Alconbury Circuit Race


Last night saw the first of two test evenings of circuit racing on the old Alconbury airbase. There was a good turn out from the club with many new faces testing 4th cat waters for the first time. The numbers for the 2/3 race were smaller, only 19 of us lined up for the start. Looking at them I was in absolutely no doubt that, for my legs and lungs, this was going to be a very hard hour of racing. Four of the top 10 finishers, including Jake, from Sunday’s gruelling Circuit of the Fens race were there and at least two more could’ve been had they not punctured. As well as Jake, there was Ed, another one of the four and riding for Bonito, and Simon, a former 1st cat back for his first race in many years.

The first lap was neutralised by Tom Caldwell and his motorbike. When the flag when down St Ives Rory made a half  hearted attack and the race was on. The first two laps were furious. Jake leapt off the front and the rest chased. I started to drift off the back but got back on as the group slowed into the wind on the perimeter road. The turn on to the airfield was deliciously fast, as I swept round the bend I could feel a definite push as I transitioned to the smooth concrete surface. Moving up was impossible, especially as we got to the S-bends leading back to the perimeter road. Technical, fast and with the roughest surface on course I clung to the wheel of a Cambridge rider. The final bend in this section was a tight 90 degree left turn with choppy Tarmac on the inside . I had to hold my nerve on that one as the exit momentum flung me towards the opposite curb. The perimeter road started to drag up and a gap opened between the group and Cambridge whose wheel I was assiduously holding. By the time we got to the start line we were both dropped.

The Cambridge rider was Pete. We chunked the race into manageable parcels. We took turns working half a lap each. I got plenty of support from other club members waiting for the 4th cat race. Each time round it was much appreciated.

Bit by bit we started picking up other dropped riders. Lee from St Ives, a couple of Greenwheel, another St Ives rider and one more whose club I don’t remember. By the end of the race we had grown to seven.

About forty minutes into the race Jake and two other riders lapped us. Even if we had wanted to I doubt any of our group could have latched into their slipstream; if we couldn’t do it fresh at the start, what chance now? I finished fourth out of our group, sore but glad to have completed. Simon had done well holding on for 8th.

After the race I walked around to the finish line with Paul, who had come out to watch, to see the end of the 4th cat race. From the start the 4ths had split up, probably no bad thing given the course, their size and relative inexperience – there were a lot of first timers. There was a lead group of no more than 20 riders containing David, Gary, Tom and Gareth. Behind, Adrian had been dropped – wasn’t expecting that – TT Simon was pushing along a smaller group of 6, Chris was chasing another group and Dan was doing his own ride. A couple of laps later the situation was changed; Chris had caught his group, but later punctured out while Gary was dropped from the lead pack. Dan was still doing his own thing. With three laps to go, the front of the main group really began applying the pressure and forced a split. Tom was on the wrong side trying to get back across to the leading six including David and Gareth. The situation on the final lap was unchanged leaving Gareth to take 4th (and finally make 3rd cat!), David 6th and Tom 7th.

Overall a good, if knackering evenings racing. Finally thanks and congratulations to Paul Gripton and his team from Velo Club Chevaliers Bleus for a successful night. Hopefully this and August’s test events will see Alconbury established as a new and welcome addition to the local race scene.

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Circuit of the Fens 2015


The elite race may have been cancelled and the circuit HQ moved from Whittlesey to the Five Ales in Benwick, but the support race was still going ahead. The club had been asked if we could spare a few volunteers, so three of us headed over. David H and Adrian were to marshal at Benwick while I would be in the race convoy driving Andy, Commissaire 3.

First thing on Sunday morning was really quite pleasant. Adrian and I had agreed to meet up for an early 50 miler and rode into Northamptonshire. With not much wind and absolutely no rain, it was by far the best part of the day. I was home for 9am, plenty of time to get ready. I picked up Adrian and David just as it started raining. Driving over the rain got heavier and I had to endure a steady litany of moans, mostly from David, about being roped into standing in the rain. They had an umbrellas and water proofs, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. And then there was the back seat, well front passenger seat really, driving. It reminded me of family holidays with my grandparents in the car. Let’s leave it that I never thought I would be so glad to arrive in Benwick.

At HQ we had our briefings and Andy pimped my ride with a loud hailer, race board and flashing light. We were ready to race, well follow a race. The race cars were all parked in a side road and we were expected pull out in turn ahead of the riders. Police outriders led the way, followed by Lead car 1, com 1 and one of two Shimano neutral service cars. I was meant to go next, but the service car only just made it out in front of the bunch. I had no gap so Andy and I had to sit the first lap out. It meant we saw the first stopped rider even before leaving the village; he’d had minor gear trouble and wasn’t two happy when we wouldn’t tow him up to the race. I sympathised but that wasn’t our job. He disappeared unhappy. He reappeared a few minutes later drafting behind a car.

We monitored progress on race radio. When the front of the convoy passed we slipped in ahead of the race. I couldn’t tell how big the field was, but radio chatter suggested it was thinning down. Certainly it was fast and in my rear view mirror I could see a steady stream of riders taking turns to attack.

