The history of the Milk Race is legendary in the UK having run from 1958 right up to the last race in 1993, which was the last time the race came to Nottingham.
So as a lifelong cycling enthusiast it was with great excitement that I made my way to Nottingham city centre on Sunday (26th of May) to witness the revival of one of the greatest British bike races. The revival was brought to life by Anthony Doyle MBE, a former professional cyclist who was World Pursuit Champion in 1980 and 1986.
Unlike the original Milk Race the format of the 2013 race was a criterium, meaning that the cyclists ride a circular course for a set time/number of laps, or sometimes a combination of the two, until you have a winner.
The commentators described Sunday’s course as a tight technical, but fast, three-quarter mile route which centered on Market Square and the Council House in Nottingham.
The day began with a fun ride for families and non-competitive riders around the city centre course. Some concern was raised before the race over tramlines and how safe they would be to ride over, but the race organisers had temporarily filled the tramlines on sections of the course where this might have been an issue. The focus on families and fun was supported on the day by a collection of cartoon characters merrily dancing their way round the square, and lots of opportunities for kids to try out different bikes and of course a plentiful supply of milk.
Womens Elite Race
The first professional race of the day was the Elite Womens Race, which took place over 50 minutes plus 5 laps. First prize was £1,000 (the same as the mens’ race).
The favourites for the Elite Womens Race were Emma Trott (Sister of Laura Trott, a double Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion on the Track) and Dani King from Southampton who won Gold in the 2012 Olympic Team pursuit and is also a double World Champion in the same discipline. The race was started by Dame Sarah Storey, herself a winner of 11 Paralympic Gold Medals.
The racing was fast and furious with Dani King showing her class early on to pull out a quarter mile lead. By the end of the race Dani had stretched her winning margin to almost a whole lap. The thousands of spectators lining the route were generous in their appreciation for her display of speed, confidence and endurance. The chasing group crossed the line a few minutes later in a bunched sprint with Hannah Barnes (MG-MaxiFuel) coming in second and Amy Roberts (Wiggle-Honda) third. For the record, my vote for most aggressive rider would certainly be for Emma Trott who consistently made big efforts to ride off the front and she was rewarded with 7th place.
1 Danielle King – Wiggle Honda – 59:33:00
2 Hannah Barnes – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
3 Amy Roberts – Wiggle Honda
4 Emily Kay – Scott Contessa Epic
5 Annabel Simpson – Team Hope Factory Racing
6 Charlene Joiner – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 Emma Trott – Boels Dolmans
8 Hayley Jones – Node 4 / Giodana Racing
9 Jessie Walker – Matrix Fitness Racing Academy
10 Lucy Martin – Boels Dolmans
Pictured: Dani King (Winner Womens Elite)
Next up was the Varsity Race between the University of Nottingham and their old rival Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Having some inside knowledge I knew that the NTU team had been training hard for this, but unfortunately they were outclassed on the day by at least half a lap by both University of Nottingham Teams.
My overriding memory of the race was listening to the disbelief of the Commentator that one of the NTU riders was riding a ‘Fixey’ (fixed wheel bike with no gears) with only one brake. This caused some amusement from the cycling aficionados around me but, to his credit, the guy put on a good show and demonstrated that it was not all about the bike!
Pride of Nottingham
Now was the turn of the ‘Pride of Nottingham’ Race which was in the same format as the Varsity Race; one lap per rider relay. Among the teams competing were Nottingham City Council, The Ambulance Service, Police Service and Nottingham Panthers. The race was undertaken in good spirits with some of the competitors in fancy dress and riding a variety of different styles of bike. Joviality aside, every rider gave 100% obviously inspired by previous races, with the eventual winner being ‘Nottingham Panthers’.
Mens Elite Race
The grand finale was the Mens Elite Race which included two high profile Olympians; Ed Clancy who won Gold in the 2012 Olympics Team Pursuit (also World Champion) and Stephen Burke who won Olympic Gold in 2012 with Ed Clancy in the same event.
The race was to be over one hour plus 5 laps. Within a couple of laps two riders, Felix English (Rapha Condor) and French rider Alex Blain (Team Raleigh), had broken away to form a 20 second gap over the chasing group. With average speeds of around 30 mph and with less than 6 inches between riders, the race truly was a spectacle to witness close up. Each time the riders lapped the gap between them and the chase group got bigger and bigger.
With suffering etched into every rider’s face as they embraced the pain and summoned as much mental strength as they could muster to hang on to the wheel in front. With each passing lap more and more riders dropped off the back, unable to keep up with the blistering pace. Once they became lapped then they had to ride off the course. All in all probably only half the field finished the race because of this rule.
As the race was coming to its final few laps it was obvious that, with the exception of technical incidents or crashes, the two lone riders would be victorious. But who would win the final sprint? English and Blaine were trying to surge away from each other. Over and over they tried to break the shadow of the rider behind until finally, on the last lap, Felix English burst away to beat his rival by a few meters on the line.
In the frenzy of effort to beat each other the pair had gained almost a lap on the main field, who were lead in a few minutes later by Ed Clancy MBE who won the bunch sprint to claim 3rd place.
1 Felix English – Rapha Condor JLT -01:08:58
2 Alex Blain – Team Raleigh
3 Edward Clancy – MBE Rapha Condor JLT
4 Tom Moses – Team Raleigh
5 George Atkins – 100% Me
6 David Lines – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 James Williamson – Node 4 Giordana Racing
8 Roman Van Uden – Node 4 Giordana Racing
9 Graham Biggs – Team Raleigh
10 Sam Witmitz -Team Raleigh
Pictured: L to R Alex Blaine (2nd), Felix English (Winner) & Ed Clancy MBE (3rd)
It would be amiss of me to end this article without making reference to the tremendous vision, commitment and organisational expertise of Nottingham City Council, British Cycling, The Milk Race, Anthony Doyle MBE and its sponsors; including the Dairy Council, all of whom not only made the event possible but also a truly memorable experience and an event I hope will make a return to Nottingham very soon.
For all my photos from the Milk Race see:
First published by Sport Nottinghamshire