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2019 Reivers Road Races

First race was at 0930hr Saturday 23rd March

Berwick Wheelers CC held its 6th consecutive annual open 3/4 category road race based at the Etal Village Hall in Northumberland and just tipping the scales at 40 miles. This year's event also featured an additional women’s-only road race starting at 1230hr using exactly the same start, route, distance and finish.

We had approval from British Cycling and these fully supported events included first-aid and on-route mechanic. The fields were open to 80 riders in each race, utilised some of the Tour of Britain route for 2015, and ttook on the challenging Ford Bank KOM climb. Again for this year we also had a Prime award which iwas for the first rider over the finish line on the first lap of each race.

Both races started at Etal village hall and were neutralised up Ford Bank before the flag was dropped and the race started. The women’s race also tackled the same 19.70 mile circuit of the Reivers Road Race loop twice in total with the same uphill finish on the main road halfway up Ford Bank. 

Race Report by Andrew Leigh, and photos by Darran Moore

A dominant display of team strength and victory for an online sensation were the take away stories on what was a momentous day in the evolution of Berwick Wheelers annual Reivers Road Race.

Once again blessed with blue skies above and bone-dry tarmac below, the Northumberland roads around Ford and Etal provided the perfect canvas for some 120 riders to practice their art. This year however the event had a somewhat different hue.

Conceived in 2015, and now firmly established in the calendar as a spring season opener for the best of the regions aspiring male cyclists, ‘the Reivers’ took the next step forward in its development, welcoming women into the fold with the debut of an equivalent ladies’ race; Same route, same distance, same prize money and same exciting action for those watching on the roadsides.

Before the females took their bow however it was the men who were to roll out from amongst Etal’s white washed cottages and get the day’s action underway. What followed was a collective demonstration of team strength rarely seen at this level.

Attacking immediately as the start flag dropped on the upper slopes of Ford Bank, the riders of Dunfermline’s Team Andrew Allan Architecture were to stamp their authority on proceedings right from the off. As others tried to respond there were initial flurries of activity and accelerations off the front of the under pressure bunch, but it was soon the bold pink kits of Craig Gow and John Hung who had clear daylight on the rest, with just a solitary rider from the North East’s Reifen Racing for company.

What followed in the chasing peloton was a pattern of futility and frustration, as little groups of riders attempted to bridge the consistent gap, only to be reeled back in by the larger numbers biding their time behind, Up front the trio continued to power on regardless, mopping up the intermediate ‘Prime’ prize along the way,

As weary legs began to take hold, three became two at the head of affairs, with Gow and Hung distancing their erstwhile companion from Reifen and cracking on with a team time trial effort towards the finish. Just at it appeared that they may be in danger of beginning to fade however, the Fife riders played their next card, and in doing so made the races’ decisive move. Robin Downie attacked the depleted peloton and made light work of crossing up to his teammates. With no one else able to respond the three set about working together driving towards the finish.

Job and possibly legs done, Hung was to slide back from the front in the closing miles, but rounding the final bend with a comfortable gap to those following, the final steep slopes of Ford Bank were to be somewhat of a victory parade for Gow and Downie. Pedalling in parallel up the climb, the riders reached out to clasp hands aloft as they crossed the line together, the former taking first by a matter of centimetres after spending the full race in the break. Forty seconds later the chasing group were to make their own surge for the line, with Jay Pitt of Derwentside CC grabbing the final podium spot and Liam Beaty of Hawick following in fourth to claim the prize for best Borders Club Rider. Hunched over their bars in the finish area, the reddened faces of the riders told the story of what had been a gruelling mornings work, but it was the men in pink who had much to smile about.

Post lunch it was the ladies turn to show what they could do and an impressive field of 37 riders assembled amongst familiar friends as the female racing community gathered together to support the inaugural Women’s Reivers Road Race. With strong squads in attendance from Team Boompods and Jadan Weldtite-Vive le Velo, first timers were given the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the strongest riders the domestic racing circuit has to offer. In the latter’s case their number included Mary Wilkinson, a prominent name on the ladies scene, having recently contested for a contract with pro team Canyon SRAM Racing following an arduous selection process on online training platform Zwift. As such both the tension and excitement were high when the field rolled out behind the race convoy.

With a diverse range in abilities the selection of those who would contest the victory was quick in coming. As some of the newcomers battled with the steepness of Ford Bank, the stronger riders in the bunch waited to pounce, and as soon as the go ahead to race was signalled the already strung out field was to split, with a gap from front to back rapidly established.

As would be expected it was the aforementioned Team Boompods and Jadan Weldtite-Vive le Velo who began to show their cards early, Marie Lynn of the former setting the tone of the afternoon by taking a turn at the front, whilst Wilkinson tucked into the group looking comfortable from the off. With the gradient easing it was the determined pair of Jen Batey and Amy Graham who sought to dictate proceedings, introducing a few accelerations to keep their companions alert, before the fast stretch of road from Barmoor allowed the collective to lower on to the drops and settle into their collaborative pace for the afternoon.

From there It was a colour wheel of rotation at the head of the race, with the lime green and white apparel of the Boompods girls, interchanging with the celeste pastels of Team Jadan as they drove the lead group onwards. They were not to have it all their own way however as riders from Edinburgh Road Club, Musselburgh CC and Fullarton Wheelers remained present and vigilant within the reduced pack, whilst the presence of Fiona Turnbull of Slingshot provided a further threat to any victory aspirations.

Digs from Batey and teammate Sarah Walker failed to shake off those behind, but the rolling nature of the course and the stiff headwind up the testing Allerdean Hill was clearly beginning to take its toll.

By the start of the second lap a lull in the pace suggested the ladies were readying themselves for a bid for the ‘Prime’ and as the road kicked up so did Wilkinson’s fluid gait, easing out the saddle to pull away and secure a bottle of Reivers Gin for post race refreshment! With the second ascension of Ford Bank in their legs, ten was to become eight in the lead pack, and what followed was a lesson in preservation as the leaders sought to save their strength for the final surge that was to come. Passing Heatherslaw for a third time the riders readied for the final action and once again it was Mary Wilkinson who timed her move 

perfectly, waiting for the 10% ramps to bite and moving from the middle of the bunch on into the gaze of onlookers and cheers at the finish line. Raising one arm in the air, she secured an early season win to make her mark in Northumberland. Amy Graham’s enthusiasm brought her legs across the line for second place with Sophie Enever of Team Jadan.. making it a Team double on the podium.

At the prize giving it was all smiles, with Sarah Cramoysan, having had a gutsy race, scooping first veteran for PTR and Olivia Bent starting her season securing the best placed junior prize. As in the men’s event the grass roots ethos of the Reivers Race was also celebrated, with a new category this year for best Borders rider, and after working smartly together throughout the race it was Michelle Short of Hawick CC who pulled away from Berwick Wheelers Michelle Highfield at the last to secure the spoils.

In a quirk of fate it transpired that both the winner of the men’s and ladies race were born on Boxing day; it would appear the racing season could be as big a cause for celebration as the festive season for Gow and Wilkinson. Also having cause for celebration were all the hard working members of host club Berwick Wheelers, who once again put on a fantastic event in what was a landmark year in the growth of this fantastic event.