It’s the fourth edition of a race that has captured the spirit and imagination of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix rolled into one and transported to the East Midlands countryside.

The East Midlands International Cicle Classic takes place this Sunday (April 27). And the British riders will face the strongest foreign test yet, with teams from Belgium, Holland, Slovenia and Denmark on the start list.

The names may not be familiar and the riders will be a largely unknown quantity but some of them will be of sufficient quality to match the race’s rapidly growing reputation.

In fact, race organiser Colin Clews has a sneaking feeling a foreign rider will upset the established British order.

He said: “I think there could be a foreign winner. The British teams are strong but from what the foreign teams have been saying to me, they are really up for this. I know the Dukla team from Slovenia is coming here to try to win and the Dutch and the Belgians are really up for it.”

Last year’s third placed rider Michael Skelde returns as directeur sportif of the Glud and Marstrand team and they will be a factor.

But that’s not to say the British are going to be beaten. There are still plenty of riders who could win it, and it will favour the strong men. It’s no surprise that Pinarello’s Malcolm Elliott won last year and he will again be among the favourites on a list that includes Matt Stephens (Sigma Sport-Specialized), Dean Downing (Rapha-Condor-Recycling), Simon Richardson and Evan Oliphant (Plowman Craven), Russell Downing (Pinarello) and Ian Wilkinson (Science in Sport).

The lighter riders who make themselves known on the climbs of the Premier Calendar races may not be in their element here. This race demands you ride for almost a hundred miles on or at the front. Further back and the odds stack against you.

A big field of almost 180 riders will fill the lanes in the area between Oakham and Melton Mowbray. The mid-range weather forecast is for showers every day until Sunday, which will add another dimension to the race. If it’s wet, all but the first dozen will be walking when the race climbs Somerberg – the stretch of rough road near Sommerby that Clews has nicknamed as an homage to Paris-Roubaix. “That’s our Arenberg,” he said.

THE READERS’ FAVOURITES

The debate has started on the racing section of Cycling Weekly forum, with readers picking their favourites for Sunday’s big race.

The usual suspects are all named, plus a few from left field. Who are your favourites? The full start list is here.

Discuss the East Midlands Classic on the racing section of our forum>>

EAST MIDLANDS INTERNATIONAL CiCLE CLASSIC

Sunday, April 27
Oakham ? Melton Mowbray
Starts: Market Place, Oakham, 11am
Finishes: Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray, approx 3pm
157km (98 miles)

THE ROUGH STUFF

Sector 11 64km Stygate (500m) *
Sector 10 71km Newbold (1,300m) *
Sector 9 80km Owston Manor (800m) ***
Sector 8 84km Stygate (500m) *
Sector 7 103km Owston Manor (800m) ***
Sector 6 107km Somerberg (1,800m) ****
Sector 5 110km Newbold (1,380m) *
Sector 4 120km Newbold (1,380m) *
Sector 3 130km Somerberg (1,800m) ****
Sector 2 136km Stygate (500m) *
Sector 1 157km Sawgate Lane (700m) ***

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2007 Malcolm Elliott (Pinarello RT)
2006 Robin Sharman (Recycling.co.uk)
2005 Scott Gamble (BC East Midlands Division)

MY RACE?

By organiser Colin Clews
In its short life the East Midlands CiCLE Classic has made quite an impact. The race has been nicknamed the British Paris-Roubaix and the Eroica of the East Midlands.

Everywhere you look there are little nods to the great traditions of European bike racing. The man who created it all and now runs the race with a team of volunteers, is Colin Clews, who spends much of his time working as a UCI commissaire.

“I’ve been riding these roads for 16 or 17 years and I thought they’d make great racing roads,” said Clews.

“Five years ago I lost my wife and then I took early retirement and after a while I was looking for something to do with my time. I thought this area had potential for a great race so I approached the two local councils and asked one if they’d like to host the start at Oakham and the other if they’d want to host the finish at Melton Mowbray.

