All images and words by Anna McEwen

Legs ache, mud splatters, bones rattle. It is a race that not only pitches rider against rider, but it is also a contest between the cyclist and the course itself. Once a year the peloton takes on the roads and rough farm tracks in one of the toughest races in the calendar. I am of course talking about Paris-Roubaix, oh wait no, sorry my mistake I mean, I am of course talking about the Rutland – Melton CiCLE Classic. Britain’s most prestigious, and in fact, only international one day race.

This year a gloomy Sunday in April was to be the18th edition of the race. A peloton of 174 riders from countries across the world, were ready to contest the 185km circuit which would carry them from the picturesque town of Oakham to the legendary home of the pork pie, Melton Mowbray.

For the winner of this event there waited a prize of £2,000. But that was not the only bounty up for grabs on the day. As along the course the riders could not only win intermediate  cash bonuses, but the first the cross the sprint line at Owlston village, would have won their own body weight in beer, and the most coveted of all the prizes: the rider who was first past the line in Melton Mowbray would have the honour of taking home the large special pork pie.

The toughness of the course, and the technical difficulty posed by the circuit would be familiar to any classics rider who has faced a course in Belgium or France. This similarity is echoed for the spectators who could have witnessed the action live from a bar in the village of Wyndomly, drinking Kwaremont beer, and enjoying a BBQ and live commentary as the race sped past by five times before its conclusion.

So, it was with great excitement and elevated expectations that I arrived early in the morning in a wet and rainy carpark in Oakham. Although there were still many hours to go till the start of the race the place was buzzing (though damply) with activity. Bikes were being unloaded from vans, wheels being calibrated, riders in dry robes searched for toilets in the overcrowded leisure centre or were changing under the limited protection from the elements offered by open car boots. A selection of dogs, some in jackets, some without, watched proceedings probably wondering what their humans were up to and when they could go back in the dry and have a biscuit.

As the start time for the team presentation neared, a rumour began to spread that the start time had been pushed back. It was soon confirmed and a new time of 12:30 was announced. Discussions needed to be had about the course, how much of it was safe versus how much was deep under water. Riders huddled in cars or vans, trying to keep themselves warm.

A Land Rover Defender pulled into the carpark, green vegetation visibly stuck round the axels of the front wheels, woven through its front grill. I chatted to its owner, he pointed to the top bits of greenery that now decorated his car, this he said showed the depth of the flooding out on the tracks, making it day more suited to triathletes than cyclists. Even if the bikes could make it, there was no way for support vehicles to follow. The plan was to see if a shorter circuit could work, avoiding certain segments where the flooding was at its worst. Faces were grim, and for the first time there was a feeling in the air that the race could be cancelled.

More information trickled through: the way to Melton Mowbray was impassable. No-one was winning a pork pie on its streets today. DS’s, riders and race organisers held an emergency meeting in the crowded leisure centre trying to hash out a route that was workable.

I leave the pensive atmosphere of the car park and head to the market square, the stage for the presentation cuts a sad sight, as the crowds have long dispersed looking for somewhere warmer and drier to be. Just one man and his French bulldog are watching hopefully, under the shelter from a shop doorway.

Fortified by coffee I return to the carpark. The organisers and riders have been unable to find a safe solution. The word quickly spreads from team to team. The race is cancelled. Bikes are packed back into vans, equipment stored away. As quickly as the car park was filled it is emptied as everyone scatters back home to dry out and seek warmth. There were teams from sunnier climates such as Spain, and I hoped that this abysmal weather and cancelled race would not colour their view too negatively of racing in our country.

The disappointment for the riders was palpable.

Harry Birchill of Saint Piran was hoping for a good result this year, having previously performed well in the race. 'I'm a bit disappointed at the race being cancelled," he said. "I was genuinely up for it after having a good result the first year I did it. My form’s also good at the moment, so I think I could have done well. But it was understandable why they cancelled; the course was just completely underwater. I saw some of the photos and it was unbelievable. I don’t know how we had so much rain overnight."

The disappointment spread beyond the contestants: to the spectators who turned up despite the weather to enjoy a good day out; to the local businesses who were hoping to increase their trade for the day serving the people who turned up to watch; to race director Colin Clews and his team of organisers whose hard work went into making the day happen, and to the teams who had invested time and money to get there to not even race a single kilometre.

For Richard Pascoe, Founder and owner of Saint Piran Pro Cycling, the race is of special importance. “CiCLE is a mainstay of our domestic cycling calendar," he said. "It is an incredible race and all of our riders target it at the start of the year. It ranks up there with the Tour of Britain and other ProTour races in terms of value to the team. Its unavoidable cancellation is disappointing to us as a team but more importantly, it feels incredibly tough for all the effort that Colin and his team have put into this year’s race. It is on us and other senior teams to continue to support the domestic scene and that includes providing as much support as possible to events like CiCLE when things don’t go to plan.”

And it felt especially hard for the young riders who had missed this opportunity of possibly winning that celebrated pork pie, but also missing out on valuable racing experience. Previous entrants of this race have gone on to World Tour teams, including Tom Pidcock, Emīls Liepiņš, Jack Rootkin-Gray and last year’s winner Luke Lamperti. It is not as though we have a host of international races on home soil for them to participate in.

“CiCLE was supposed to be a new experience having never done it as a junior,” said Lance Childs of TAAP Kalas Racing. “It was a race I was excited for and nervous about due to the famous gravel sectors. Having ridden the course on the Saturday, my nerves turned to anticipation because it was a race that excited me with the unpredictability.”

The racing scene in Britain is struggling, with a dwindling pot to help finance it. As a community we are all still mourning the loss of The Tour of Yorkshire, and it is only with some luck and no small amount of arduous work from the organisers that the Tour of Britain is gracing us with a race again this year after a lengthy period of uncertainty over whether it would happen at all. So, although it was absolutely the correct thing to do, it is a crying shame that the 18th Rutland Melton CiCLE Classic didn’t happen.

As racing fans, the most helpful action we can take is to show our support for these races. Turn up if you can and enjoy a pork pie (or the meat free alternative of your choice), buy something in a local shop, cheer for the riders as they whizz past you at astonishing numbers of kilometres per hour. Talk about it. Tell your friends. Bring them with you.

I know for one, that I will be showing up again next year, or later this year if the organisers manage it, and I know I will not be the only one looking forward to it.

"After the cancellation of this edition, the race holds a special place in my heart," said Lance Childs, "because of it being 'the one that got away' and I hope to race it next year or maybe, fingers crossed, if there is a rescheduled event later this year.’

Only hopefully, next time, I can leave the raincoat at home.

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