GWR Organiser Speaks

it’s always nice to find out someone other than my wife, mother or bored clubmates actually read this blog. But with great power comes great responsibility….

I’ve had a comment from the organiser of the Great Weston Road ride in response to this post. Sometimes a post on a personal blog can generate a bit of debate. this one seems to have. In the interests of parity, i’ve printed the comment below:

Hi. I’m the organiser of the Great Weston Ride, the event taking place on the same date the Colin Carfield was scheduled for, and I’d like to pick up on some of the points raised above, if I may.

Firstly, I’m very familiar with road races – my son is a 2nd cat who races regularly, I act as a Club Welfare Officer, and I’ve been involved in organising and marshalling at various road races in the region. So, trust me, I had no desire whatsoever to see this cancellation. But, in this particular instance, in relation to the Great Weston Ride there are one or two assumptions and erroneous conclusions in the piece above that need addressing, and I just felt that one or two actual FACTS wouldn’t go amiss.

FACT – the Great Weston Ride is most definitely NOT a race (nor, indeed, would I describe it as a sportive). We don’t use timing chips and no finishing times are published. And we actively encourage people to stop en route! We do our utmost to emphasise that it’s a RIDE and not a RACE.
FACT – this is an official BC registered and sanctioned recreational cycling event.
FACT – the GWR is getting more people cycling, and more people interested in cycling, which can only be good for the sport as a whole.
KEY FACT – the GWR ran on the same weekend in 2011 and 2010. The Colin Carfield was actually run on the following weekend in each of those years, and was originally scheduled to do so again in 2012 until the organisers were told by BC South that they couldn’t have that date. It might therefore be time better spent asking BC South why they refused the application to run the race on July 22nd. So, as you can see, in this instance there was no ‘riding roughshod’ over the racing calendar.
FACT – so when the race organisers rearranged, THEY moved the race to the same date that the GWR was already scheduled, obviously without knowing about it.
FACT – it simply would not have been safe to run a race along roads where 650+ leisure riders would be strung out, all going at their own pace, chatting, taking in the sights, etc etc – granted, not everyone’s cup of tea (esp. among the racing fraternity), but that’s what you would have encountered, and there should be room for ALL types of cyclists.
There are other points raised that I would politely dispute (eg levels of organisation required), but the key point here is that the GWR was already in situ – it was the road race that moved from its traditional date, and it’s BC South that need to explain that one.
I discussed the situation with the race organisers and wanted to find a workable solution for all concerned (a later start for the race seemd the most viable option to me), but obviously for whatever reason the race organisers (or others) decreed that the best/only option was to cancel.
So I AM very sorry that the race had to be cancelled, and of course I can understand people’s frustrations at that outcome, but hopefully you’ll now agree the cancellation was not in any way the GWR’s fault (as the article, to be fair, suggests might be the case).

and now back to me. i understand his points and i appreciate the time he has taken to make them. i also stand by (most of the comments in) my original post:

I’m not sure that the Great Weston Ride is at fault for the cancellation per se.They are entitled to use the roads. They are entitled to meet the target audience of people who want to ride 55 miles in 5 to 6 hours. However, it is indicative of an alarming trend.

that trend is the uneasy relationship between sportives and road racing. and it pains me that a recreational ride should take precedence over a road race, it really does. The Colin Carfield Road Race has been running since the late 1990s and is one of the most significant road races in the southern district calendar. Racing cyclists make it the centre piece of their season, training from January onwards to arrive at the startline in peak condition. Last year it was won by James Dobbin, twice national hillclimb champion. I imagine the reason that CC organiser didn’t know the GWR was on that weekend was because it doesn’t require the same level of permissions from the local authorities. Hence my suggestion that sportives or non-sportives are subject to a form of regulation. This would help negate any calendar issues. This is called ‘date-fixing’.

i’m all for getting more people into the sport. these people may well end up racing, especially if they see the link between what our Bradley is doing in France somewhere and the type of events you might need to do to try and emulate this kind of performance (in your own small way). it would be nice if there are some races left for them to sign up for.

I don’t buy the popularity argument, that somehow 650 riders in a recreational ride are more important than the capped field of 150 in a road race, simply by dint that there are more of them. It’s the same logic that leads people to believe that Evans is the best bike shop. You end up with only Evans.

My point remains the same, and it’s fairly unconfrontational, there is no FACT (by which you can assume that i am not keen on the use of “FACT” as a capitalised bulletpoint, as though that somehow must therefore make it true because of the emphasis) about it. There is room for both in the calendar. whether it’s moving the start for a road race or omitting a climb for a non aggressive non race non ride chatty day out, it’s a shame some middle ground couldn’t be reached. I strongly suspect it is far harder to move a road race than it is to move a sportive or to change the route. I believe, and i’m not apologetic about this, that a key event in the Southern and even national road race calendar should take precedence over a recreational ride.

In hindsight, i would have changed one thing about the original post (but i won’t change it now, because that would defeat the value of hindsight and somehow make this blog temporally and philosophically scary) i wouldn’t have bundled the MCF and the GWR as one big uber sportivathon, because they are slightly different beasts, but there you go.

