The Knutsford Great Race is run on the streets of Knutsford, which is about a 40 minute drive outside of Manchester. Like Brigadoon, this sleepy, quaint little Cheshire hamlet comes alive only once every 10 years to host the world’s pre-eminent THREE HOUR Penny-Farthing race, with riders descending on Knutsford from around the world. The field of 111 racers included folks from Germany, Belgium, America and even one came from New Zealand. Being held only once every decade, this is the race everybody wants to be in and of course do well, so Knutsford’s gravitational pull is is quite strong…
The Week before Knutsford….
What many of the racers probably don’t realize is that the winner of Knutsford 2023 Roger Davies almost got wiped-out in a near-fatal cycling crash the previous week racing in the European Open Penny-Farthing Championships in Oudenburg, Belgium. In a freak accident during the qualifier, Davies- a highly competent & experienced Penny-Farthing racer- took out a steel barrier at high speed rounding a sharp corner- while racing clipped-in. For the rest of us mere mortals, this would have almost certainly resulted in a lengthy hospital stay, or possibly worse. I was trailing close behind both Roger & Rik Vernack into that turn. The barrier started bouncing and Rik narrowly missed it and I was right behind Rik. So the winner of Knutsford and (2) of the remaining top (10) finishers almost got seriously busted up the prior week racing in Belgium. For those that believe that I’m exaggerating, my helmet camera was rolling when we all leaned into that turn at speed and here’s the footage of just the crash:
Richard Thoday- who would finish 2nd in Knutsford a week later- was spotted peering from behind a tree near the crash, twirling his pencil-thin moustache next to a sniggering dog who was muttering “MEDAL! MEDAL MEDAL!“. A receipt for a yellow rope was found wadded on the ground nearby:
Richard Thoday and accomplice trying to sabotage Roger in Oudenburg!
The video that almost wasn’t…
So with that context, we return to The Knutsford Great Race 2023. It was oppressively hot at the start at 1300 on Moorside and remained so until about 2 hours into the race when it started raining. The course is only 900 meters, about half of which runs through King Street which is lined with spectators pint-in-hand cheering all the racers on to do their personal best. And who save our cameras when they fall off our helmets on Lap1! And there is a video thanks to this good gentlemen: I stitched together the video from my helmet he saved with the video from my rear-facing camera to provide a track-level view from the racer’s perspective.
Technically Challenging & Fast Course, But Few Injuries
At the end of King Street, riders hit the most technical part of the course, a twisting downhill which ends with a sharp right turn back to Moorside which runs along a park, also lined with spectators. A few riders had some falls at the bottom of the hill, but none serious. There was a single collision between a team (“Roger’s Riders“) and solo rider (Melissa Meisdell) with just minutes left in the race:
Thankfully, neither rider was seriously injured from my understanding. Given 111 Penny-Farthing racers were zooming around a 900 meter course with a steep, fast twisty hill FOR THREE HOURS was not only down to rider skill but largely down to the outstanding organization and marshalling of the race committee nd their team of volunteers.
The Solo Track Battles
Battle for 1st Place:
Although the main race was a duel between Richard Thoday (#52)- who broke a 150 year old speed record cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats (“LEJOG“)- and Roger Davies (#54) who took 1st, there were lots of small track battles being fought for the breadcrumbs those two left the rest of us mortals to fight for. BTW, Roger & Richard’s 77 laps (42 miles!) was enough to beat ALL teams, which is amazing as Team riders divide up the 3 hours and race as a relay with long rest periods. These two grunted the entire 3 hours and STILL beat riders with fresh pairs of legs by 5 laps (about 2.5 miles). These guys are amazing athletes.
Battle for 3rd Place:
The fight for the final place on the podium as you can see from the times & laps numbers, was between Rolf Woodward (#55) & Steve Weddles (#61, USA), with Rolf just edging Steve out to take 3rd place.
2 laps behind 3rd & 4th was James Hodges (#27, USA) took 5th place with 68 laps; a 1 lap lead over the pack behind him slugging it out for 6th place.
The battle for 6th place was between 3 riders who all managed to cover 67 laps (37 miles) during the race: Guy Banham (#25), Andy Neath (#5) and Terrence Houlahan (US/UK, #64). Guy took 6th, Andy 7th and myself Terrence Houlahan finished at 8th place. Not a brilliant finish, but not bad given there were some really outstanding cyclists at Knutsford. Had a bit of a crap season, so not an entirely bad note to end on I guess.
Battle for the final place in Top 10 :
Rik Vernack (#53, BE) managed to hold off Graham Earl‘s (#22) despite a fall nearing the end of the race and still completed 64 laps to secure 9th place. Graham’s 10th place was fairly safe as he had a 2 lap lead (about 1 mile) over the nearest 2 racers with 61 laps each who were battling it out for 11th place. Making up a mile that late in the race is tough or neigh impossible (Andy Neath did manage it though!).
