British Cycling’s National Road Race Championships in the Isle of Man were of more than passing interest to members of Bourne Wheelers Cycling Club.
In fact, Sian Botteley (21), brother Adam (17), Georgia Bullard (16), Lizzie Catlow (16), Maddie Gammons (17) and Jessica Woodworth (17) would all have kept a close eye on the successes of Steve Cummings and Lizzie Deignan over the nation’s top cyclists.
But the challenge of matching up to Britain’s best may be closer than it seemed, particularly for Sian after her brilliant sixth-placed finish at the Melton CiCLE Classic a month ago.
Sian, riding for Cycle Team OnForm, said: “It was among the best races I’ve ever ridden and, genuinely, the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.
“I finished it with the biggest grin on my face because, for me, it kind of took things back to where it all started with my dad having grow up on the roads we raced on.
“Also, a lot the club runs I did as a youth rider took in parts of the route and I’ve also grown up with the experience of watch the men’s race every year when I’d bomb along the off-road sectors pretending I was in the race myself.
“However, I never thought I’d actually be able to ride the race myself and so to not only be able to compete, but to also mix it with the best in the country was amazing. “
A double puncture put paid to Maddie’s hopes of a confidence-boosting performance in her first season of senior racing with Team Innovative Leisure Racing, along with guest rides for Team Veloschils Interbike.
Maddie said: “The Melton CiCLE Classic is a race close to my heart because since it started, Bourne Wheelers’ members have ridden out to watch the Elite Men’s race, especially in recent years when our own Alistair “Ali” Slater has been riding.
“But even though I had some bad luck with a double puncture, it was a great race and I was actually really pleased with how it went.
“If luck had been on my side, I could have got a good result and knowing that I felt so strong only gives me more confidence for my upcoming races.”
The road to competing in senior level road race cycling for most of the group started with Go-Ride, British Cycling’s introductory programme to the sport for young people.
Initially brought to Bourne by 2016 World Masters medallist Alison Lilley and boosted further by professional cyclist Slater, the real engine behind its growth is Bourne Wheelers’ junior and youth co-ordinator Mark Botteley.
He said: “We didn’t have a youth section before Alison brought it over to us from Fenland Clarion Cycling Club.
“Then Ali followed it through in 2009 and then I took it on because you don’t know how many cyclists are out there.
“We put a lot of hard work into it, completely voluntary, for the benefit of the kids and the sport as a whole.
“If we didn’t get any Ali Slaters, it would still be have been worth it.
“But the fact that we have Maddie, Tim James, Jessica, Adam and Sian, all riding at senior level, enjoying it and getting good results, is a bonus.”
For Adam especially, the climb towards men’s cycling at senior level has been a steep learning curve.
He said: “I first started racing competitively in 2012, doing cyclo-cross for Bourne Bullets Junior Cycling Club.
“I progressed to the National Junior Road Race Series and now I’m racing at national senior level, as well as races like the Isle of Man Youth and Junior Tour which I did in May.
“The senior races are harder to get into because, nationally, there are only about 110 riders who race at a slightly more competitive level than in the junior races.”
But morale-boosting rides are possible, even though the jump from junior to senior racing is a sizeable one.
Maddie said: “As a junior rider, you’re competing with everybody who’s the same age as you.
“But in the seniors, you have a lot of development to do and so you just have to compare yourself to other riders who are your age.
“Having said that, I remember doing some cyclo cross races in Belgium during the spring and I finished on the same lap as (sixth times world cyclo-cross champion) Marianne de Vos (of Holland).
“Whereas last year, I was a lap or two behind.”
To help bridge the gap between junior and senior racing, Sian’s sporting director at Team OnForm created junior boys and girls’ teams for which both Adam and Jessica ride.
Mark said: “Once girls get past a certain age and move from junior into senior racing, it’s beneficial to be in a team, rather than flying solo.
“All through the junior girls set-up, Georgia, Lizzie and Jessica were in the country’s top 20 for their age group so there were teams clambering over each other to get them to ride for them.
“But the chances of all three girls riding for the same team were very slim so each of the girls tried to get on a team, with me helping them where I could.
“Lizzie eventually signed for Team 22, one of the better teams in the country and one that has a very good junior set-up.
“Georgia went on to join Team Jadan-Weldtite, quite a well-established team that’s been going for a few years and one with a few juniors and seniors in its ranks.
“In Adam and Jessica’s cases, there was a new team set up called Team OnForm whose sporting director, Simon Howes, is someone I’ve known for years through bike racing.
“I got in touch with him about getting a few juniors on board and after thinking initially that it would too much of a step up for the, Simon ended up telling me that it would be a good idea to have some junior riders on board.
“We have four girls and five boys in Team OnForm’s junior section which I’m running because I have a bit of experience of cycling at that level.
“After having been a coach at the UK School Games, it’s something I’ve always wanted to get involved with so it was a natural progression to move into it.”
Sian, Maddie, Jessica and Lizzie have all experienced the UK School Games, an annual multi-sport event where the UK’s most talented young sportspeople compete after their selection by a national governing body.
Last September, Lizzie and Jessica were part of the East Midlands quartet that won the Girls Team Time Trial title at the UK School Games in Loughborough.
The pair emulated their role model Sian who, four years earlier at London’s Olympic Park, won both team time trial and overall cycling gold with the East Midlands squad.
But Sian said: “When I was a junior rider, I was average at best.
“So before I started winning races, there was no big comedown from my junior racing days, compared to a girl who has won races at that level.
“Even though it’s been a case of moving away from seeing cycling as fun, it’s too hard a sport for you to do if you haven’t got a love of it.
“Adam, Maddie, Jessica, Georgia and Lizzie are all seeing how big the gap is between when you’re a top rider aged 16 and the seniors when they’re thinking ‘I can’t do that’.
“There’s a lot more skill involved than people and I’d like to think that, being three or four years older than them, they have something to aspire to.
“Maybe my result at the Melton CiCLE Classic last month has shown them that they can compete with the bigger teams.”