The Duel in the Sun
With a 6 am start and using the established A11 Morley course, 105 riders turned up on Sunday to ride the Eastern District Championship ‘100’, the event this year also incorporating the ECCA championship given the cancellation (due to road works) of this event that had been scheduled for June on the fast E2 course further south on the A11 in Cambridgeshire.
Quite a field and quite a day as temperatures reached 25 Deg C by 9 am with many competitors finishing well after 11am. Early conditions were ideal given very low wind speeds signalling a fast morning on a pretty good course, so the issue was how riders would deal with the rising temperature, good hydration being essential. A lot of interest on the part of many, the organisers included, was focussed on the anticipated clash in the women’s event between National Champion and current competition record holder, Alice Lethbridge and professional tri-athlete (and occasional time triallist) Kimberley Morrison, both members of the elite team, Drag2Zero, People were not to be disappointed as a tremendous struggle was fought out between the pair over the whole morning. The Amateur vs the Professional; the established cycling star vs the established international tri-athlete and potential cycling champion. It’s not Shakespeare and it’s not good vs evil, but it certainly made for drama.
Other top names in the women’s field included Rebecca Murley (Wisbech CC, number 35) who has had a remarkable season so far recording fast personal bests at most distance, including a one hour 54 minute ‘50’ on the E2 and Katja Rietdorf (Born to Bike – 72) a long established top performer at distance events.
Charles Mitchell of A3crg (90) was considered the scratch man in the men’s field with other noted rivals including local men, veteran Dave Green (CC Breckland -100) and Ben Stancombe of Team VeloVelocity (76) the latter enjoying a prodigious season this year over race distances of 10, 25 and 50 miles, Other contenders included Mark Smith (Crawley Wheelers – 50) chasing a fast time for his BAR bid and who had stayed in Norfolk the night before, Gray Turnock of Finsbury Park (70) and David Sheppard and Stephen Williamson (75 and 80 respectively) both of a3crg, returning to this event having done well the previous year. A special mention should be made for Peter Horsnell (Chelmer CC – 19) supported on the day by his wife, Mary, who covered the distance in 5 hours 22 minutes and 9 seconds (5.22.09) at the age of 88. He told me that the heat did not trouble him; presumably nothing does.
Flying the flag for the NNW were Philip Watkins (40) who was worried beforehand by the likely heat and myself, doing EDCA marshal duty for the club at the Browick / Mulbarton turn, also worried about everything. The course essentially consists of 4 circuits, each of 22 miles (plus a stretch at the finish) between Browick at the top end and the Snetterton turn at the southern/western end. As the competitors came past my station 4 times and at a more leisurely pace given that it is a smallish roundabout, it gives me a good opportunity to see how the race unfolds and how the contest between specific contenders ebbs and flows over the distance.
Mitchell started fast taking an early lead with in form Ben Stancombe, Mark Smith and Stephen Williamson also looking good. Dave Green was going well too but later had mechanical trouble not being the only one not to finish this gruelling event either because of the heat or mechanical issues. The real excitement was in the women’s event with new team-mates Alice and Kimberley – Alice stayed with Kim the night before when they met for the first time – determined to trade blows, figuratively speaking. Kim, who is a 2nd claim member of the NNW, started fast and had a slight advantage as they came past me for the first time at about 18 miles, but Alice seemed to be up by their second passing at about 40 miles.
Kim smiled and waved in my direction as she passed whilst Alice, perhaps feeling the ‘100’ in her legs from the previous week and the 12 hour competition record of 290 miles that she achieved a few weeks ago, was looking grimly determined. She has not been beaten in a ‘100’ for some considerable time and did not look as though she wanted a loss on her record, but Kimberley looked fresher and as though she was enjoying it more.
Philip Watkins suffered in the heat and had a chain unship and lock in his bike taking minutes to get going whilst John Swindells of Iceni Velo (5) looked on his last legs with a face like a zombie as he passed me for the last time shaking his hand and his head forlornly in my direction. He had under hydrated and suffered over the last 30 miles as a result. As I gently chided him later, slightly unusual for an experienced competitor such as him, but he (like Phil Watkins) had no helper on the course which can be such an advantage for those riders who have this support, especially on such a hot day.
Mitchell, Stancombe, Smith and Williamson kept up a consistent high pace with Mitchell always looking the likely winner, finishing in the very fast time of 3.26.09, which I assume to be the course and event record, with Stancombe finishing in a very impressive 3.32.11 (presumed to win the EDCA championship, if not the event, as the EDCA title is won by a rider from a local affiliated club) with Smith well pleased with his pb of 3.33.59.
Meanwhile Lethbridge and Morrison – I asked them later if they were the best of enemies – were still slugging it out with Alice remaining about one minute up as they passed me for the 3rd and then the 4th and last time with 16 miles to go. and everything still to play for. The heat did not bother these two – I was thinking of the stage and thunder and lightning by this time, but perhaps I just had a touch of heat-stoke myself? Marshals don’t get paid enough for stress like this – a union is badly needed. Katja also ensured that I did not doze off by hurling empty gel packets at me from uncomfortably close proximity as she passed for the 2nd and 3rd time. Any more of that and I was getting ready to toss something back.
Mention should also be made of diminutive Rebecca Murley who maintained her form very well, as she thundered up and down the A11, to record a time of 3.58.53 for third place (presumed to be EDCA champion with a record time on this course for an EDCA affiliated rider) ahead of Katja Rietdorf in 4th place with a fine time of 4.01.08. That gel tossing routine obviously has some benefit.
The headline duel ended with Alice winning by two minutes in a time of 3, 42.09 beating the competition record that she set in the ECCA event last year by about 30 seconds. In her 2nd hundred, Kimberley beat the time that she recorded in the NNW event last year by 20 minutes, but of course the courses and the days were entirely different. Both Alice and Kim confirmed that the rising heat did not bother them as it did some competitors. I chatted briefly also with Kim’s husband before I left the hq who commented, ruefully, that she had done two half Ironman’s in the week or 10 days before this championship event.
The best EDCA field and championship for some years with a large number of helpers and spectators on the course. All results in this report are unofficial as times and winners of both the EDCA and ECCA championships have not yet been issued.
Photos are courtesy of Fergus Muir.