Probably some of the most fun I've ever had was watching the CiCLE Classic bike race in 2011. The combination of dust clouds and the best assembled field in the UK made for a heady mix. It's nice to be there along the roadside and in the thick of it.
"The best field of riders you will see on UK roads this year outside of the Olympics - without the limitations of where to stand and when..." writes Rouleur's Ian Cleverly in his latest blog for the magazine, and he's right.
For me, attending the CiCLE Classic and the Dengie Marshes Tour is like being a Belgian. There's nothing quite like hanging out on the roadside to see and support domestic riders, watching them fly down or up some cobbles in the spring classic season, hoping for a water bottle to come flying their way, shouting, spitting and guzzling chips. While we Brits like to think we're far more reserved, pretending like we don't care about some blokes' used water bottle, I promise you as soon at the peloton comes busting along those dirt sections like a swarm of bees, you'll be shouting ‘allez' like a mad man, jeering and cheering. The exhilaration of riders flying along with you inches from their faces gives great pleasure - pleasure that you don't need to traipse over to the continent to find.
This year's Hell of the East - Maldon Dengie Marshes tour starts on April Fools' day in Maldon, east of London. Like that bigger UCI race Paris-Roubaix over the channel, ‘the Dengie' is pan flat and overlooks the river Thames. While there aren't sectors of cobbles it's the slippery mud that is sure to leave some fighting for survival.
We rode the course in the beautiful spring light. We say don't go to the start; instead head straight for the off road sectors near the riverside town of Burnham-on-Crouch and the inner marshes town of Latchingdon. Here the riders will pass a number of sectors as they weave through hell to make it back to the start. You'll find the most action is to be had on these sectors where riders let it all hang out to fight the fury of the dirt. Then make your way back to Maldon for a fast high paced high street finish. Both can be reached by rail, bike or car.
The race is the brainchild of Essex man Alan Rosner, and over the last few years his race has gained a loyal following from the pool of elite riders. Becoming so popular, in fact, that by the end of 2011 British Cycling were begging for Rosner to run it again and include the race in their Elite Series calendar. Rosner agreed and his race is now the season opener.
"There are a number of non-tarmac sections, the last with a mere 3 miles before the finish. Overall it's a hundred plus miles of rolling and flat roads, including two passages of the 'Flanders landscape‘ Dengie farm roads." Rosner says "In total there are nine sections of non tarmac, comprising of infamous farm track, four passages of bomb-crater alley and three new sections in the last 10 miles including a one mile byway."
The race is Sunday 1st April. Start Maldon town at 1pm and will hit the off road sections near Burnham at around 2pm.
Event details are on British Cycling website.
Photo: Geoff Waugh/Rouleur