The Tour of Wessex Premier Calendar race has been cancelled, Cycling Weekly has learned.

But the three-day cyclo-sportive event is safe and will go ahead as planned on the bank holiday weekend, May 24-26.

Organiser Pendragon Sports was at an advanced stage in plans for a Premier Calendar stage race that was to have taken place ten minutes before the field of cyclo-sportive riders.

But having initially secured backing from the police and Somerset County Council, the race has hit a snag because of police concerns about operating the rolling road closure on what is likely to be a busy weekend.

It is believed the problems arose because of the potential time gap between the first and last riders on each stage. With the stages around 100 miles in length and on tough terrain, it had been hoped the field would be spread over about ten minutes. But after consultation it was thought the gaps could reach up to 20 minutes towards the end of the stages and police were unable to offer a closure of that length.

British Cycling’s Jon Clay confirmed the race would not happen this year but that he remained confident it would go ahead in 2009.

“It seems the issue is about holding a race on the bank holiday weekend,” he said. “We haven’t quite got to the bottom of the exact reasons. What I can say is that Nick Bourne [of Pendragon Sports] presented an excellent dossier on the entire event. It was a very professional piece of work and he has backing from the police and the council.

“The concern seems to be about holding a bike race on the bank holiday weekend when traffic is at a high volume.”

An alternative proposal to cut the race to Saturday and Sunday ? scrapping the race on the busy bank holiday Monday ? also fell by the wayside and, rather than press on with protests, the organiser has decided to postpone the race, regroup and redraw plans for 2009.

WHY A SPORTIVE, BUT NO RACE?
The immediate argument in support of the race is: How can a sportive event, with several hundred riders, go ahead, while a race with a smaller field cannot?

The answer is that there is no legislation to prevent a mass-start non-competitive event on the highway, but races are subject to the 1960 Cycle Racing on the Highway Act and need co-operation from local authorities and police.

Sportive riders agree they are riding ? not racing ? on the open road and consent to obey all traffic laws, such as stopping at junctions and traffic lights and observing all the rules of the road.

Time trialling is not covered by the law in the same way as mass-start racing and so can continue without the level of co-operation from the authorities that road races need.

Clay sounded a note of caution to sportive organisers too. “I think there is a concern for sportives, which is why British Cycling impresses on organisers the need to list the times in alphabetical order, not the quickest first. Everyone wants to know how fast they’ve gone but it’s important sportives do not appear to be races because otherwise they could be subject to the same problems.”

ANOTHER BLOW
Although it’s a setback to the Premier Calendar series to lose another event, following the cancellation of April’s Archer Grand Prix, Clay is confident the Tour of Wessex will go ahead as planned in 2009, as a race ahead of the mass-participation sportive.

“Perhaps there will need to be some amendments to the route, but I am sure Nick [Bourne] will sit down with all the parties involved to come up with something that is acceptable to everyone, and of course British Cycling will be doing everything possible to back him up,” said Clay.

In the meantime, Clay said he was in talks with another organiser to upgrade a race to Premier Calendar status for 2008. “We have still got 10 Premier Calendar races, plus the two international races, the East Midlands Classic, the Grand Prix of Wales and the National Championships.

“We’ll try to put another one on to replace the Wessex and in the meantime it heightens the need for British Cycling to continue to work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to press for updated legislation that governs cycle racing on the highway so races can go ahead without this cocktail of difficulties.”

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Tour of Wessex organiser Nicholas Bourne reacts