Monday 11 November 2013

Curlew Cup 2014

22.06.2014 Official Site
England, 103km Road Race
Women's National Series

Now in its third edition, the Curlew Cup has become one of the most popular National Series races among riders and fans alike for numerous reasons: the high-calibre field it attracts (Sarah Story won in 2012, then Hannah Barnes in 2013), the beautiful route running through the Northumberland countryside, a respectable prize fund (£2000 in 2014) and, perhaps most of all, a hard and testing parcours - while some races organisers, even to this day, seem to think that female cyclists can't cope with difficult roads, the Curlew organisers know they relish a challenge and appreciate an opportunity to show their athletic ability and technical skills, so they've come up with a testing 103km circuit that has much in common with the (in)famous Flemish Classics and promises some very exciting racing indeed. Two especially notable sections are the very narrow roads stretching between the points marked as the 14th and 15th corners and the 16th and 17th corners on our map. In addition to a variety of hazards caused by loose road surfaces and mud, both of these sections are sufficiently narrow that team cars may experience problems reaching a rider who finds herself in difficulties, which can easily result in loss of a significant amount of time.

The Parcours

View Curlew Cup 2014 in a larger map

Altitude profile
Something of a sprinters' race in previous editions, the Curlew Cup features more climbing this year - but not too much; the organisers seem to be aiming for a similar concept to Italy's Trofeo Binda, a race that takes place on a near-perfectly balanced parcours that does not allow either the sprinters or the climbers to gain a race-winning advantage until near the end. However, their bike-handling skills will be put to the test: in addition to the gravel and mud on those narrow roads, much of the parcours - especially the hilltops - are very exposed and subject to powerful crosswinds, another factor that riders with experience of the Flemish Classics will be best placed to deal with.

The Women's National Series race consists of three laps of the shorter 22.37km (13.9 miles) circuit depicted in blue on our map followed by one lap of the 35.89km (22.3 miles) circuit, depicted in red on our map. The official distance given is 62 miles, which is equal to 99.78km; I think it's more like 103km.

22.37km Circuit
A number of small climbs along the parcours seem, at first, to present little challenge; however, the effect of the brief steeper points on them will accumulate as the three laps progress. Although that seems to give climbers a small advantage, the heavier riders and sprinters have plenty of opportunity to take back time over the last half of the circuit as it's almost entirely downhill from the 7th Corner to Stamfordham - with a number of difficult corners where the lightweight climbers find it harder to maintain control at high speed still to come, there is little opportunity for anyone to gain an unassailable lead before starting the longer circuit.

Riders set out from Stamfordham's attractive village green near to the 18th Century market cross (which can be seen circa 1900 in this photo), on section of road sufficiently straight and wide for a fast start to the neutral zone.

1st Corner
In the first kilometre, a slight climb leads into the first corner, a wide left-hander to join the B6309 heading north, then up another short but steeper climb (maximum, though only briefly, 7.7%) and into a flat and exposed section through fields to Heugh, 1.25km from the start. Beginning at 2.2km, a little past Heugh, is another short climb nearing 4% at the steepest point. The top is marked by some farm buildings on the left and the descent isn't long enough to make much difference to anyone.

2nd and 3rd Corners 
1st lap: (2.98km, 4.44km)
2nd lap: 25.35km, 26.81km
3rd lap: 47.72km, 49.18
At 2.97km lies a relatively tight right-hand bend which, due to a wide gap in the left-side hedge at the apex, could prove technical if strong winds are blowing from the north-west. A short flat section follows, leading into a wide left-hand bend which marks the beginning of a gentle 1.7km climb carrying the race through Black Heddon and on towards the 173m summit 4.93km from the start - the road is protected by high hedges, but exposed sections may be subject to string crosswinds. The 3rd Corner at Black Heddon carries the race right and may be a hazardous spot - loose verges on both sides tend to lead to mud on the road, and the stone wall on the right is close enough at the apex on the right to catch elbows.

Once the riders pass the summit 4.93km from the start, there is a 1.52km descent with a steepest section of -5.9% by the woods on the left. Loose, muddy verges and a slight left-hand bend make this section technical and it would be easy for tyres to lose their grip in wet conditions; there is also a lot of bramble growth, making punctures a possibility.

4th, 5th, 6th Corners
1st lap: 6.45km, 7.25km, 7.37km
2nd lap: 28.82km, 29.62km, 29.74km
3rd lap: 51.19km, 51.99km, 52.11km
The race reaches a junction and turns left to join a narrower road heading west towards Ingoe - once again, muddy verges may lead to slippery conditions, especially on the left at the apex of the corner. Immediately after the corner, the riders begin the most difficult climb of the lap, rising 54m in 1.58km - that's an average gradient of under 3.5%, but there a steeper sections. The steepest, just beyond the 5th Corner at 7.25km (the bend isn't technical, but is quite exposed and may be subject to crosswinds), is around 7%. The 6th Corner is wide and relatively non-technical, but crosswinds may be an issue.

