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    The Rutland, What a Bike Race

    Barbecues, bad roads and big cheese: Ian Wilkinson, the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic’s only two-time champion, on what makes the rough road race special and what it takes to win

    Andy McGrath
    Timm Kölln
Rider, orange kit, shrubbery, potholes waterlogged, green trees

“The Lincoln Grand Prix is the only one that comes close for prestige and excitement. Some races have got that bit of summat special. It’s really just the format Colin has created with the little loops.

"We [Raleigh riders] were all just chatting about it. A lot of it is like Paris-Roubaix, but it’s probably something more like Amstel Gold: little roads, constantly turning, steep hills, steep downs, the Somerberg and a couple of rough bits. Anyone can puncture on those roads too.

“You’ve got to know when to make an effort and where you can relax a bit. Unless you’ve done the race before – even once, twice, three times – you need to know where the wind is coming from.

“The tracks and rough roads are bad if you have a couple of mechanicals or punctures, but they’re not making it hard. It’s all the other 106 miles of tarmac that are heavy, windy, up and down, left and right. It is special because of that.

In the thick of the action at the 2014 Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic. pic: Timm Kölln

“Of course, it’s one of the only UCI one-day races in Britain too: we have this one, the Beaumont Trophy and RideLondon, that’s it. It brings its own prestige.

“When you go through Owston with the barbecues on, you can always smell that and hear the static commentary. That perks you up a little bit, the barbecue. Stop and have a burger, that’s the right idea.

“In this race with six-man teams, you can’t really nominate a leader – five guys aren’t going to control a group. That also makes this event quite open as well. A break has gone round the reservoir early on quite often and stayed away, there’s no control behind it.

“At the Tour, each stage has its intrigue, but overall it’s a controlled bloomin’ machine. You go to Roubaix and bloody anything can happen, chuck it all in a bowl and see what happens. People are crashing, puncturing, going through these little lanes: you have a long list at the start and it goes down to a few. Rutland is very much like that, with all the people, the variables, the weather.

“I remember the 2010 edition. I was totally unprepared. It wasn’t that cold the day before and I didn’t have neoprene kit or anything. The weather was brutal; Yanto [Barker] was the only finisher from our team that day. But I climbed off and I’ve still got me good looks.

Dizzying and disorientating. pic: Timm Kölln

“My first Rutland win in 2009 is still one of the best results of my career. 2013 was a special win but we had a strong team going into it, as much as anything… with Halfords [Bikehut] in 09’, it was like ‘crack on, see what happens’. I pretty much won that solo, whereas 2013 was much more of a team performance.

“When you win, it’s never hard, is it? My mate Paul [Oldham] blew up one time with 20km to go and  realised he couldn’t remember the last downhill and turn later…

“It’s a nice prize list as well, it feels like you’ve won something worthwhile. In 2009, they gave me a Stilton. That was a big cheese, 1.6 kilos, holy crap! I put it in the boot and it still stank. I gave all me friends a big chunk and I’ve still got in the freezer, I think.

“Oh man. Second in 2007. More than anything, it left me 750 quid down. That really hurt me for the sake of half a bike length, all because I didn’t get into that last corner first, making a mistake.

Colin Clews, founder, race organiser and beating heart of the race. pic: Timm Kölln

“Different shit motivates different people. It might be just having a load of first places; it’s got money on the line, it’s your job. It might be prestige, there’s a whole bunch of different things; but if I gotta make a decision between winning or losing 750 quid, I’m gonna get it right next time.

“What a bike race. God knows how many hours [organiser] Colin Clews puts into this, I can only imagine.  He’s proved organising something different in the UK can be done and fought to keep his UCI status. It’s unique."

Team Raleigh GAC rider Ian Wilkinson was speaking to Rouleur’s Andy McGrath. Wilkinson, 36, won the race in 2009 and 2013.

The photographs featured in Rouleur's "This Island Race", our celebration of British cycle racing in the 2014 season.



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