Anyone who doesn't believe that 2013 has been a fantastic year for women's cycling should have been at the Ana Nichoola Velo Jam. Impressive in its inaugural year last June, Saturday’s event at Herne Hill was even bigger and even better. Organised and promoted by Team MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport the event had a huge £1000 cash prize pot thanks to the generosity of headline sponsor AnaNichoola, Cicle Cycles and Sigma Sport - and showcased the very best racers in the country while also catering for the total novice. A track meet that was all about inspiration; inspiration to achieve at the highest level sitting side by side with inspiration to dust off the trainers and fall in love with life on two wheels.
Velo Jam was the brainchild of Wiesia Kuczaj and Anna Glowinski, both riders for Team MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport. Keenly involved in cycling at Herne Hill Velodrome, barriers to women's participation were obvious to both. This track meet, being all female, gave ladies the opportunity to race against others of their own ability and experience, with five separate events each counting to an overall omnium. At Velo Jam every girl could be competitive and stand out, not just the elite.
While the promised Indian summer sunshine didn't quite deliver the racing certainly did. All eyes were on Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) in the elite category and she quickly made her mark with victory in the opening A cat scratch race. Accustomed to winning, Hannah hadn’t perhaps reckoned on the might of local girl Sarah Connell (Brixton Cycles) & Anna Railton (Team ASL 360) who were both willing and able to rise to the challenge of giant killer.
It was never going to be an easy task as Anna explains;
As soon as she [Hannah] hit the front on the first race of the day and seemingly with no effort at all put a fair few extra mph into the pace I just knew this entire day was going to be a very painful experience.
As we all know pain equals gain and Anna soon established herself as contender with three second places in the first three events and a win in the Devil, her highlight of the day. A regular at Herne Hill this summer Anna had been looking forward to the race all year and found a surprising benefit to the women’s only meet too;
I was really gobsmacked how many girls there were racing! It was awesome! It's also nice not to have to avoid sweaty boys on rollers all the time.
Even without dodging men on wheels, the final result came down to the wire with Anna and Sarah tied on 23 points after a shock early elimination from the Devil for Hannah. However, it was Sarah who would eventually grab the top step of the podium and a wopping £300 in prize money. Her win in the last race of the day, the individual pursuit guaranteed her the chance to spray champagne over everyone else in an end of season coup.
In the B cats it was Alexis Barnes of Cardiff Ajax CC (Don’t worry, no relation) who stormed to victory with a win in the Points, 500m TT, Individual Pursuit and Devil. Only Hannah Cannell was able to put the brakes on her clean sheet when she won the scratch race.
The remaining Velo Jam podium places were hotly contested with only a point to separate in the end. Sweeping up most of the second and third places between them and proving that consistency in an omnium is key, Amy Good (VCL) and Emma Towers (Twickenham CC) collected the silver and bronze medals. It was Amy’s IP, almost 3 seconds faster than Emma’s that gave her the vital two points from the last round to edge ahead of her opponent. All three now sport a shiny new Lazer Helium helmet so keep a watch out for them whipping by next year.
Also in the B cats was Jess Morgan, winner of the MuleBar Girls Women only track sessions’ Most Improved Rider award. Donated by Oakley and selected by Coach Sarah Brook, Jess was a wonderful example of the great things achieved by the team and their promotion of women’s cycling this year. As Jess explains;
I'm beyond chuffed, I did my first track session at the beginning of August so to be racing in the B's and placing 9th two months later is a testament to the great coaching at the women's sessions. All the technical exercises and race training built up my confidence and taught me how to race safely. Not only that but being able to practice all the different types of race in a friendly, non-competitive environment means you can figure out your strengths and weaknesses in your own time, as well as getting really good strategy tips from the Mule Bar Girls and other coaches.
In a twist of fate, Sarah also picked up an award at the end of the night for Most Aggressive Rider, a pair of Hope Open Pro Wheels worth nearly £1000. She had her sights set on them from the off and gave a kick start to some determined racing;
Having missed the warm up and very nearly the start of the first race I knew I was going to struggle to be in contention for the omnium but decided early on to have a crack at winning the wheels!
But for Sarah, the real reward came from watching the development of the riders she had coached every week at the track sessions;
I was super excited to see so many of the girls who have come through our track sessions be up and competitive in the B races and my favourite bit of the night was cheering them on.
It was awesome to get such a lot of girls and to have such a good standard of riding in all categories.
Continuing the theme, the omnium was just as fiercely fought over in the Go Race category where 20 novice women took to the boards in their first track races. It was quite something to witness the competitive spirit of these riders, many of whom were totally new to sport, and proving organiser Wiesia’s belief that you shouldn’t have to train seven days a week and hire a coach to race and enjoy the experience. Gemma Marshall was one such rider;
I met so many other great girls who helped me through my first event, explained the racing and put me totally at ease. I'll definitely be back next year, hopefully racing in the next category up, I can safely say I'm hooked now!
Sarah Walsh was the eventual winner, capped off with an impressive ride in the 500m TT which would have placed her 3rd in the B cats.
As the sun set on Velo Jam, the floodlights completed the spectacle for the invitational mixed Madison and a good excuse to continue the party atmosphere. The night wasn’t just about serious racing, it was about celebrating women’s cycling. The beer and wine flowed freely amongst the spectators who were treated to an exciting race won by young pairing Lucy Harper and George Farrell, ones to watch for the future.
The Ana Nichoola Velo Jam will be back next year so dig out your trusty velo now. You’ve got 12 months to get ready and we’ll see you there…
Elite - Omnium
1 Sarah Connell (Briston Cycles) 23
2 Anna Railton (Team ASL 360) 23
3 Hannah Barnes (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) 20
4 Lucy Harper (Welwyn Cycles) 10
5 Jayne Paine (Wildsen Cycles) 10
6 Anna Marie Hughes (Prestige Velo Club) 6
B Cat - Omnium
1 Alexis Barnes (Cardiff Ajax CC) 24
2 Amy Good (VCL) 18
3 Emma Towers (Twickenham CC) 17
4 Christine Robson 14
5 Hannah Cannell 10
6 Zoe Lewis (VCL) 7
Go Race - Omnium
1 Sarah Walsh 23
2 Tanya Griffiths 16
3 Gemma Marshall 10
4 Charlotte Roberge 8
5 Katie Atherton 6
6 Fiona Leonard 6