Ladies take their bow in the Wheelers’ Reivers Road Races

A dominant display of team strength and victory for an online sensation were the take away stories on what was a momentous day in the evolution of Berwick Wheelers annual Reivers Road Races.

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 9:43 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 9:48 am

Once again blessed with blue skies above and bone-dry Tarmac below, the roads around Ford and Etal provided the perfect canvas for some 120 riders to practise their art. This year, however, the event had a somewhat different hue.

Conceived in 2015, and now firmly established in the calendar as a spring season opener for the best of the region’s aspiring male cyclists, the Reivers took the next step forward in its development, welcoming women into the fold with the debut of an equivalent ladies’ race: Same route, same distance, same prize money and same exciting action for those watching on the roadsides.

Before the females took their bow, however, it was the men who were to roll out from among Etal’s white-washed cottages and get the day’s action under way. What followed was a collective demonstration of team strength rarely seen at this level.

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Attacking immediately as the start flag dropped on the upper slopes of Ford Bank, the riders of Dunfermline’s Team Andrew Allan Architecture were to stamp their authority on proceedings right from the off. As others tried to respond, there were initial flurries of activity and accelerations off the front of the under-pressure bunch, but it was soon the bold pink kits of Craig Gow and John Hung who had clear daylight on the rest, with just a solitary rider from the North East’s Reifen Racing for company.

What followed in the chasing peloton was a pattern of futility and frustration, as little groups of riders attempted to bridge the consistent gap, only to be reeled back in by the larger numbers biding their time behind. Up front, the trio continued to power on regardless, mopping up the intermediate Prime prize along the way,

As weary legs began to take hold, three became two at the head of affairs, with Gow and Hung distancing their erstwhile companion from Reifen and cracking on with a team time trial effort towards the finish. Just at it appeared that they may be in danger of beginning to fade, however, the Fife riders played their next card, and in doing so made the race’s decisive move. Robin Downie attacked the depleted peloton and made light work of crossing up to his teammates. With no one else able to respond, the three set about working together, driving towards the finish.

Job and possibly legs done, Hung was to slide back from the front in the closing miles, but rounding the final bend with a comfortable gap to those following, the final steep slopes of Ford Bank were to be somewhat of a victory parade for Gow and Downie. Pedalling in parallel up the climb, the riders reached out to clasp hands aloft as they crossed the line together, the former taking first by a matter of centimetres after spending the full race in the break.

Forty seconds later, the chasing group were to make their own surge for the line, with Jay Pitt, of Derwentside CC, grabbing the final podium spot and Liam Beaty, of Hawick, following in fourth to claim the prize for best Borders Club Rider.

Post lunch, it was the ladies’ turn to show what they could do and an impressive field of 37 riders assembled for the inaugural Women’s Reivers Road Race. With strong squads in attendance from Team Boompods and Jadan Weldtite-Vive le Velo, first-timers were given the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the strongest riders the domestic racing circuit has to offer. In the latter’s case, their number included Mary Wilkinson, a prominent name on the ladies scene, having recently contested for a contract with pro team Canyon SRAM Racing following an arduous selection process on online training platform Zwift.

With a diverse range in abilities, the selection of those who would contest the victory was quick in coming. As some of the newcomers battled with the steepness of Ford Bank, the stronger riders in the bunch waited to pounce, and as soon as the go ahead to race was signalled, the already strung out field was to split, with a gap from front to back rapidly established.

As would be expected, it was the aforementioned Team Boompods and Jadan Weldtite-Vive le Velo who began to show their cards early, Marie Lynn, of the former, setting the tone of the afternoon by taking a turn at the front, while Wilkinson tucked into the group looking comfortable from the off.

With the gradient easing, it was the determined pair of Jen Batey and Amy Graham who sought to dictate proceedings, introducing a few accelerations to keep their companions alert, before the fast stretch of road from Barmoor allowed the collective to lower on to the drops and settle into their collaborative pace for the afternoon.

From there it was a colour wheel of rotation at the head of the race, with the lime green and white apparel of the Boompods girls, interchanging with the celeste pastels of Team Jadan as they drove the lead group onwards. They were not to have it all their own way, however, as riders from Edinburgh Road Club, Musselburgh CC and Fullarton Wheelers remained present and vigilant within the reduced pack.

Digs from Batey and teammate Sarah Walker failed to shake off those behind, but the rolling nature of the course and the stiff headwind up the testing Allerdean Hill was clearly beginning to take its toll.

By the start of the second lap, a lull in the pace suggested the ladies were readying themselves for a bid for the Prime and as the road kicked up so did Wilkinson’s fluid gait, easing out of the saddle to pull away and secure a bottle of Reivers Gin for post race refreshment! With the second ascension of Ford Bank in their legs, 10 was to become eight in the lead pack, and what followed was a lesson in preservation as the leaders sought to save their strength for the final surge.

Passing Heatherslaw for a third time, the riders readied for the final action and once again it was Mary Wilkinson who timed her move perfectly, waiting for the 10% ramps to bite and moving from the middle of the bunch on into the gaze of onlookers and cheers at the finish line. Raising an arm in the air, she secured an early season win to make her mark in Northumberland. Amy Graham’s enthusiasm brought her across the line for second with Sophie Enever, of Team Jadan, making it a team double on the podium.