The race of many names is back this weekend. The East Midlands International CiCLE Classic; Rutland Melton; Hell of the East Midlands.

Whatever you call it, the fifth edition of this hugely popular event leaves Market Square in Oakham at 11am Sunday (April 26) for 157km of hard riding in the surrounding lanes and farm tracks headed for the big finish in Melton Mowbray.

The relatively new CiCLE quickly found favour with the bunch for its big crowds and Paris-Roubaix-style terrain of the 11 off-road sectors. If there is a rider out there who doesn?t like the race, we have yet to find him.

With a UCI ranking of 2.1, a host of international outfits take on the best of British in the biggest one-day race this country hosts. 190 riders will line up in Oakham and to ride on closed roads for the duration of the race.

Former P-R winner Magnus Backstedt tackles the CiCLE for the first time on Sunday with his Magnus Maximus Coffee squad, but the hugely experienced Swede has a fair idea what is in store. ?I know what it?s like,? he said. ?It?s not like riding on the cobblestones, but it is hard, especially if it is wet. I am fairly heavy and tend to bog down in the muddy farm tracks.?

Last year?s runner-up, Dutchman Jan Bos, wears the number one as 2008 winner Ciaran Power does not start this time. Top Brit last year and 2007 winner Malcolm Elliott is back with the CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta squad, with Russell Downing and the in-form Pete Williams also in their line-up.

Sports Beans-Wilier?s strong man Marcin Bialoblocki misses out due to a broken collarbone sustained at the Totnes-Vire Two-Day last weekend. Look out for team-mate Will Bjergfelt: the former mountain biker will feel right at home on the rough stuff.

Halfords Bikehut?s Ian Wilkinson is another equally at ease on the farm tracks, while surprise package of 2008, eighth placed Tobyn Horton, makes a rare visit to these shores from his Belgian base. Chris Newton was second back in 2006 and the Rapha Condor man has the class to go one better.

CiCLE regulars Glud & Marstrand from Denmark send a strong team as usual, while race director Colin Clews? tips Peter Sagan as the man to watch. With a gold medal in the 2008 World junior MTB championships and bronze in that year?s cyclo-cross champs to his name, the young Slovakian has the bike handling skills to do well.

?This guy is so talented, it?s untrue,? said Clews. ?He is a first year senior, so I am not sure he is going to win the race, but when you have that quality of rider being brought over to get experience, it shows that people really the feel the race is something worth going for.?

The CiCLE perhaps bears better comparison with the Eroica than Paris-Roubaix, the farm tracks of Leicestershire being closer to the strade blanche gravel tracks of Tuscany than the bone-jarring cobbles of Roubaix ? provided it stays dry this week. The possibility of rain on Sunday makes for a distinctly un-Italian experience.

Come three o?clock at the finish in Melton Mowbray, come rain or shine, and whether covered in dust or mud, it will be a worthy winner who milks the crowd?s applause.

imageMatt Stephens hits the tracks

EAST MIDLANDS INTERNATIONAL CiCLE CLASSIC

Sunday, April 26

Oakham ? Melton Mowbray

Starts: Market Place, Oakham, 11am

Finishes: Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray, approx 3pm

157km (98 miles)

THE ROUGH STUFF

Sector 11 64km Stygate (500m) *

Sector 10 71km Newbold (1,300m) *

Sector 9 80km Owston Manor (800m) ***

Sector 8 84km Stygate (500m) *

Sector 7 103km Owston Manor (800m) ***

Sector 6 107km Somerberg (1,800m) ****

Sector 5 110km Newbold (1,380m) *

Sector 4 120km Newbold (1,380m) *

Sector 3 130km Somerberg (1,800m) ****

Sector 2 136km Stygate (500m) *

Sector 1 157km Sawgate Lane (700m) ***

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2008 Ciaran Power

2007 Malcolm Elliott (Pinarello RT)

2006 Robin Sharman (Recycling.co.uk)

2005 Scott Gamble (BC East Midlands Division)

MY RACE?

By organiser Colin Clews

Race director Colin Clews dreamed up the CiCLE Classic five years ago and it has quickly grown. He has ridden the roads for 17 years and saw the potential for a great race. The local councils were keen, adverts placed in the local press produced sponsors, and traffic sergeant Toby Day, a keen cyclist based at Oakham, got involved. What started life as the Rutland Melton in 2005 was an instant hit.

East Midlands Development Agency is the title sponsor ? hence the race name ? with MARS (UK) and a host of smaller companies supporting the event.

The local villagers seem to hold the race in great affection, especially Owston, where they get to see the bunch in full flight more than most. ?They go through six times in Owston. There are barbecues in the streets,? said Clews.

?I was out leafleting and a couple of the other villages are thinking of putting on their own barbeques because there is money to be made. They are all getting wise to it!?

?Wherever I went, anyone I passed a leaflet to said they were really looking forward to it. It is amazing the support we have got in the villages for it.?

Clews also recommends Burrough on the Hill, where the King of the Hills competition can be watched from the conveniently placed Stag & Hounds pub, sponsor of the hill prime.

The weather could be the determining factor on Sunday, with rain a possibility in the afternoon. ?The course will be exactly the same as last year,? said Clews. ?Somerberg is in a bit of a state at the moment ? it will be a little bit sloppy in places. It is still rideable, but the guys that have got the skill are going to make headway there.?

LAST YEAR

1. Ciaran Power (Irl) Pezula RT

2. Jan Bos (Ned) Ruiter De Kappellen

3. Malcolm Elliott (GB) Pinarello RT

imageEarly escape: 2008 winner Ciaran Power and Pezula team-mate David O’Loughlin

THE COURSE

Cycling Weekly?s own man in the bunch, Dan Duguid of Sigma Sport, checks out the course.

Recent bad weather has made the off-road sections of the course considerably worse than last year. The warm weather and the seemingly good drainage had dried the course but tracks left by tractors have made it considerably bumpier.

The infamous Somerberg was also dry, but if it receives any rain this could turn into a deciding sector of the race, as mud will be guaranteed. Notably on top of the hill – climbed in both directions – there is a huge pile of manure, with some of it flowing onto the course. Riders won?t want to be next to this in case the odd grappling for position puts you into it. A quick trip to the showers will definitely be needed.

With some of the narrower roads being re-tarmaced there are few potholes but on the sectors that are a mix of tarmac and dirt – for instance heading towards the feed zone – there are a few extra holes to deal with.

With an early break succeeding last year it is unlikely that the teams will let that happen again. The winning break is sure to materialise from the narrower roads of the course and sectors as the bunch can be easily split with some hard driving at the front. The categorised climb of Burrough on the Hill is hard enough for attacks to stick and could also see the winner emerge.

CW?S SUPER TEAM CHALLENGE

Halfords Bikehut lead the way but CandiTV are snapping at their heels. Sports Beans will be hit by the loss of Marcin Bialoblocki to a broken collarbone, while Plowman and Rapha have some work to do.

But with bumper points on offer for this UCI 1.2-ranked event, it could all change this weekend. There are 16 points available to the winner, with points going down to fifth place.

CURRENT STANDINGS

Halfords Bikehut 38 pts

CandiTV-Pinarello 37 pts

Sports Beans-Wilier 20 pts

Plowman Craven 5 pts

Rapha-Condor 4 pts

RELATED LINKS

East Midlands International Cicle Classic 2009 start list

Last year?s race report

Cycling Weekly British team profiles

EXTERNAL LINK

Official Site