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Reflections on our Women’s Road Race

This month we proudly hosted a 2/3/4 women’s road race in memory of much-loved member Maria Thompson who passed away in 2017. Maria was a formidable racer who made it to 2nd cat and raced the national masters.

It was the first time running the race since 2019, when it was part of a junior race series. This year we decided to run a standalone event to increase opportunities, particularly those who hadn’t tried a road race before.

The race was hosted on the Norwood Hill Circuit, fairly flat by Surrey League standards, however there was a short hill that stretched the legs over 8 laps. We had 27 starters on the day, with plenty of local clubs and teams represented. Despite some attempts to get away the bunch stayed together and it was a bunch sprint at the end with Cassandra Baldi from Dulwich Paragon taking the win.

Big thanks to Phil Feather and all the volunteers from the club who helped run a great event, plus the comms and NEG riders who gave up their Sunday to make it happen.

Cassandra Baldi (Dulwich Paragon)

The event was great and it was only my second ever road race. Just getting to the start line was a massive accomplishment for me, as I don’t have much confidence in myself. The sign-on process was super friendly and made me feel more confident. I was extremely nervous, but the Kingston Wheelers team were friendly and helped me feel comfortable. The start was a little delayed but it turned out to be a positive thing, as it allowed racers to chat and make the experience nicer. The marshals were awesome and ensured that traffic was stopped at the right points, making us feel safe. My previous road race experience wasn’t the best due to a broken spoke. Definitely felt more welcoming than other events I’ve done. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, regardless of age or racing for points. What matters most to me is having fun and gaining confidence.

Julia Wedmore (Peckham CC)

I’ve always loved doing running races so when Katherine at my club, Peckham Cycle Club, invited us to do a road race I signed up straight away. As the day arrived, I was nervous as it was my first bike race and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was looking forward to riding with others and doing a circuit with no traffic lights! When I arrived with my clubmate, Michelle, I looked around to see a lot of pro looking riders and some very nice bikes! But the friendly officials made me feel welcome and one of the riders, Alice, said a few words at the start about helping out new riders and making it an enjoyable experience for them. That was great as I felt able to ask questions, like how do I know when the race has started?!

We headed off on the neutralised start and I suddenly felt like I was in the Tour de France Femmes, whizzing along with a big group of riders in close formation. It was awesome! We’d been riding for a little while when I thought “wow I can keep up, this is going to be an awesome race”, only to look ahead and see the race hadn’t actually started yet! Once it did, the undulations of the course soon started pulling the group apart. I managed to catch up at the start but then lost the peloton. Luckily another rider of similar standard was with me and we worked hard together to get round. She said she might have stopped if I weren’t there, and I was certainly glad she didn’t! It was also brilliant to have a couple of club mates ride down to support us and it gave me a real boost when I heard them cheering.

My main goal of the day was to finish the race, and during the race I set a couple of extra goals of riding over 30kph average and not getting lapped by the peloton – and I managed to achieve all of them! It was the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself on the bike but I was really proud of getting myself on the start line and being able to go so fast for so long. It was nice to ride back to the HQ with all the riders and the winner of the race, Cassie, spoke to me and encouraged me to get some speedy training in and keep racing. A table of cakes was a welcome sight to my jelly legs at the end as we watched the podium presentations. Already looking forward to the next one! Thanks Kingston Wheelers for a brilliantly organised race.

Alice Lethbridge (Loughborough Lightning)

No result to shout about today, but loads to celebrate for women’s cycling in the south east. Proud to be part of a club that is so great at supporting the development of women’s racing. First time I’ve ever seen every single online entrant sign on (!) and we had 2 more riders join on the day. Most importantly we had a lot of very strong women who normally aren’t confident enough to race, absolutely smash it.

Women’s 2/3/4 races have, in general, been poorly supported this year and I’m struggling to know why. I asked the comms today if I could say something after they did their briefing. I spoke to the riders to say how important 2/3/4 races are as they allow riders with lots of experience to help newcomers into the sport, to learn how to race, and to develop their bunch skills. The race today was set up in memory of my club mate Maria, who took me under her wing when I first showed an interest in racing. I know she would have been so happy at how the event went today, and at how welcomed the newer racers felt. Normally I’d be really disappointed with the result I got, and kicking myself for still overestimating where my ability to recover from training sits after covid, but having multiple riders pull up beside me in the race and thank me for what I said at the start left me knowing that those few words were far more important than any result could have been today.

So next season, I hope that every experienced racer can find a little bit of Maria in them, and go to a race where their result doesn’t matter; instead they prioritise helping newer, less experienced riders to become more confident in their racing. I still hope that one day we’ll see as many women and girls racing as we do men and boys.