12 months ago and has stated his intention to go even better this time around.
A strong challenge is expected from the US-based Rally-UHC squad (race numbers 49-54), a UCI Pro Continental team who compete at one level higher than all of their main rivals.
Rally-UHC swept all before them last year in winning the UCI America’s Tour competition, and this year have been competing against the world’s best at the Tour of Oman and the Presidential Tour in Turkey.
They travel to the CiCLE Classic just days after contesting the prestigious Fleche Walloone World Tour race in Belgium and two days ahead of the Tour de Yorkshire.
The Vitus-Brother team feature multiple Olympic champion Ed Clancy (race number 20).
They also boast 2018 CiCLE Classic ‘King of the Bergs’ Adam Kenway (race number 22) and Scott Thwaites (race number 19), newly returned to Britain after several years racing at World Tour level.
James Shaw (race number 90), who won the inaugural Junior Men’s CiCLE Classic several years ago, also returns from the World Tour to head up the newly-formed UCI Continental squad Swift Carbon.
CiCLE Classic regulars Monkey Town-Le Bloc are joined by a third Dutch team this year – Beat Cycling – newcomers to the race but no strangers to winning in their native Netherlands.
Teams from Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Latvia complete the overseas line-up.
The Latvian team have a rich history in the race of bringing up-and-coming exciting riders who have gone on to ride for some of the world’s biggest teams, including Tom Skuyns who wore the King of the Mountains jersey for several days at last year’s Tour de France.
The race is not known for presenting an easy win for the top riders, and this year’s competition from among the 19 smaller British squads looks stronger than ever.
CC Sheffield have produced several domestic winners this year, while our own East Midlands team, sponsored by Melton and Oakham’s Pearce’ Jewellers, boasts two former national road race champions in Russell Downing (race number 141) and Colin Sturgess (143), the latter also being a former world professional pursuit champion.
This year’s edition also has added poignancy for race director Colin Clews who welcomes the race to his home village of Wymondham for the first time.
“The Rutland–Melton CiCLE Classic has come a long way in 15 years,” he said.
”The level of competition the race now engenders among both British and foreign teams demonstrates the importance now placed on winning the event.
“The change to the course’s opening section is a major departure from previous editions and its potential influence on the final outcome will be watched closely.
“We hope more than ever that the strong spectator following the event has created over the years, will develop even further.
“What we can all be assured of, is that whoever wins on Sunday will have earned their place in the history of the race.”
The event will again have as title sponsors the Giant Store (Rutland Water) and Schwalbe UK, supported by Dare2b sports clothing and Duvel Belgian beer.
The start in Oakham will be sponsored by Bills Bar of Oakham, and the finish area around Melton market place is similarly supported by Melton BID.
Pearce’s Jewellers of Oakham and Melton will again sponsor the timing car as well as the East Midlands team.
The race’s chosen charity will again be the Mount Group RDA, while Melton machine engineering company Metaltek CNC join the race as sponsor of the primary off-road sections of Somerberg, StaplePark and Sawgate.
The Melton Building Society sponsor the race’s team competition for the 15th time, a similar record to official vehicle supplier, Tim Norton (Ford) Motors of Oakham who are joined in 2019 by more substantive support from Ford UK.
Special sprint awards are offered by Oakham Wines, on the return passage of Oakham, Manor Farm Feeds at Owston village, and new for 2019, Wymondham Windmill and Moore’s Estate Agents who offer special awards for the race’s first visit to Wymondham village.
And particularly of note to the field will be another Owston hotspot prize, a rider’s weight in beer from the Grainstore Brewery.