After the news that the 2021 race will not go ahead, we look back at the history of the Eddie Soens Memorial Trophy.
Though a famously sport-loving city, cycling isn’t the first discipline that comes to anyone’s mind when you think of Liverpool – but the region is home to one of the UK’s longest-running bike races, the Eddie Soens Memorial Trophy.
Raced on laps on the Motor Racing Circuit at Aintree Racecourse, the event was founded in 1962 and has enjoyed 59 editions since then.
Eddie Soens usually takes place in early March, and though it’s not currently part of the National Series, it’s become a stalwart of the spring calendar and is a popular season-opener for many riders.
It is the second oldest one-day race in the UK – beaten only by the Lincoln GP, founded in 1956 – which places it in high regard among the British racing community.
A long history
The race was originally known as the Eddie Soens Cycles criterium, and took place on a road circuit around Bickerstaff, Lancashire.
Eddie Soens was a bicycle maker in Liverpool and coach of the British national team. Soens’ shop sponsored the race, and it was renamed the Eddie Soens Memorial after he died in 1985.
In the 70s, the race moved from Bickerstaff to the Motor Racing Circuit at Aintree, which has been its home ever since.
The Eddie Soens race, Aintree 1975. pic.twitter.com/kfiNHBOaxf
— cycling archives (@mission753) April 13, 2019
The list of names engraved on the coveted trophy includes Tour de France stage winner Steve Cummings – the first-ever junior to win the race – and decorated Olympians such as Ed Clancy and Rob Hayles.
Several names appear more than once in the list of previous winners, but perhaps the most interesting is Matt Bottrill who won twice – twenty one years apart in 1998 and 2019.
Part of what makes Eddie Soens unique is its unusual format. It’s raced on a handicap basis, meaning that instead of separate fields, the peloton includes riders from all age, gender and racing categories with the better-ranked riders starting with an up to two and a half minute handicap.
The mixed peloton faces 30 laps of the Motor Racing Circuit to form a 50-mile race. Though flat, the pace is often fast and furious and the cold March weather usually makes for a tough race.
Despite its history and legacy, the race was nearly lost forever in 2020 when its organisers announced they could no longer fund its running.
This news sparked outpourings of appreciation for the prestigious race – but the disappointment was short lived as within 72 hours of the cancellation, a new organiser had stepped in to save the race.
Race organiser Brian Rigby and Harry Middleton Cycling Club in Ormskirk took over the role of running the race, bringing with them new sponsorship from N-Fuse Nutrition and a long-term commitment to the event.
Thanks to its date in early March, Eddie Soens was one of the few British races that managed to go ahead in 2020 before lockdown was imposed.
Sadly, continuing restrictions mean that the race cannot go ahead this year, but the organisers have pledged to support the race for the foreseeable future.
Before 2021, the race had only been cancelled once before, when heavy snow curtailed the 2006 event, meaning that its expected return in 2022 will mark the 60th edition of the Eddie Soens Memorial Trophy.
It may be a while to wait, but the 60-year anniversary of the race will underline a great achievement for the race which will have survived a cancellation and a pandemic – something not all races manage.
The Eddie Soens Memorial Trophy may not be too well-known to Merseyside locals, but it’s an icon of British racing and the home of cycling in the region.
Featured image: newspaper clipping of the 1992 race, courtesy of @HMiddletonCC