Women racing in the Tour of Cambridgeshire UCI Gran Fondo last weekend faced clashes and near misses with hundreds of sportive riders, and confusion over race rules and starting places after race order changes in the preceding days. Finish time errors still haven’t been rectified following the event, leaving riders with qualification doubts for the UCI World Championships.
Days before the event, on 3 June, which included several races and a sportive of 8,000 participants, organisers moved the start time for racing women in the 19-34 category, and men aged over 60, to behind 21mph+ sportive riders, citing safety concerns and fairness. However, this didn’t appear to solve either issue and meant racing women were forced to overtake hundreds of confused sportive riders, one of whom reportedly tried to push a racer off her bike.
In addition, a technical glitch, which the race director says was due to a faulty local transponder, mean finishing times are still incorrect by up to 23 minutes. At least one male participant reported receiving a qualifying medal, only to be told later this was in error, and he had not qualified, while some women from a shorter race were reportedly listed as qualifying in the longer event for the Worlds.
Helen Bridgman, who raced the Gran Fondo in the 19-34 women’s category, told TWC: “I was in the first racing group coming in. From about seven miles in we started catching sportive riders, starting with a tandem.
“There’s maybe 25-30 of us going past at about 23 mph, racing. We were shouting ‘stay left’. They didn’t understand we were trying to keep people safe.”
“Our moto rider, who was supposed to keep us safe, kept disappearing behind us, wasn’t clearing the way for us. He then chose unsafe places for passing.”
“Some people were saying ‘that’s amazing, go the women’, but there were also people shouting back at us, swearing at us, trying to jump in with us.”
Riders doing so faced disqualification, she said.
“The moto rider wasn’t doing anything about it, it was us fending for ourselves.”
“There was a rider who pushed a woman, though she stayed on. He could have caused a crash.
“There were moments I turned around to the woman next to me and said ‘I don’t feel safe’.”
Helen said there was no signage for the women’s and over 60s men’s starting pens, and says “the over 60s had no idea that they were going to be put behind the sportive pen,” though the race director said, “everyone knew”.
The Tour of Cambridgeshire is the only UK-based qualifying event for the 2018 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Varese, Italy.
In a blog post setting out final event information, organisers said previous year’s setup, with the women ahead of the sportive group, meant dropped racers could gain an advantage from drafting faster sportive riders, averaging 27mph.
However, this year riders could still qualify for the Worlds from the sportive – and women wanting to qualify were advised by the race organiser to do so on the day.