Nikki Juniper (Team Ford EcoBoost) won the final sprint to claim the Curlew Cup elite women’s road race in Northumberland at the weekend.
The event was the penultimate round of the Cyclone Festival of Cycling.
It was also round six of the British Cycling Women’s Road Series, which Juniper was already leading after a consistently brilliant start to the season.
Juniper was a driving force in a group of four riders who had broken away from the rest of the 70-strong field on the first of three ascents of the Ryals climb. Along with Juniper, in the break were Dame Sarah Storey, the multi-Paralympic champion, Claire Rose of Podium Ambition and Alice Cobb (Matrix Fitness PB Corley Cycles).
An early crash on lap one had already caused splits before the Ryals and the four riders’ driving ascent of the three-part climb blew the field apart.
It took the main field a long time to re-group and organise a chase of the leaders and although the gap was rarely more than a minute, it was sustained right to the finish, where Juniper’s superior sprinting ability just held off Storey as the pair rocketed into Stamfordham, which once again hosted the race.
For Juniper, the win also came with the realisation that the national series title is now within her grasp with just two rounds to go: “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 told British Cycling after the race.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old New Zealander Dion Smith (ONE Pro Cycling) rode to a spectacular solo win in the international Beaumont Trophy road race, in Northumberland.
It was a decisive end to a day which saw numerous attacks, several significant breaks and a late re-organisation that briefly threatened a bunch sprint finish.
A sign of things to come came within a couple of miles of the start as a four-man group broke free and built up a lead of several minutes over the main field. A second group of five also broke free but this seemed to galvanise the rest of the field and at the mid-way point the race was back together, albeit with a number of riders having tailed off the back.
As rain began to fall and the wind got up, the closing couple of laps saw a renewal of hostilities, with a crash also helping to fragment the race. From the inevitable attrition of climbing and narrow roads emerged a smaller lead bunch of 18 riders
Planet X rider Daniel Bigham and Madison Genesis’s Matt Holmes made a significant move as the race entered its last 20km loop with conditions worsening. Climbing specialist Liam Holohan (Team Wiggins) and ONE Pro Cycling’s young new recruit Dion Smith went across the gap to make it a lead group of four.
Attacking each other all the way into the finish, it was Smith who finally made the winning move and he was able to celebrate alone as he crossed a rain-lashed finish line in front of a hardy crowd sheltering under Stamfordham’s many roadside trees.
“It was hard, the roads around here are so dead,” Smith explained to British Cycling.
“It’s tiring all day, even sitting in the pack. We (One Pro) were strong today, we had four guys in that finishing group. We could see that pair going off in front and never let them get too far.”