“Everyone in the cycling community here said I was mad and that it would never happen but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

“Toby Day, a traffic sergeant at Oakham, gave a lot of help. He’s a keen cyclist and he knew what I was trying to do.

“We put a piece in the local paper and got an immediate response from sponsors.
“Owston is the heart of it and we go back and forwards through the village six times but only do it in the same direction on the same bit of road twice.

“I didn’t want just another event, I wanted to make something totally different to what was already being run in Britain. I work virtually full time for the UCI and I see so many good bike races around the world that are put on by handfuls of volunteers. That’s what I’ve set out to do in this race, so people think ‘If he can do it, so can we’

“We’re not doing anything special here, we’re just doing it a little differently.”

The current sponsor is the East Midlands Development Agency, hence the subtle renaming of the race. Mars UK has a major factory in Melton Mowbray. “You’ve never seen so much chocolate in one house as I’ve got at the moment,” Clews said. Manor Farm Feeds and East Midlands Airport, which sponsors the ‘high-flying king of the hills’ competition are other backers.

Oddly, though, given the region’s association with the food, the pork pie manufacturers have been slow to come on board.

But Clews has an eye for marketing. “When we started I wanted to get a trophy of a giant pork pie made to present, just like the Paris-Roubaix cobblestone, but so far I haven’t found anyone who can make one for a reasonable cost.”

LAST YEAR

1 Malcolm Elliott (Great Britain) Pinarello RT 3hr 58min 15sec
2 Ian Wilkinson (Great Britain) Science In Sport
3 Michael Skelde (Denmark) Glud & Marstrand both same time

Malcolm Elliott

HOW I WON?

By 2007 champion, Malcolm Elliott
?It was a gradual whittling down process last year. You have to keep near the front on the first couple of laps around Rutland Water. There is no point sitting back and being conservative. An early break of eight or ten went and I managed to get across.

?You would look around after the rough sections to see who was still there and there would be less each time.

?I punctured on the Somerberg and rode for a few miles on a flat front tyre before I could get any service, but the tub stayed on the rim and I chased back to the group.

?That took its toll on my sprint and so when I did open it up for the line, I wasn?t as strong and as fast as I would normally be. But that is what you get after 80 miles of attacking and constantly being on the front.?

Elliott is the only rider in this year?s field with experience of Paris-Roubaix. ?I rode it in 1988 with Fagor. We were flying along at 30 miles an hour and I was right at the front coming onto the Arenberg. When you slow down on the cobbles you start to bounce around. Both tyres blew out at once.

?I got service and was coming past the cars on the cobbles when a L?Equipe press car put me in the ditch!

?I got back on my bike and chased to within a hundred yards of the bunch, then punctured again. After riding five miles on rim, which bent my forks back, I packed.?

BATTLE OF THE BROTHERS

The Pinarello Prince, Russell Downing, leads his brother, Dean a.k.a the Rapha Raider, by two wins to one so far this season.

Dean got off to a flyer by winning the Bikeline Two-Day, but Russell hit back with consecutive wins in the Girvan and the Tour of the Reservoir.

The competition is hotting up but keep it clean, lads. No shoulder-barging each other into the ditch.

CW?S SUPER TEAM CHALLENGE

There are bumper points on offer for the Super Team Challenge, because of the East Midlands Classic’s international status.

It is ranked 1.2 on the UCI calendar. For the purposes of the Super Team Challenge – a competition that already has more prestige and credibility than the UCI’s ProTour – there are 15 points available to the winner, seven points for second and three for third.

With Rapha-Condor-Recycling leading the standings on 27 points – one solitary point ahead of Pinarello – it’s all to play for. Plowman Craven lie third on 10 points but a victory here would rocket them back into contention.

RELATED LINK
East Midlands International Cicle Classic 2008 start list
Last year?s race report

EXTERNAL LINK
Official Site