7th Corner 
1st lap: 11.2km
2nd lap: 33.57km
3rd lap: 55.94km
From 8.9km, by a row of bungalow cottages on the right, the riders begin climbing towards the highest point (222m) on this circuit, marked by the 7th Corner. However, it is not a challenging climb: the vertical gain is 39m in 2.23km, giving an average gradient of less than 2% and even the steepest point at 10.2km is manageable at 4.5%. The 7th Corner has a drain cover near the left verge just beyond the apex; as water tends to collect along this side, it may be very slippery during and after wet weather.

The remainder of the parcours back into Stamfordham is downhill.

8th Corner 
1st lap: 12.42km
2nd lap: 34.79km
3rd lap: 57.16km
Coming immediately after one of the small climbs that punctuate the rest of the parcours, this is a wide, fast corner that may be subject to crosswinds.

9th Corner
1st lap: 13.5km
2nd lap: 35.87km
3rd lap: 58.24km
Potentially the most dangerous point on the parcours due to a combination of factors: it lies in between two fast, straight descents; the road surface on the approach is sufficiently poor as to cause split-second changes to a rider's chosen line around the corner (and thus collisions with other riders); there is loose gravel on the left coming into the apex and the exit from the corner is exposed and subject to crosswinds.

10th Corner 
1st lap: 13.8km
2nd lap: 36.17km
3rd lap: 58.54km
A fast and non-technical corner in the dry, but mud may collect on the road here at times. Marks the point at which the route of the 35.89km circuit converges with that of the 22.37km circuit on the final approach to the finish line.

There are two small climbs at 15.2km (37.57km and 59.95km on the 2nd and 3rd laps) and 16.7km (39.07km; 61.44km), neither long nor steep enough to have much of an effect.

11th Corner
1st lap: 16.3km
2nd lap: 38.67km
3rd lap: 61.04km
A wide left-hander with an excellent road surface. Caution is required due to the very fast approach.

12th Corner 
1st lap: 17.2km
2nd lap: 39.57km
3rd lap: 61.94km
The final corner on the small circuit, marking the beginning of the approach to the finish line. Fast, with caution required due to loose gravel on the left and muddy verges on both sides.

Further caution is required at 19.6km (41.97km; 64.34km) where two farm entrances (first on the right, then on the left) tend to result in mud on the road. A similar situation exists at 21.5km (43.87km; 66.24km).

End of Lap
From 21.7km (44.07km; 66.44km), a short but steep climb leads back into Stamfordham. On entering the village, the road forks three ways; the central road leads back to the start line to begin the next lap.

35.89km Circuit
The climbs play a larger part in deciding the outcome of the large circuit, especially the tough 1079m ascent between 89.71km and 92.21km (average gradient 4.5%; maximum, at 95.51km, painfully close to 13.5%). However, from Ryal at 92.81km, the parcours is downhill all the way to the finish - so, if the climbers are out in front, everybody else once again has opportunity to catch them.

As for the 22.37km circuit.

1st Corner 
As for the 22.37km circuit.

2nd Corner (70.9km)
As for the 22.37km circuit.

3rd Corner (71.55km)
As for the 22.37km. When the race arrives at the junction where riders turned left toward Ingoe, they now continue straight ahead remaining on the B6309.

4th Corner (74.56km)
Riders turn left to leave the B6309. A tight corner, made hazardous by the presence of a rough area of hardstanding on the right, used as a truckstop - there is as a result a likelihood of loose gravel and spilled diesel and/oil on the road. Keeping to the left should avoid the worst of it.

5th Corner (78.71km)
A difficult corner. made so by a combination of the poor road surface, muddy verge along the right and very narrow road after the turn.
Narrow Section
The next 1.48km descend quite steeply, encouraging high speed, and are potentially narrow enough to create problems and to prevent team cars getting to riders quickly. There are also a number of added hazards before the next corner: at 78.91km, loose and sharp stones on the left side of the road; at 79.41km there may be mud on the road; at 79.59km, at the bottom of the descent where riders will enter it at high speed, is a narrow bend; at 79.81km (on a small climb this time, and thus less dangerous) is a narrow left-hand bend with muddy verges along both sides.

6th Corner (80.11km)
Tight left-hand corner with muddy verges along both sides. marks the beginning of a relatively non-technical 5.5km section leading to the 7th Corner just beyond Little Bavington. There are a number of small but not especially difficult climbs (though some riders, having already experienced all the hills that came earlier, won't be finding the going easy by this point) leading to the highest point anywhere on the parcours at 83.61km, 217m above sea level. The next kilometre or so is simple enough; the remaining distance to Little Bavington and to the 7th Corner descends steeply enough to be a hazard, reaching -8% in places and once more allowing heavier riders to catch the climbers.

