After a string of second places this season, and a second to Malcolm Elliott in the 2007 edition of the race, Ian Wilkinson (Halfords-Bikehut) took the most highly prized win of his long and illustrious career last Sunday when he won the two man sprint in Melton’s Sherrard Street to win the 2009 East Midlands International CiCLE Classic.
Crossing the finish line just a wheel ahead of Denmarks Michael Berling; fourth in the 2008 CiCLE Classic; Wilkinson forced his way towards the front of the race only within the last 30 kilometres of the 157 kms race characterised by its mixed tarmac, gravel and dirt track surfaces founds between the towns of Oakham and Melton Mowbray.
After the races ceremonial start from Oakham’s historic Market Place the race exploded in a torrent of continuous attempts by riders to break clear of the near 200 man field that took the start waved away by local dignitaries in front of the largest ever crowd seen at the race start to date. Whilst this high speed did much to ensure that many of the less able and experienced riders would never even reach the narrow and rough stretrches of roads that lie at the heart of the race around Somerby, Owston and Burrough, it did little to split the favourites.
Shortly after passing back through Oakham and beginning the tantalising route toward Melton which never appears to shorten to the races competitors, a breakaway of eleven riders did however go clear building up a lead of just over a minute, before the fight back by the main bunch began to reduce this lead, and the hills and rough roads began to take their toll of those in front.
This group comprised several potential candidates for final victory; Kristian House (Rapha Condor) a former Tour of Ireland winner who was accompanied by two teammates. Top team CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta) was also well represented by two riders with Martin Irvine of Ireland, a winner the previous week, and comeback rider Yanto Barker also forming part of the group.
Whilst House dominated the East Midlands Airport ‘High Flyer’ king of the hills competition at Cold Overton and then Burrough, at just over 60 miles he was to lose his place in the group as a result of a puncture on the first passage of the notorious ‘Somerberg’ sector. Several others from this group also fell back as the hills and rough surfaces took their toll, leaving just 5 riders in front as the riders left the tiny hamlet of Owston, where the competitors had been treated once more to a unique and unforgettable welcome not only from the village residents, but also the several hundreds of spectators who had once again thronged there for a day of top class sport in the brilliant sunshine.
Through Somerberg for the second time and with 25 kms remaining Wilkinson forged ahead from the chasing main group joined by Berling and these two inexorably drew closer to the five leaders, to temporarily make a front group of seven until an untimely crash by Irvine reduced the group to six with less than 15 kms to the Melton finish.
Through and up the hill in Whissendine before turning towards Stapleford, Wilkinson tried once and then again before finally going clear to be joined by his equally fresh Danish compatriot, these two then remained together for the final ten kms before contesting the sprint resulting in Wilkinson taking a well deserved and applauded victory in front of the largest crowd that the race has witnessed in its short five year history.
Behind these two Yanto Barker took third at just under one minute, with incredibly Irvine taking fifth and wondering what might have been had he not been so exuberant in his cornering skills.
Just 76 riders completed the course, and Wilkinson in addition to his overall win was also awarded the Melton Building Society ‘Most Aggressive rider’ prize for his attacking riding in the later stages of the race.
Local rider, James Cambridge of Oakham, riding for the East Midlands Development Agency team rode to an excellent 11th place ahead of a number of the favourites, as the British riders on this occasion eclipsed the visiting foreign teams who had nevertheless largely contributed to the speed at which the near 100 miles course was completed.
With larger crowds than ever at all points along the course the race organisers were delighted with the support shown for the race which continues to grow in each passing year, with all concerned agreeing that this was the best ever edition of the race so far. Once again the main sponsors of the event were the East Midlands Development Agency and Mars UK, with support from both Rutland County and Melton Borough Councils; all of whom must have been delighted in the numbers of visitors from all parts of Britain who made their way to the area to witness what was great sporting action played out on our local roads.