Tuesday 10 December 2013

Sheffield GP

23.07.2014 Official Site
England, 45 minutes + 3 laps
Women's National Series
Start: 53°22'47.32"N 1°28'13.11"W

When most people imagine a bike race, they picture a peloton crusing along a picturesque road surrounded by Alpine meadows with the lofty snow-capped peaks soaring far overhead. There are plenty of races in which that sort of thing can be seen, and they're one of the reasons that cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world. There are other kinds of racing too, of course, and if it's sheer eyeballs-out, high-speed, scrape-yer-knees-off-going-round-the-corners excitement you want then you can't beat a good city centre criterium style event - and the Sheffield GP is a very good example.

The 2013 edition was an absolute joy to watch with most of Britain's top female road racers fighting hard throughout the race and leaving the thousands of people that turned up to watch in no doubt whatsoever that women's cycling is every bit as tough, fast and exciting as men's cycling. The top five looked like this:

1 Helen Wyman (Kona)
2 Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel)
3 Eileen Roe (Breast Cancer Care)
4 Hannah Walker (Matrix Fitness)
5 Melissa Lowther (Matrix Fitness)

When Neutral Service asked for confirmation of the 2014 circuit, the race organisers sent a link to a Strava segment. Top female riders are Lauren Creamer (2'01"), Eleanor Jones (2'15"), Nicola Soden (2'21"), Keira McVitty (2'28") and Ruth Taylor (3'31").

What's a criterium...?
If you've never been to a bike race before, a criterium - or crit, as cyclists usually call them - is an ideal choice for your first. The riders race for a pre-set time rather than over a specified number of laps (usually; at some crits it's the other way round), completing many laps of a short circuit that will often be located in a city centre. This sometimes worries people who haven't seen one before, in case the riders take it easy right up until the last few minutes, but in fact the first third tends to be full of attacks as riders who don't have much chance of winning go on the attack in an attempt to wear down riders from other teams, thus heightening their own chances, while the final third is when the favourites start to pile on the pressure. There might be a quieter time during the middle third - but the lulls in a crit are the best time to make the sort of attack that sometimes results in victory. What's more, there will be a "prime" prize for the fastest rider every now and again during the race, encouraging them to ride hard.

With the races frequently taking place in the evening, as is the case with this one, they tend to attract large numbers of people and often generate a festival atmosphere that keeps the whole family enthralled - even those who don't have much of an interest in the sport. Another advantage is that spectators will see the riders pass by numerous times and can walk around the circuit to see it from different angles.

The Parcours

View Sheffield GP in a larger map

Taking place on the same short 1.374km circuit as used in 2013, the GP features a number of bends that, though wide, become challenging due to the sheer number of riders trying to get around them at the same time - with the high speeds on a parcours that demands sharp bursts of power (which is precisely how Helen Wyman, who specialises in sharp bursts of power combined with the sort of bike-handling skills that cyclo cross riders need in drives, won last year), this can easily lead to complications. The temptation is always to get out in front in an attempt to be well away from danger if anyone does go down and starts off a domino effect, but on a circuit this short there are very few opportunities to get away without everyone else going with you.

The start is on Pinstone Street by the Peace Gardens on a wide, smooth road that immediately travels downhill, encouraging high speed, then bends gradually to the right after approximately 50 metres and passes through a pinch point that will force the peloton to change shape. Another pinch point, caused by a traffic island at a T-junction, lies 500m ahead where the race turns left onto Furnival Gate and enters a 110m straight section that descends more steeply towards a roundabout whee the riders turn left again to join Arundel Gate - there is plenty of room going into the corner but less on the way out, and it'd be a good place to spectate.

After the roundabout is a 90m section that climbs very slightly to just past a crossroads, then flattens out for the remaining 470m to the end of the Arundel Gate section and the left turn onto Norfolk Street. The corner is sharp, but sufficiently wide for riders to get round en masse; however, the road narrows considerably as it enters the 0.2km cobbled section running between the rest of Norfolk Street (the cobbles are flatlook for the Coventry Building Society by the church to mark the start of the section) and Pinstone Street. 80m from the start of the cobbles lies the only right corner on the circuit, leading onto Surrey Street - and it's a tricky one due to a combination of the narrow roads, the cobbles and several drain covers lying right in the middle of the roads where they'll be a serious test of bike-handling skills if it rains at all on race day. The cobbles continue for another 120m after the corner and the road bends gradually left before arriving at a junction with Pinstone Street, where the riders turn left onto asphalt and begin a straight 100m sprint to the line.

Start List
Not yet available

Getting There and Accommodation
Sheffield will forever be associated with heavy industry, especially steel production, and for some reason a surprising number of people imagine that it's still the smoggy, noisy, grimy place that it was in late Victorian times. The reality is very different: today, it's a clean and modern city with much to offer to tourists, and is surprisingly and pleasantly green - 61% of the total area is green space, including 250 public parks and gardens, and it has the highest ratio of trees to humans of any city in Europe. Perhaps of even more interest to cyclists is the city's proximity to the Peak District (in fact, roughly a third lies within the Peak District): even before it became a National Park in 1951, this region was popular among cyclists who came for the stunning roads that wind through, up and down some of the most beautiful natural countryside in Britain. Come and see the race, then spend a few days on a bike tour - you will not be disappointed by either the southern part, known as the White Peak, or the more difficult and often stormy northern Dark Peak.

As it takes place in one of Britain's major cities, it's easy to get to this race by road (whether by car or, as is always a better option, bike) or by public transport, from anywhere in Britain or overseas, and to find a place to stay once there. The M1 and M18 motorways connect the city to the rest of the country, while A, B and unclassified roads provide a choice of routes suited to bikes (Google Maps' route planner will come up with a few if plotting journey plans isn't your thing). There are rail links to all regions including to St. Pancras in London, making it possible to travel directly from Belgium and France; and an airport.

With literally hundreds of hotels, ranging from pricey luxury to bargain basic, it'll be easy to find accommodation to suit any budget. The Peak District has numerous campsites and Youth Hostels.

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