We could go back and forth about this for a while; it’s not a race, it is a race, sportives get people riding more than road races, and so on, and so forth. I’ve given the organiser the space on this (personal) blog and i think that debate is a good thing. I’d like to thank him for his comments and wish him luck with the race sportive recreational leisure ride.

Real Race Cancelled by not a Real Race Race

The sun is out today. it feels like the first time in living memory. For the generation who have never seen the giant orange orb making its diurnal progress across the sky it feels like a significant moment.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday to be precise, the sun was buried beneath a suffocating weight of cloud cover. i headed out to Didmarton to tackle a hardrider event against some of the finest riders in all the land. Rob Pears, Ben Anstie and Jeff Jones all headed up the startsheet, with Jeff Jones fresh from his 3rd place in the National 50 Mile Championship.

It’s a lumpy two lap circuit. I was 3rd last year, but some way back on 2nd. I suspected a worse placing but faster time might lie in wait this year, but alas, never got to find out. The ridiculous amounts of rain (wettest april, may, june and start to july on record, apparently) meant the event was cancelled. It was a tough decision to make, but the right one. There were lakes of standing water big enough to drown a horse and rider.

I then missed the interclub due to work commitments. I had both these events down as part of my seriously heavy training block in the run up to the Colin Carfield Road Race. This race is also now cancelled. In this instance, the event was refused a licence. It’s quite a contentious issue. Essentially, there is a sportive on the same day that uses one of the key climbs in the race, Burrington Coombe. Sportives do not require a licence from the local constabulary, road races do. Sportives aren’t a race, famously, whereas road races are a race, unsurprisingly. Therefore, when it comes to a clash of events, the police can do little else apart from rescind the road race licence.

There is a significant wider issue here. Whilst sportives undoubtedly bring new riders to the sport, they are not a key part of the fabric of british cycling. they are often organised for profit, sometimes under the dubious aegis of a ‘for charity’ status. There’s an interesting article here. They are the johnny-come-lately of the cycling world, a recent development cashing on the rampant success of the current bike boom and the disposal income of most of the participants. Google ‘cycling is the new golf’, or ‘mamil‘ for further reading.

There are some well-established sportives. Many of these emerged from the older tradition of reliability rides like the Ride of the Falling Leaves. These tend to not ride roughshod (no pun intended) over the established racing calendar, and are run by clubs at a grassroots level. There are also some real leviathans like the Dragon Ride, or the Tour of the Peak, both established and carefully organised events. Then there are official British Cycling sanctioned road races. The Colin Carfield Road Race is one of the few extremely tough and hilly road races in the Mendips at 234 level. It is a huge draw and a notoriously challenging event. The finish a few years ago saw broken riders limping home in ones and twos, people were dribbling over the line like they’d been brutally assaulted by some kind of mendip beast. It’s getting on for 70 miles with 4000 feet of climbing and is usually run off at around a 23mph average speed.

I’m not sure that the Great Weston Ride is at fault for the cancellation per se.They are entitled to use the roads. They are entitled to meet the target audience of people who want to ride 55 miles in 5 to 6 hours. However, it is indicative of an alarming trend. In a similar vein, the BSCC Road Race had to be moved from its original date due to the ‘Mario Cipollini Gran Fondo’. It was nothing short of miraculous that the organiser managed to get another date and retain the complex support services needed to run the race. The CipoFondo had the feed station to end all feed stations. It’s so ridiculous i’m going to reprint it here:

MENU 1st feed station Approx. 40km into the ride
You will find a selection of:
– Homemade Pea and Ham soup served with a warm Ciabatti bread
– Penne with Chilli sauce Served with Guacamole, Sour Cream and a sprinkle of Parmesan
– Triangle slices of Spanish Tortilla
– Chicken Basque Espuna
– Free Range Chicken with Spicey chorizo sausage, Potato with Serrano Ham, 
Olives and Pimenton Papria Served on a bed of rice
– Welsh Rarebit slices served with pickle
– Homemade Lemon Drizzle cake with Our own Lemon Curd
– Teas and Espresso Coffee

MENU 2nd feed station Approx. 83km into the ride
You will find a selection of:
– ORGANIC SPELT QUICHE
– – Onion & bacon
– – Goat’s cheese & roasted red pepper or
– Broccoli

Or FETA & SPINACH FILO PIE
Or HANDMADE VEGI PASTY
– Mushroom jalousie
– Squash & goat’s cheese pocket
– Sweet potato & spinach pocket
– Cheese & potato pasty

Or TRADITIONAL CORNISH PASTY
Freshly made olive + rosemary focaccia
Cheese & pesto foccacia
All the above served with salad with honey and balsamic dressing, slice of cake (gluten free + vegan items available) and tea, coffee, juice or spring water

It’s like one of Jay Gatsby’s smörgåsbords crossed with a Bob Diamond Sunday lunch, toasting the week’s libor rate submissions. It’s un-fucking-believable. BSCC moved the road race because they didn’t need a licence to run their absurdly opulent, thinly-veiled bike-marketing opportunity, whereas BSCC did need a licence to run a competitive road race that feeds into the hierarchy of the sport and supports British Cycling.

