Short Circuit

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland

All this circuit racing is exhausting. And that’s just from a spectator’s perspective. The riders are hauling themselves all over the country at this time of year, putting on the style in possibly the best free entertainment around, hitting phenomenal speeds for an hour or so, two or three times a week, to earn their crust and keep us entertained. Hat, as Ned Boulting might say.

Crit racing is something I have never got to grips with, even when young and relatively fit. Gaps mysteriously appear between myself and the wheel in front. Other riders, sensing a rank amateur in their midst, surge past unchallenged. Lightly-feathered brakes (at least in my mind) on tight corners leave me chasing a bike-length deficit every time. Counting down the weeks until the ‘cross season starts is my only coping strategy…

But watching criteriums is another matter entirely. I love it. A chance to natter with old friends over a pint of beer while others suffer on our behalf is infinitely preferable to actually riding the darned things. Ability goes a long way towards enjoyment in your chosen discipline, which is why competing in circuit races is low on my list of priorities, but waffling and supping ale I have innate talent for.

Last week’s spectating duties took me to Stoke for The Tour Series, a fine start with young Scott Thwaites of Endura powering up the finishing drag to take the individual honours. Former cyclo-cross riders are always high up in my estimation: tough as old boots, even the young ones.

Next stop was the London Nocturne in Smithfield Market, where a massive crowd was entertained with an eclectic mix of events, every one a gem. Alex Dowsett lapped the field in an amazing display of solo riding. The longest skid has to be seen to be believed: how anyone can lock up their back wheel and keep going for 100 metres is beyond me. The folding bike race is always a hoot, besuited gents and ladies tearing round the market, but was that 15-year-old Germain Burton (see Rouleur issue 23) I saw in the runner-up position? Ringer! And the winner of the penny farthing race had the surname Brailsford…

The Rouleur stall at Smithfield was busy all evening, due in no small part to the 1,000 cowbells we gave away. The sight of grown men pleading for the last little branded freebie, designed for kids to make some noise with, was quite worrying. We were the Gerald Ratners of Smithfield.

There are two more circuit races for me to attend in the next week, starting at the final round of the Tour Series at Canary Wharf on Thursday, which should be fun, with Endura making a late charge to wrestle the overall from Rapha-Condor-Sharp. Then it’s North to the 26th edition of the excellent Otley Cycle Races, previously won by the likes of Mark Cavendish, Russell Downing and Jeremy Hunt.

Should you find yourself in front of the TV this Friday (June 17) evening, it’s a two-hour extravaganza of circuit racing starting on Sky Sports 3 with the Nocturne at 19:00, followed by the Tour Series on ITV4 at 20:00.

But do make an effort to attend the races in person. Nothing beats it. And by all means come and say hello if you spot me in the crowd. Just don’t ask for a cowbell.

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