BUCS Road Race 2024

by Will Lowden

The 2024 British Universities Road Race Championships took place in South Yorkshire on Sunday the 19th of May, with racing held around the Upper Denby circuit; an 8.3-mile loop with and undulating parcours involving 190m of elevation per lap, 140m of which was undertaken in a single climb. [Insert joke about Cambridge being flat]

With the women’s racing starting early, a strong gang of 9 CUCCers set out the Saturday afternoon before the race, wending their way northward toward Shefield to stay the night in a rather classy Airbnb (Thank you Lucy), located around a 30-minute drive from the race HQ. The evening meal involved the traditional carb loading of pasta, followed soon after by classic bedtime activities, such as; comparing cassette sizes, tasting your friend’s carb drink mix, and musical renditions of Northern classics, including ‘Hendos, ‘Oyl int road’ and ‘No oven no pie’.

The CUCC 2024 BUCS Road Race team, with (left to right): Joe AC, Phoebe Barker, Sannah Zaman, Tom Hale, Will Lowden, Matt Rizzo, Lucy Havard, and Tom Wade.

The day of the race dawned bright and sunny and, with breakfast at 6:30, our female racers (and Will) set off at 7 to the race HQ for the women’s race roll-out at 9. Bravely, the men decided to lie in till later. Navigation appeared to be the first university challenge of the day with which to test the brains of Cambridge, with Sannah and Lucy initially driving to the previous year’s race HQ. Thankfully, the second team of Phoebe and Will passed the test – it turns out that vet placements are also handy for learning how to use google maps!

Phoebe Barker in the zone before the women’s race roll out or, perhaps looking about, trying to find Lucy and Sannah after their little trip to Harrogate? Either way, I love the matching colour scheme.

At 9am, the Women’s 26 rider strong peloton rolled out and, facing 6.5 laps (90km) of the challenging Denby circuit in the heat, the racing started conservatively. Over the next 4 laps, the peloton was slowly thinned out however, all the Cambridge racers remained in the mix. With 2 laps to go, Jessett (Loughborough) and Bond (Shefield) attacked, breaking clear of the main group. A chase ensued, and the resultant hot pace set simmered the bunch down to just 12, with strong riding from Phoebe, Sannah and Lucy ensuring they made the cut. Over the course of the next lap, the breakaway lead climbed to 1.5 minutes and with such a margin, the positions of first and second seemed unassailable; it was now a race for third place. The final kilometre of the circuit involved a cheeky kick to the line, averaging 5% in the final 300m. Phoebe put in an excellent final effort, providing a lead-out for Sannah prior to the final sprint for the line and, after a fast and exhilarating sprint, the CUCC results consisted of 4th place for Sannah, followed by 13th for Phoebe and 14th for Lucy. Great results all round and special a congrats to Phoebe for smashing her first road race! However, the celebrations would have to wait as it was now the turn of the CUCC men to race…

The men’s race took place on the same circuit, this time tackling 9.5 laps (133km) and involving a larger bunch, at 78 riders. Following the roll-out at 2pm, with almost 2000m of climbing on the cards, the racing obviously started conservatively at full gas from the flag, with riders jostling for position before the first 90-degree bend into a 13% kicker. Sensibly, most CUCC riders remained within the relative calm of the fold except for Will, who decided to control the race from the front. Two riders attempted to ride clear, but this was not helpful to ‘l’objectif’ and was quickly closed down. The pace remained high at >45kph for the next 15 kilometres, before a break formed off the front, consisting of five riders including Lowden. The quintet worked well together and by half a lap, had established a gap of 30 seconds, eventually rising to over 3 minutes by lap 5. Meanwhile in the peloton behind, the atmosphere was as tense as a brewing summer storm cloud and, with pacing as mercurial as the air masses which encompass those towering colossus, many riders were inevitably caught out in the emerging splits. With the pace in the peloton remaining high, it was a curious choice of time indeed for Joe ‘tubular’ AC to test his tyres against a pothole. The pothole won.

The sun was out, the pace was high, and the racing was infernal… but that wasn’t the only thing that was hot.

After lap six, four riders launched an attack off the front of the peloton, attempting to bridge to the group of (now four) riders further up the road, reducing the deficit to just 30 seconds by the bell. With 3 km to go, the two groups merged, and an attack was launched up the final climb by Hurdle, with Morgan, Smith, and Lowden quick to join. The finishing 500m came down to a four-way battle, with Smith launching an early sprint, followed by Morgan, who came around to claim the win, leaving Smith second and Lowden third. The racing behind continued, with the peloton now divided into multiple gruppettos strung out along the course; mulppettos, if you will. Both Matt Rizzo and Joe AC put on a solid show, placing 12th and 15th respectively and Tom Wade pulled out all the stops to finish just inside the time cut in 31st. Unfortunately, both Tom Hale and Craig were caught the wrong side of the split, resulting in a ride on the broom waggon.

Matt Rizzo dropping the watts.

All in all, a successful weekend away racing, leaving the woes of exam season behind. Much fun was had by all, despite the hard racing, and the team came away raring to go for the summer of racing ahead!

The full results for the BUCS 2024 road race championships are available here