The Merlin Cycles Classic Series once again provided a great variety of courses, distances and locations across the country, with the winners all deserving of their overall series victories.
We look back at the 2023 series and hail the efforts of all competitors in this round-up of the season-long competitions.
HUUB-WattShop rider John Archibald won all four rounds he entered with 240 points, absent only from round one and round four where overall runner-up Will Lowden with 238 points triumphed on both occasions.
Archibald’s HUUB-WattShop team-mate Jennifer George was the victor in rounds one, four and six, but with the rules stating that four events from six in the series are ridden there were no qualifiers for the women’s overall prize.
Elsewhere, Nicholas Latimer (Team Lifting Gear Products) and Mark Sanders (Mid Devon Cycling Club) were fastest Veteran on Scratch and Veteran on Target Time respectively.
The overall Classic Series prize for road bikes went to Chris Booth (Giant-Kendal-Sidas.uk) in the men’s event, in the women’s category, there were no women who rode more than one event.
Abbey Thompson, riding for Stonham Barns Park – SYRT, did enough over her four rides to win the junior category, with Ben Hetherington (Ferryhill Wheelers) tying on 235 points with Rik Waddon but winning on countback after success in the final ride.
The best junior on a road bike was Sophie Heighton (Ferryhill Wheelers) who was also part of the winning team overall alongside Ben Hetherington and Howard Heighton.
The opening round, promoted by a3crg in West Sussex, saw Lowden and George both break the respective course records in heavy rain to lay down an early marker, while the McNamara brothers also produced standout performances with Chris finishing as fastest veteran on actual time and Simon taking the top road bike prize.
On to round two in Staffordshire where the event, promoted by Buxton CC / Sett Valley Cycles, saw Archibald and Kelly Murphy seal success while Thompson made it two wins from two in the junior category.
Archibald then made it two successive wins at Beacon RCC in Worcestershire for round three with Emma Bexson (Stratford CC) taking the women’s prize and Hetherington succeeding in the Paracycling category for the first time in the series while Latimer and Sanders also picked up wins in their respective categories.
Round four at Edinburgh Road Club proved a successful one for HUUB-WattShop with Archibald and George both winning the Tour of the Meldons, while Booth was quickest round the course on a road bike.
The Circuit of Greystoke Forest in Cumbria organised by Border City Wheelers served as the fifth round and saw Archibald wrap up the overall men’s title, while Booth also did the same for the road bike category.
Archibald, who broke Dan Bigham’s course record in the event, said: “The course was lovely compared to last time I did it in 2019. It was dry and sunny, with low wind. I paced it conservatively on the first lap, then went to empty the well on lap two.
“I only just beat Dan's course record, which he did in the wet and with di2 problems, but I'm still happy with my ride and couldn't have done more.
“The course this time had more sustained drags and time in the skis, as compared to Buxton and Worcester where I was booting it up climbs out of the saddle.”
Victory for David Murphy in the Paracycling category helped him move level with Hetherington at the top and ensured the competition would go down to the final day, where Latimer and Sanders ensured they held the advantage ahead of their rivals.
The final event of the Merlin Cycles Classic Series, promoted by Mid-Devon CC, also served as the RTTC National Circuit Championship, with Lowden returning to claim the national title and finish second in the series. George also wrapped up her campaign with victory.
She said: “It was great, it’s a great course, nice and quirky which I prefer.
“These type of courses tend to suit me so I was happy when I saw the course yesterday. I was quite happy when I saw it wasn’t going to rain this morning, wasn’t too warm and wasn’t too windy either – it was kind of perfect.
“It’s definitely good to come back and defend the title. The Circuit Championships are always done on a course which is a bit more interesting. It had climbs, corners and a bit of everything which suited my background a little bit more than being on a dual carriageway.
“I always tend to fair better on this type of course.”
A dramatic finish in the Paracyling series saw Hetherington claim the national title and the series prize on countback, while Zak Machin (Cero-Cycle Division) won the junior title on the day with Thompson claiming the series prize.
On his success, Hetherington said: “I’m over the moon. The courses were for a strong rider and that suited me brilliantly so I was able to show what I’m capable of. It’s all about how much power you can put out.”
Despite Tom Scorer claiming the Veteran on Scratch championship title, Latimer ensured he took the Classic Series title, with Sanders second on the day in Veteran on Target Time category behind Keith Dorling but still able to secure the overall win.
* All reports and features are copyright of Cycling Time Trials/Snowdon Sports. Not to be used without permission. This feature by James Ayles.
Overall series winners
Men – John Archibald
Women - No qualifiers
Juniors - Abbey Thompson
Vets on Scratch – Nicholas Latimer
Vets on Target – Mark Sanders
Vets Women - No qualifiers
Paracyclist – Ben Hetherington (on countback)
Road Bike Men – Chris Booth
Road Bike Women – No qualifiers
Road Bike Juniors - Sophie Heighton
Team – Ferryhill Whs (Sophie Heighton, Ben Hetherington, Howard Heighton)