Yesterday evening was the last in the summer series of racing at Crystal Palace. Or at least it would have been if the rain earlier in the day hadn’t rendered the circuit damp and dangerous to use. But at least the juniors had a bit of a spin around on a shortened course.
Before this year I’d never ventured to SE19, put off by the reports of chaotic scenes of multiple races fighting for space on the tight little circuit. Those of softer dispositions complained of the tight bends, blind corners and breakneck speeds. But out of curiosity and in search of a new challenge, I headed down at the start of the summer.
Everyone who has raced at Palace will tell you the same thing – get to the front right at the start of the race, then stay there. Start at the back – like I did – and you’ll spend half the race working your way through the bunch. In the 3/4s it was like skipping across stepping stones as rider after rider got shelled out the back – as I moved forwards, they were moving backwards. After a diet of longer road races the intensity of Palace is a shock; corner-sprint-corner-sprint-corner-sprint… it’s better than any interval session you could devise.
But perhaps what I’ll miss most is the atmosphere. With so many races happening on the same evening – the juniors racing first, then followed by the E/1/2, 3/4, and women’s races running concurrently – it’s as if the whole of London’s racing community descends on this little corner of London each Tuesday. From the elites in sponsored skinsuits and immaculate bikes, to the first timers in mismatched kits and skew-whiff helmets. There are no facilities, everyone just sits on the grass in the middle of the circuit, chatting whilst pinning on their numbers. Relaxed, informal – on a bright sunny evening, it feels exactly how summer should.
Saying farewell to Palace last night felt like saying farewell to the summer.
Photography by Phil Jones/Bluetrainatlondon
The season has a distinctive ebb and flow; from spring to autumn, each passing month has its own qualities. Races early in the year are run in hard conditions, the cold and wet, with muddy roads, embrocation and arm warmers. But the bunch is keen to race after a winter of steady rides and soulless turbo hours – everyone is anxious to put their training to test, and to start ticking off those pre-season goals and targets.
By summer everyone is in full flight, the edges of tan lines have sharpened, bodies are leaner. The pinnacle of the season has been reached; the rider is now en forme. There is a deep feeling of satisfaction when the climbs seem shorter, and the pace of races feels less fraught – these are the sensations that make the hours of training and the suffering in the early season worthwhile.
Earlier this week, The Telegraph published a report that showed that, not only was cycling on the increase, but that sales of high-end bikes in particular were on the up. To investigate further, the newspaper made the most of their journalistic talents and ‘bulging contacts book’, and approached a leading retailer of expensive racing bicycles – Halfords.
A spokesmen for the retailer confirmed the trend: “Its limited edition Carrera TDF bike, featuring a lightweight compact aluminium frame and 16 gears, sold out during the Tour De France tournament.” Aluminium frames, 16 gears, tournaments – our sport has an exciting future. I, for one, can’t wait to ditch my archaic carbon steed for something a bit more ‘high-tech’.
So just who are all the people buying these ‘premium’ bicycles? I ran the numbers from the Mintel research through the super computer I keep in my spare room and its sophisticated profiling software. After a couple of days of disgruntled whirring and reams of magnetic tape, this is the analysis it reluctantly churned out:
I think that just about sums things up.
On Saturday the young Garmin rider Dan Martin – son of ex British pro Neil Martin, nephew of past Tour de France winner, Giro winner and World Champion Stephen Roche, and cousin of current Irish national champion and team leader of AG2R in this year’s Tour Nicholas Roche – won the Tour of Poland. And with a pedigree like that it’s not really surprising, is it?
Dan Martin is popping with raw natural talent and a formidable power to weight ratio. So far his form has been slightly erratic, but some impressive performances have marked him out as a young rider to watch. His rise into the professional ranks and to the top of the sport seems like a formality considering his inherited cycling genes.
That’s me above, on my fourth birthday. That was my present. I don’t think I’ve ever regarded as fondly any bike I’ve had since. In fact any I’ll own in the future either. Not even a whizz-bang carbon thing or a sophisticated titanium affair or any of that other stuff.
I met a chap at university who had never learnt to ride a bike. I was aghast. It seems unimaginable that riding a bike can be absent from a persons childhood; at times it seems that’s all me and friends ever did. At first we were allowed up to the cobblestones at the end of our street, but no further. But then it became the park, and beyond. We whizzed around in our little gang, exploring the nooks and crannies of the small world around us.
Not much has changed, even as grown ups we want to roam the countryside, be the first up the hill, to find new roads to ride. Only we stop for tea and cake, and our bikes now cost more than our pocket money could ever afford.
They say you never forget your first love – do you remember yours?