The Team Battles
As noted above, “Essex Ordinary Riders” won the team battle which was fought between (11) teams, handily winning with 72 laps. Their nearest challenger was “Extra Ordinary” which managed to cover 65 laps in the same 3 hours. But “Roger’s Riders” were hot on the heels of 2nd place with 64 laps- remember that a lap = 900 meters. Indeed, had the collision involving their rider at the race’s end not happened, Roger’s Riders might well have snatched 2nd place- it was THAT close. And 3rd was also hotly contested by “Gentlemanly Does It” who was nipping at the heels of “Roger’s Riders” in 4th with 63 laps. Like the solo races, the top teams finished in pretty close groupings.
It’s interesting to note that Roger Davies and Richard Thoday beat ALL teams, including the winning team “Essex Ordinary Riders“. And not by a small margin: (5) laps which equates to about 2.5 miles. Without any lengthy rest periods. Indeed without ANY rest periods. That’s hard core cycling.
As for places 3-8 inclusive, we beat ALL teams except for “Essex Ordinary Riders”, and again, we are solo riders grunting out the full 3 hours by ourselves. Had any of us registered as a “team”, we could have grabbed a medal 😉
I remarked when editing the video (@ 38 min 07 sec) of this epic event that I had inadvertently captured the status of the race at 2 hours, 14 minutes. This shows that for the last 46 minutes the top (7) places were hard fought and held, with places 5-8 each gaining a single place due to 4th place not finishing. I used those 46 minutes to lap Team “Extra Ordinary 3 times to take their place ahead of me @ 2hr 14 minutes, but Andy Neath lapped me twice in those same minutes. So yeah, for 46 minutes largely the same folks were not letting up. Indeed, I notice in the last half hour the tempo really picked up. With the end in sight, it seemed racers were going all-in to achieve the best result they could. A chart illustrating the place movement for the last 46 minutes of the race is shown below.
|2 Hours 14 Minutes Place Positions||Position Increase/Decrease|
|Full-Time Race Results|
|1 #54 Roger Davies (57 laps)||0||1 #54 Roger Davies (77 Laps)|
|2 #52 Richard Thoday (57 Laps)||0||2 #52 Richard Thoday (77 Laps)|
|3 #78 Essex Ordinary Riders (TEAM) (54 Laps)||0||3 #78 Essex Ordinary Riders (72 Laps)|
|4 #65 Thomas Hawkins (53 Laps)||–||4 #55 Rolf Woodward (70 Laps)|
|5 #55 Rolf Woodward (53 Laps)||+1||5 #61 Steve Weddles (70 Laps)|
|6 #61 Steve Weddles (52 Laps)||+1||6 #27 James Hodges (68 Laps)|
|7 #27 James Hodges (50 Laps)||+1||7 #25 Guy Banham (67 Laps)|
|8 #25 Guy Banham (50 Laps)||+1||8 #5 Andy Neath (67 Laps)|
|9 #79 Extra Ordinary (TEAM) (50 Laps)||-1||9 #64 Terrence Houlahan (67 Laps)|
|10 #64 Terrence Houlahan (49 Laps)||+1||10 #79 Extra Ordinary (65 Laps)|
|11 #82 Roger’s Riders (48 Laps)||0||11 #82 Roger’s Riders (64 Laps)|
|12 #5 Andy Neath (48 Laps)||+4||12 #53 Rik Vernack (64 Laps)|
Comparing the place finishes isn’t as interesting as comparing the differences in laps between racers in adjacent (above & below) positions both at 2 hours 14 minutes and again at full-time. What this reveals is that in order to just keep their position, riders all raced very, very consistently and the gaps in laps at 2 hours 14 minutes between riders in adjacent positions compared with the same adjacent positions at full-time is really tight. So everybody kept pushing themselves as hard as they could to stay in the game and in a few cases a several riders dug really deep and actually gained ground. It’s evidence that all were maintaining really consistent, fast speeds throughout the final 46 minutes ’till the finish. Indeed, this was probably true the entire race, but I only found this one data set to consider. I know I personally tried to keep a level, full-on pace as I could for the entire (3) hours.
Given that there were 111 total riders, it was unrealistic to cover them all in this blog, so I used the Leader Board as the deciding factor for comparative analysis of the race results.
Full Race Results can be found at the Knutsford Great Race official website as well as photo galleries and other useful stuffs!
Due to the infrequency of Knutsford, as well as the ability to tear through the streets of a quaint little Cheshire hamlet whose streets are lined with beer drinking fans cheering us on, well this is a race that is simply not to be missed by the Penny-Farthing obsessed. And it was really well run and we couldn’t write about the event without acknowledging all the hard work that the race committee and volunteers put in both before and on the day; tip of the (flat cap/deerstalker/boater) to you all and look forward to Brigadoon once again awakening in another decade to open its’ streets to Penny-Farthing racing.
And of course, thanks to all my fellow racers: always great to catch-up with you all at these thingies.
And here’s the video I put together using the footage from my helmet and rear facing cameras. If you’re interested in watching Penny-Farthing racing, I’d suggest that you subscribe to my Rumble Channel where you’ll get email notifications when I publish another PF race video or my video road cycling in the UK & abroad. Indeed, the full video of Roger Davies crashing in Belgium recovering and winning the race is there too. Along with other unique video goodies of Penny-Farthing racing