Report: Mildenhall Cycling Rally


Jo Smith won the British Women’s National 800m Grass-Track Champion at the weekend’s Mildenhall Cycling Rally, finishing over 100 metres ahead of her closest rivals!

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Hannah Payton (CTC Road Team) and Sian Botteley (Shutt VR/Squadra Donne) who were neck and neck coming into the final bend battled it out for second and third. Payton on the inside held her nerve in the finishing straight to deny Botteley and take the Silver medal with less than half a wheel separating them.

It was touch and go whether Smith would even compete in the National Championship, saying immediately afterwards “I have been suffering from a very bad dose of tonsillitis and felt so drained. But I’m so pleased I did ride and I’m now off to ring my coach to let him know.”

As well as the first prize of £100 she won the inaugural Ernie Robinson Memorial trophy, which was created after the former Mildenhall member’s bequest to celebrate sprinting for which he had a great passion.

Smith, now in her twenties, has been a regular at the Mildenhall track and as an up & coming rider she rode for Border City Wheelers, before moving to Spain to enhance her cycling career on the road and track. She moved to France in 2012 to ride for the female-only team Feminin Languedoc Roussillon based in Le Boulou 12km from the Spanish border.

Like many women competitors, she cannot live from her sport alone and Jo makes her cycling pay by teaching English part-time.

This was just one of many high-class races on the grass-track alone at this festival of cycling organised by Mildenhall Cycling Club. The club’s chairman Mark Burchett said “The attendance on the Sunday was the best we’ve ever seen at the Rally, with spectators lining the whole of the grass-track arena. It was noticeable and very heartening to see more local people attending, as the event is as much for them as it is the dedicated cyclists from across the UK.

With the Rally able to attract the very best track riders to Mildenhall, it means visitors get to see probably the best grass-track racing in the country, which includes some promising stars of the future.“

He added “It is fantastic to see so many people from around the country enjoying the Mildenhall Rally when it is promoted solely by our club when normally for an event of this stature you would need a full-time events management team. This is testament to the amount of hard work put in by not only the organising committee, but many of our members as well as contributions from West Suffolk Wheelers, Maldon & District CC, CTC Suffolk and Forest Heath District Council.”

On the grass-track even the Mildenhall Club’s colours were prominent with new recruit 17 year-old Portia Tribeck winning the Ladies Hare and Hounds race. In the process the ex-runner beat the newly crowned Ladies National 800m Grass-Track Champion Smith and another top track rider in Marianne Britten (VC St Raphael).

Even more of a dark horse was Barry Bonnett who had been a member of the Mildenhall Club as a teenager before he left to go to university. The 53-year-old who rejoined the Club on the eve of the Rally took a lot of people by surprise!

He not only took the ‘Bristow Exhibition Devil’ title he also won the ‘B’ Riders 6-lap Block Handicap. In doing so he beat Kevin Payton (Bush Healthcare) and Ian Clarke (Stourbridge CC) who are no slouches with years experience of racing on the grass! Bonnett, who now lives in Berkshire, also gained second places in the 40-plus 2000m, 40-plus 2-Lap Sprint races and a third place in the ‘B’ riders 500m Sprint. As Bonnett said later “Not bad considering I haven’t raced on the track for forty years!”

He also contributed to the Club’s efforts in the Team Pursuit where together with Richard Carrington, Pete Clements and Tribeck they finished fifth behind some tough opposition. It was won, not surprisingly by VC St Raphael, a club who are renowned for recruiting the country’s top talent. They can list amongst their previous members a certain Miss Victoria Pendleton CBE, before she went full-time with the GB National Squad!

On the Saturday of the Rally hundred’s took part in the Audax rides, which are timed touring events, with some hardy souls tackling the 300km with a 4am start! Every day hundred’s of cyclists took the opportunity to explore the local area, either on their own or using route cards supplied by Mildenhall CC.

Despite the rain, nearly 80 Juveniles (under 16’s) raced on the grass-track in the afternoon and who knows they too could include future champions. Mr Burchett “explained that it has recently come to light that in addition to our very own Victoria Pendleton, Nicola Cooke OBE, Ben Swift, Emma Trott and Laura Trott OBE, that World and Olympic champion Jason Kenny OBE and Steven Burke, also raced at Mildenhall when they were younger.”

The rest of the Rally was blessed with warm sunshine, which meant the children, some as young as three, enjoyed even more taking part in the Duathlon (Sunday) and Cyclo-Cross (Monday). In the adult version, the Mad Madison, Islabikes ruled the roost. Isla Rowntree’s teams took the top two places, with Isla herself riding with Robert Burns Jnr to take second behind father and son duo of Kevin and Tom.

As well as all of the children’s attractions (Bouncy Castle, Face Painter, Stevie Spuds Circus Skills workshop and Adam Strange magic and balloon shows) that constantly had queues, another popular attraction was the cycle-smoothie machine that was new this year. CSV (Community Service Volunteers) Media Clubhouse from Ipswich were there with their specially created machine that visitors could create themselves a very fresh and healthy smoothie.

The two-day Trade Show (Sunday and Monday) as usual did good business, despite the current tough economic climate. “I know that talking to the retailers there was at least six complete machines sold and as a result of the Rally they expect there to be many more sold over the coming year.” added Mr Burchett.

“The only black spot to the Rally was the number of cycle thefts that occurred over Saturday night, with six high-value machines being stolen. We had already been working with Suffolk Police to take precautions so it is very disappointing that this happened and our thoughts are with the victims. We will do what we can help to help them and the Police and are determined to make sure that this doesn’t detract from future Mildenhall Cycling Rally’s.” said Mr Burchett.

Full details of everything that happened and all of the results from the weekend’s events can be found on



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