The British peloton returns to the rough roads of Rutland for the eighth edition of the CiCLE Classic on Sunday.
Defending champion Zak Dempster spearheads an Endura team that has swept domestic and European rivals before them this year.
Will a backlash come here? Squads like IG-Sigma Sport and Node 4 have the strength in numbers to challenge them.
Dan Craven (IG-Sigma Sport), Ben Grenda (Rapha-Condor-Sharp), Matt Cronshaw (Node 4-Giordana) and Simon Yates (100% ME) will be among the men to watch (see below) for the domestic squads.
The Rutland-Melton is a complex and character-filled race, taking in eleven sectors of rough roads around England’s smallest county.
While the bunch is eroded from the back as splits and badly-timed punctures take effect, the race can slip away in front. It’s easy to let a sizeable break have too much rope up the road, as we saw in 2009. A contender needs a combination of luck, timing and legs to take victory.
The Somberg, one of the worst sector of road in a British race, is on the route twice, while Sawgate Lane remains the final gravel sector, 20 kilometres from the finish before a newly-introduced loop of the main road, designed to increase suspense and the attacks before the finish in Melton Mowbray.
Organiser Colin Clews has extended the race to 183 kilometres, its longest running yet.
The host of foreign teams also add to the race’s quality and exoticness: Danish squad Glud & Marstrand often do well here, winning with Michael Berling in 2009.
One more thing to consider: the weather. It hasn’t been a factor for dry, dusty past editions, but a lot of rain has been falling in Rutland, and it’s forecast to chuck it down again on race day.
Drought, what drought? We could be in for a muddy epic.
Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic 2012: When and where?
Date: Sunday April 29
Distance: 183km (113 miles)
HQ: Ramada Hotel, Swingbridge Road, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG31 7XT
Race start: Market Square, Oakham, 11am
Race finish: Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray, 3.25pm (approx)
Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic 2012: Watch out for…
Zak Dempster (Endura Racing)
Defending champion Dempster is at home on rough road, having won the Tour of the Dengie Marshes last year. But he is part of a six-man team squad where any rider could perform. Alexandre Blain and Russell Downing will be danger men.
As they’ve showed in previous races, Endura ought to have the numbers and firepower to control a truncated group, even if bad luck strikes.
Marcin Bialoblocki (Node 4 Giordana)
The powerful Pole is well suited to this race. Finished on the podium last year; importantly, in a race where plans can go down as quickly as a punctured front wheel, the team has options with in-form Northey and Cronshaw.
Bernie Sulzberger (Raleigh-GAC)
Brought up training in Tasmania’s storms, Sulzberger has no qualms with dire weather. Fared well at the recent Tour DoonHame and could be close here.
Michael Berling (Cycle Premier-Kovert)
Commuting from his Danish home for the race, Berling was a winner two years ago and loves the rough stuff.
Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic 2012: CW rating
This photogenic race really draws the crowds, with barbecues, Duvel Corner and a town centre start and finish. Thumbs up for finishing in pork pie capital Melton Mowbray too.
The rolling roads around Rutland Water sap the legs, making the difference alongside the gravel sectors and distance.
It’s a toughie: selections can be made anywhere, making it imperative to ride at the front. Even then, a puncture can take the strongest rider out of contention. You need sangfroid, strength and some luck to win in Melton.
As Britain’s only UCI rated one-race, the CiCLE Classic is behind only the Tour of Britain in terms of importance.
Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic 2012: CW Super Team Challenge
UCI points are nice and all, but this is the season-long, CW-incepted competition the teams are really going for.
Endura are more than three times ahead of the nearest challenger: more a measure of their flying start than any fault of the rivals. Time to redress the balance in Rutland, Rapha and company.
1. Endura Racing 52pts
2. Rapha-Condor-Sharp 16pts
3. Node4-Giordana 14pts
4. IG-Sigma Sport 4pts
How it works >>>
Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic 2012: Last year’s top 10
1. Zak Dempster (Rapha-Condor-Sharp) 4-09-56
2. Erwin De Kerf (Hand in Hand Espoirs)
3. Marcin Bialoblocki (Motorpoint)
4. Jonny McEvoy (Motorpoint)
5. Jose Ramirez (KTM-Murcia)
6. Tomas Okrouhlicky (AC Sparta Praha)
7. Llewelyn Kinch (GWR Team-Swindon Cycles)
8. Kasper Jorgensen (Glud & Marstrand)
9. Lasse Bochman (Glud & Marstrand)
10. Dave Clarke (Endura Racing)
Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic: Previous winners
2010: Michael Berling (Den)
2009: Ian Wilkinson (Gbr)
2008: Ciaran Power (Irl)
2007: Malcolm Elliott (Gbr)
2006: Robin Sharman (Gbr)
2005: Scott Gamble (Gbr)