If you forced me to distil my cycling season down to a number of races equal only to the fingers on one hand, it would run like this: Flanders, Roubaix, Giro, Rutland, Lombardia. I’m serious – that’s how much I personally rate the The Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic as a race-day out.
There is nothing not to love about this unpretentious little gem of a race: Each spring, tucked away in the brilliant yellow rapeseed & rolling, green swathes of Rutland & Leicestershire’s pasture land, the racing is hard, the terrain is unrelenting, you can win pies and beer.
The anticipation and buzz surrounding the race grows with each year, both on these shores and beyond; it has transcended mere ‘bike-race’ and become a veritable institution on the UK race calendar. It is the one to win for a racer and held dear in the hearts of the cognoscenti.
The route courses chaotically around majestically expansive, sleepy countryside as it winds and bucks its way between quaintly bustling Oakham and the market town hubub of Melton Mowbray.
The off-road sectors – the ribinou, if you will – are what lend this race its uniqueness and violent charm, yet it is worth remembering that some of the most dramatic vantage points are to be found atop the sweeping meadows amid the vast, undulating rural vistas.
Standing at the side of a deserted farmland access road watching the lazy dust cloud and ribbon of colour snaking its way into view over the horizon as the whole tumult of the race caravan scythes through the incessant, saw-tooth race profile as it criss-crosses the countryside, pitching and diving over the ridges and through the dales, makes for a beautiful contrast to the close-quarter cavalry charge maelstrom of Owston or Somerberg .
The riders barrel across the gravel sectors on the very edge of traction and mere inches away from the baying crowds. Lines are chosen with a prayer only to be washed away seconds later by the shifting rubble as necks strain, eyes dart and cries go up as bikes and team cars skitter through the pall of dust, gravel and noise on the iconic Duvel Corner.
There is nowhere to recover; the short, sharp climbs pile into you without respite inbetween the mental wringing out of the cratered ribinou. And should you fall or puncture you’ll very quickly find yourself in a lonely place indeed as team cars choke and jockey on the shale within the labyrinth of lanes. What’s that you say, Hugh? Chess on Wheels? Add a roll of the dice into the equation for good measure when it comes to this one, sir!
Controversy crossed the finishing line tight on the wheels of the two surviving escapees like a hurricane. The raging cacophony of the race itself spilled over onto social media like a brawl falling out of a late-night pub door.
Mis-communications, accusations, incredulities & apologies that, for now, swirl in the air will surely settle and be comfortably sewn into the rich tapestry and legend of this lovely little annual day out in the English countryside.