Sportives have a place in the calendar and in the cycling fraternity, their popularity is going from strength to strength and they provide a degree of challenge to those joining the sport. However, that place in the calendar is categorically not on the same day as a road race. The level of organisation required to run a competitive road race is in a different league to a sportive, and it’s done by volunteers, club members, at a grass roots level, and with the support of British Cycling in a symbiotic relationship. As the level of interest in sportives grows and grows, there is becoming a need for licensing and regulation. One of the singular oddities that means they don’t require the same level of permissions is the ‘not a race’ element. However, times are listed and participants are increasingly racing in all but name.

Due to legal restrictions we are not able to give more details on the results than provided here. We are very sorry of that causes frustration on your part. It certainly does on ours but our hands are tied. I hope you understand and still enjoyed the event for what it is – non competitive. If you have any questions regarding the timing or can’t find your name on the lists please get in touch with us viainfo@mcipollinigranfondo.co.uk

Hence the rather pained disclaimer on the front webpage of the MCF, somehow simultaneously bemoaning the lack of a race finishing order and also saying just how non-competitive they are at the same time. I can bet the riders of the MCF weren’t as frustrated at the lack of times in the non-race-race as the riders who were due to line up in the Colin Carfield Memorial Road Race race next weekend.

Tomorrow We Ride

Road racing on the bike is a very different beast to time trialling. This is a truism, but it certainly becomes apparent very quickly when you make the leap into the dark side. Today was the Bristol South Road Race, taking in 8 laps of Stowey Hill near Bishop Sutton, with an 80 strong field. It was very hot indeed. I took one bottle, which may or may not have been an error. There was a KOM competition on Stowey Hill; on the first lap i sat back and let it go, waiting to warm up a bit. On the second lap i moved to the front and rode hard, and may or may not have been pipped on the line by an Exeter Uni rider who was full of beans. He was on the right and i was looking to the left – another schoolboy error.

After the climb i sat up a bit, only for a team-mate to come through and ride hard on the front each lap. I didn’t really want to ride hard on the front but couldn’t really stop him. He got in a bit of a ding-dong with the Exeter Uni rider about his overshoes. It was like two bald men fighting over a comb. ‘Overshoes are illegal’, said the Exeter guy. ‘They’re aerodynamic’ said the team-mate. I don’t think it makes the slightest bit of difference either way, and i don’t think the scrutineers could really give two shits, but i kept my counsel. Nevertheless, it was typical of the dialogue in the bunch that crops up from time to time for no particular reason. Where’s Le Blaireau when you need him.

On the third lap i held back a bit and then moved through the bunch to line up for another pop at the climb and was feeling confident. A large car with an even larger caravan came round the corner – the front part of the bunch passed through ok, but as it rounded the corner it nailed first one rider then the others fell like dominos. The combined sound of aluminium caravan meets carbon fibre meets skin and bone was jarring and the crash left a scene of chaos. There were 3 BSCC riders taken out immediately and one Bath Uni rider, possibly some others. The front of the bunch slowed up and we neutralised the race. I rode on ahead to check with the marshals at the top of the climb what was happening, they told us to race on and listen out for the commissaire. As i passed the message up from near the very back – after talking to a fairly damaged looking rider and suggesting he might retire -the bunch got rolling again, but one rider took the ‘opportunity’ to attack and immediately rode off the front. i was at the back at this point having only just got back on. I was distinctly unimpressed. I guess it depends how you see the race and what you think is acceptable or not acceptable, and how much you want your points. As we looped back around the course past the crash site the section was neutralised and there was a rider lying on the road in a BSCC jersey. This was enough for me. Without even thinking about it I climbed off the bike and went back to the HQ. A number of other riders did the same. On each subsequent lap the race was neutralised past the crash, which was essential but effectively prevented there being a real selection or a timely break and meant the race came down to a bunch sprint – anathema to climbers like me.

In hindsight, the race was fantastically well organised and the commissaires have to make a tough decision when there is a crash on a looped circuit. They chose to continue, which was probably, on balance the right one. I chose to climb off, which was also probably the right one.

Lessons learnt from Rocky 1 to Rocky 5

–       Road racing requires a bit of a freaky mindset.

–       it can be hard to summon up the motivation to ride tempo in a bunch that undulates and shifts like the stinging tentacles of a portugese man of war, and it’s particularly hard to ride hard to the finish if you struggle with some of the more existential questions that tend to pop up in the race; i.e why are we riding when three riders have just been reduced to angles of limbs and blood on the tarmac by an enormous motor caravan? i struggle in that respect.

–       if you’re going to road race then that means riding 3rd and 4th category races. That means crashes, smashes and the pain of fractured limbs, torn face and mouth, road race and abrasions, missing teeth, broken bike parts and torn clothing. Frequently.

Lastly, it made me yearn for the simple pleasures of riding my bike in the countryside with friends, connecting with the landscape around me and enjoying the flow activity in all its infinite glory.

nb: i’ve edited this post a bit after going out for a walk in the evening sunshine. it’s softer than it was.

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