7th Corner (85.61km)
The approach is wide, but a poor road surface may prove slippery - which, combined with the narrowness of the road the riders are now joining, makes this potentially a very hazardous corner; especially since it lies on a fast descent.
Narrow Section
The road becomes much narrower just a few metres after the corner and remains narrow for 4.2km, sufficiently so that team cars may not be able to reach riders experiencing problems rapidly enough to prevent them losing significant time - any rider, even a favourite, suffering a mechanical problem here might see any chance she had of finishing well vanish right before her eyes here. In addition, several other hazards are encountered: muddy verges through the forested sections from 86.61km, which also marks the beginning of a steep descent; loose gravel at 87.61km; more muddy verges in the forested section from 87.91km; mud on the road at 88.31km; cobbles along the left verge at 88.41km and two final points where the road is often muddy at 89.01km and 89.41km. The final part of  this section, leading to the 8th Corner, descends steeply.

8th Corner (89.91km)
Tight, at the bottom of a fast descent and complicated by the presence of a gap in the hedge where farm vehicles enter and exit the fields right on the apex, the 8th Corner is a technical part of the race and requires caution.

The corner marks the beginning of the biggest - and, in all likelihood, the most decisive climb anywhere on the parcours: the Ryals, which due to looking like a vertical wall on the approach has as devastating an effect on the psyche as it does on the calf muscles when encountered for the first time. Over the next 2.5km, the road will gain 109m at an average gradient of nearly 4.5%, but much of that gain takes place in a section starting at 91.31km, where for a short time the gradient tops 13% - a serious challenge coming so late in the race, and one that will put some riders out of contention. The summit is at 92.21km and is followed by a short flat section leading to Ryal. A 1.1km section starting at the crossroads in the village leads to the junction termed the 10th Corner on the 22.37km circuit, where the two routes reconverge. The remainder of the 35.89km circuit is, therefore, identical to the 22.37km from this point to the finish line at Stamfordham, and offers the same opportunities for heavier riders to catch the climbers.

Finish (103km)
From 101.61km, a short but steep climb leads back into Stamfordham and provides the climbers with one last chance to kick for the finish. On entering the village, the road forks three ways; the central road leads to the finish line.

Start List
Not yet available.

Other events
In addition to the Curlew Cup, a number of other races take place throughout the weekend including the men's Premier Calendar UCI 1.2 Beaumont Trophy. There are also various races for non-professional riders and two non-competitive sportives. More details here.

Getting There
Stamfordham is only 22km from the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne which, as a city and port, has links to the rest of Britain and beyond, making this an exceptionally easy race to reach. The best way to get to the race itself is, of course, by bike; spending half an hour with a map (or Google) will reveal numerous quiet routes linking different points along the parcours and making it possible to zip from one to another and see the riders go by more times than would be the case if you remained in one place.

Newcastle can be reached by road (A1 from the south, A68/A696 from the north, A69 from the west), by rail (details here), by air (regular flights from 84 cities in Europe and elsewhere) and by sea (regular sailings to IJmuiden and Amsterdam in the Netherlands).


Rooms in the local hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns will soon be taken up. However, there are many hotels from the basic to the luxurious in Newcastle. There is a very reasonably-priced campsite (campervans, caravans and tents) at Hexham; places are limited to 45 so book in advance.

Local Attractions

If you'd like to visit the race as part of a family weekend away but can't persuade your nearest and dearest that standing by a roadside is a fun way to spend the day, there's plenty for them to go and do in the local area.


As a large city, there's plenty in Newcastle to keep people from any age range happy. The official tourism site and Trip Advisor both have plenty of details.

There's not much to see at Matfen (well, apart from four passages of a bike race), but the village is an interesting example of a planned estate village, laid out and built by an 18th Century landowner for the benefit of his workers. 


For the incurably boring, there's a large and apparently very popular golf range open to visitors (by prior arrangement) at Matfen, right on the parcours.

Belsay Castle

Located just off the parcours, the medieval Belsay Castle - and the 19th Century Belsay Hall, into which the castle's inhabitants moved after abandoning the older structure - are an ideal destination for bored family members while you watch the race. Universal Paintball, which is on the parcours close to Belsay, offers a range of activities including various paintball games and quad bikes.

Food and Drink

The Swinburne Arms and Bay Horse pubs in Stamfordham both offer food and both have decent reputations.


If your family want to drop you off and then go off for a drive, this is the idea place to do it - the countryside is beautiful, every village has a unique church and attractive cottages, and there are numerous cafes, restaurants and tea shops.

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