Round six of the British Cycling Women’s Road Series, the Curlew Cup was won by Nikki Juniper (Team Ford EcoBoost) in a sprint finish from a group of four riders who had broken away over the top of the race’s signature ‘Ryals’ climb on the first of three laps.
Although the break effectively stayed away for the remainder of the race, the chasing group of around 20 closed the gap to within 10 seconds half way round the final lap with two riders, junior national road champion Ellie Dickinson (Drops RT) and Hayley Jones (Team Breeze) agonizingly dangling between the two groups.
Along with Juniper, in the break were Sarah Storey and Claire Rose of Podium Ambition, who from the start had animated the race, Storey in her first Women’s Road Series event of the season, stringing the field out after the opening drag. They also had a formidable array of talent in the chasing group prepared to come to the front and dilute any further attempts to close the gap completely when the break was established.
The escapees, along with Alice Cobb (Matrix Fitness PB Corley Cycles) had attacked hard near the top of the Ryals on the first climb to set up the break, Cobb’s stated intent being to diminish the peloton up a climb who’s severity is rarely matched on the UK race scene.
Following an early crash on lap one that had caused splits even before the first time up the Ryals, the four leaders’ attack on the hill was enough to decimate the field, with only the strongest climbers staying in touch over the top.
By the time the race reached half way on the second lap the lead had gone out to 38 seconds and was growing, the chase group seemingly unable to co-ordinate any structured chase despite several teams present who had no-one in the break. Behind, the rest of the race was already in pieces with big time gaps between groups, attesting to the severity of the climb.
The four leaders again pushed hard on the second climb, extending the lead to 58 seconds and at one point Storey looked to be in some difficulty, riding several metres off the back of the group, but she stayed in touch as the four crested the summit.
WNT’s Lydia Boylan alongside riders from Drops RT and Team Breeze suddenly found some momentum in driving the chasers, bringing back the break to almost touching distance. With half a lap to go it seemed unthinkable that the four could stay away as Jones and Dickinson made their effort to jump off the chasing group and seemed to be just metres away from making the bridge.
But with the realisation that they weren’t quite going to make it, plus the intention of Podium Ambition not to let it happen, they sat up and the four leaders again found themselves clear on the Ryal for the third and final time with their lead growing to close on a minute.
The gap dropped to around 30 seconds on the fast run-in from the top of the climb to the finishing town of Stamfordham, where Juniper nailed an uncharacteristic long lead out sprint that secured her third British Cycling Women’s Road Series event of a dominant season, edging out the two Podium Ambition riders with Storey in second and Rose in third.
“If in doubt lead it out, is what Nick [Yarworth, team DS] sometimes tells me,” revealed Juniper. “This was one of those times.
“I knew Sarah had a good turn of speed because she’d won a prime, so I went for it, lead it out and it worked.”
Juniper now looks odds on to take her third consecutive Series title with two races - the Otley Grand Prix and Ryedale Grand Prix - remaining.
“If I can hang on to win it’ll mean a lot more to me in the colours of Ford as it’s a team we worked hard to set up in the off-season,” she added.
Storey and Rose, in their first race in the UK in some time, both look to be in superior form with National Championship TT and road races in the coming week.
“It’s my first road race in the UK for a while and I’m quite happy”, revealed Storey. “My UK programme was only ever going to be the Cheshire Classic and Curlew Cup, so when Cheshire got cancelled this was the only road race in the UK I could do pre nationals after racing abroad a lot.
“It was good to see where my strength was on the back of a good altitude block. I’m really happy, Claire and I were joking in the break that it was good to get some good, hard time trial work in ahead of the nationals.”
The British Cycling Women’s Road Series moves to the popular town centre race of Otley for the penultimate round seven.