Cotswold Veldrijden RR: A race of (unfortunate) attrition

At 1.15 on Sunday 15 May a field of around 40 riders rolled out for what was the first women’s event at the Cotswold Veldrijden Road Race. Taking place pretty close to where my parents are based and on roads I’m relatively familiar with, I made the journey down from the north west and was excited about what two laps of a 20 mile circuit would have in store. 

It was a really strong line-up with the majority being cat twos in a 2/3/4 race, plus riders’ jerseys told me that much of the field had travelled quite a long way to be there – with a good handful coming across from London. Chatting to a couple of people on the rollout, it was also a first road race for some, while for me it was perhaps my sixth or seventh – but the first time on something other than a relatively short, repetitive circuit.

So I should probably point out early on that this isn’t a standard race report as I didn’t actually finish. I also wondered about writing something full stop, but hoped that it might be of some use to any riders or organisers who happened to take a look. 

At this point I also want to be clear that I don’t have any ‘beef’ with the race organisers and commissaires, but instead wanted to highlight what must have been a difficult day in the lead cars. 

The women’s race was added to an existing men’s event which, at 60 miles, was a lap longer. This meant that the guys were set off around ten minutes before us with a neutralised rollout before the flag dropped. We were then soon on our way and rolling out along the same lanes before the race got started. Not long after this however, we were stopped and held by the commissaires sandwiching us in their cars as there had been a crash up ahead in the men’s. Hanging around for a while (delay no. 1), we were then shifted up to a lay-by where we were less in the way.

We had lay-by time out for another 10 minutes (delay no. 2) while organisers found out what was going on up ahead (and it sounded like there may have been some radio problems here). When it was established that the road was clear and the men’s race was continuing, we were then set off again as the word was that the pace had dropped in the men’s race. The unpleasant alternative would of course have been to wait for the men’s race to come all the way around the remaining 16 miles or so.

Being my first ‘proper’ road race (where we didn’t have the luxury of riding across the width of a circuit), the first thing that struck me was just how difficult it was to move up. Not being able to cross the white line and with riders three abreast, it was only when gaps opened up that you could edge forward. Back in the lay-by I’d not done a very good job of moving to the front, but this would have been a thoroughly good idea.

Just another two or three miles down the road, two riders ahead came down pretty heavily after what looked like a touch of bikes. While I grabbed the brakes and managed to shave a bunch of speed off, I still had to ride over one of them which really wasn’t nice at all (and something that would have been considerably worse for her (sorry!)). I toppled sideways and miraculously came off without a scratch, while both riders walked away and looked relatively chipper at HQ at the end (despite one wearing the sling of someone with a broken collarbone).

Five of us who were tangled up hung around after the crash to check on the two girls and clear bikes from the road. Once the paramedic had arrived and the girls were in the ambulance, we decided to do a circuit of the course to get a good workout – especially since some had travelled so far. While this started off social, there was an unspoken agreement to pick it up to race pace so we soon stopped talking and concentrated on breathing. A great course for a race as it turns out!

Just over half way, a motorcycle outrider asked if we’d mind occupying a lay-by once again as the men’s race came through. Happily obliging, we watched the breakaway, followed by the bunch. The remainder of the lap was just digging in, with some broken conversation thrown in. Unfortunately none of the marshals were really expecting us which made for one or two tricky junctions, but that was to be expected seeing as we were out of the race.

Hanging out at the finish line, we watched the men come through first – which meant they had lapped the women. This finished as a strung out breakaway followed by a bunch sprint, with some good points on offer seeing as it was Band 3. The devil is in the detail with the lapping bit though, where we heard afterwards that the men’s race had caught the women’s with about 8km to go. The result? The women’s race was stopped while the men came through.

Now this is the tricky bit really as a call had to be made. While a breakaway was apparently forming up one of the drags in the women’s race, the men were charging on behind. What happened was that the women’s race was pulled to one side as the men came through which neutralised the breakaway, brought the race together and gave riders 10 minutes to get their breath back, take on a gel and prepare. Obviously a bit of game-changer. 

It was a safe decision for sure, with the situation very much the by-product of the delays identified above (plus one more below). But what an unfortunate way to end the first holding of the women’s race. On a different day with different goings on, it would have been a great event. 

I haven’t seen any official results yet so can’t say who took the top spots, but it was definitely a long run in to the line! A couple of riders seemed to fade up the false flat which came at the end of a few punishing straights.

At the finish we made the slightly annoying discovery that the bunch had been held for perhaps 10 minutes after the crash, meaning that once the paramedics had arrived and the injured riders were checked over we could have joined in again. All a bit frustrating, but there are plenty of other races out there and the race director surely had a lot going on.

So to finish it’s a big thank you to Cotswold Veldrijden for putting the race on and making it such a great course, but also a thought on the importance of contingency plans for even the most unlikely of occurrences. With riders steaming around the course at 35km/h decisions need to be made (and put in place) quickly, but on this occasion they favoured the men’s race with its larger field, greater heritage and bigger income. You could argue it’s faultless business model, but I wouldn’t want to have been the one to make the call.

Fingers crossed for a clear run next year!

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