After Forty Foot, the Chief Com decided to move my car behind the main bunch – the race was already that fractured. I pulled in and waited for them to pass. It became difficult to see what was happening now that we were behind the bunch but, from the way a couple of riders were struggling to stay on, the pace must have been high and at every bend we could see a pair of riders dangling carrot fashion off the front.

Onto the third lap, leaving Benwick, arms shot into the air like an over enthusiastic school class. Half a dozen riders punctured in a short stretch, Jake being one of them. Depending on your point of view, he was one of the lucky few who got the last of the neutral service spares. For the next half lap I watched him, teamed up with a Nottingham rider, work hard to get back into the bunch. They may have got a little bit of a tow as they approached the bunch and they made contact just before the rough surface of Dykemoor Drove. Jake disappeared into the bunch. The car bounced around on the uneven road, and the Notts rider fought to stay in contact. By the end of the drove he was off and we left him for one of the other small groups trying to form on the road behind.

Back on the long straight Forty Foot road, I pulled up close behind the bunch. The com wanted to make a tally of the rider numbers. We counted around 35 left, only slightly more than a third of the number starting.

Over the radio came news of a minor problem – a lorry was wanting to pull onto Dykemoor Drove. The question of what to do him was answered when one of the riders went spinning through air and onto the verge. The ambulance behind us stopped, other than being soggier and muddier than before the rider was otherwise OK.

The laps tended to blend into each other. The Fenland monotony was exacerbated by big grey rain soaked skies, diminishing to a watery impression of a horizon. So I think it was the fifth lap when the decisive break finally happened. Attacks had been thinning the group down further until five riders broke off the front, Jake included. Six more took off in pursuit and the remainder just seemed relieved to no longer be being punished by the sharp end.

The gap between the pursuers and the main group lengthened and we were instructed to move into it. For me and Andy, the race was down to just eleven riders. On Forty Foot the front bunch eased off and allowed the chasers to join up. There was a bit of commotion when they joined up and one rider dropped off. Now they were 10. The gap to the next group was pushing two minutes, but they didn’t know that.

One of the group, a Welland Valley rider, punctured. The neutral service had restocked and he managed to get back on.

Throughout the race the commissaries had being giving time checks to each other, the Benwick village sign and the turns on to Forty Foot and Dykemoor Drove being favourite points, but so far we hadn’t communicated any gaps to the bunch. On the last lap we did. They had a convincing lead and the knowledge of it had an instant effect; they slowed, they had time to play with. The second group on the road had good riders, but they were only 14 and had little chance of making up a nearly four minute deficit. By Benwick, the first time check having been on Forty Foot, the chasers had clawed back a minute, but for the leaders the race was almost over.

They accelerated through the village and took the final bend fast. Too fast for one rider who slid to the deck taking another rider with him and causing all but one of the rest to brake hard. St Ives Rory was the man left standing and went on to take the win, Jake led the remainder home, his second place leaving him just 4 points shy of his 1st cat licence – that would have to wait until Alconbury.

23 riders finished. It was still raining, but David and Adrian seemed happy with their days marshalling work, despite the signals I had been getting on later laps. By the pub. Since the finish was outside the pub I brought them both a pint for their troubles, possibly not their first though.

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NCRA Rockingham Scratch Race


Joe, Jake and I were in the 2/3 race, David, Tom and Adrian in the 4ths. Our race started fast. Riders at the front were constantly trying to break off and time and again the bunch stretched. I kept near the middle and warmed up. I felt good despite the stiffness from helping shovel the new Alconbury circuit the previous night. Two riders broke away. More tried to follow and I even had a go, but each time they/we were brought back in. And none tried harder to bridge than Jake, but tonight he was a marked man. One of the pair up front was a Rhino and the rest of the team were covering every move Jake made. St Ives, Greenwheel and Welland Valley all had decent numbers and their riders were trying too, but most of the work was being done by Jake. Joe and I each had little digs off the front, but they made little impact.

Just before twenty minutes, the 4th cats were in sight. Jake anticipated the inevitable confusion from when we would catch and launched another attack, but again he was dragged back. After that the pace eased to a more social tempo with Rhino controlling the front. Having caught the 4ths we were now in danger of being caught by them – after the race Adrian said Rowland had been warning them to hold back!

Of course Rhino couldn’t control it forever and the attacks resumed as riders sought to hook up with the pair up front. St Ives’ Lee was the only one who had managed this, but he’d not been able to stay with them. With four laps to go I moved to near the front and sat third in wheel. I picked my moment then attacked. No response from the bunch. Half a lap and Johnny and another rider joined me. We started working together. We completed our first lap, but the bunch wound us in our second. Second claim Wayne, riding for Greenwheel attacked as soon as I was back I n the bunch, but he lasted for less time than my group had. I looked around for Jake only to learn he’d punctured. Then things wound up for the sprint. It was fast and sketchy, I lost my position near the front and found somewhere safer on the outside for the race to he line. I think Joe and I were just outside the top twenty, but it had been a good race.

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Cold War Clean-up


Thanks to Paul Gripton of Velo Club Chevaliers Bleus, the newly formed cycling club of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, closed circuit racing is coming to the old Alconbury Airbase this summer. Two evenings of racing are planned for 28th July and 18th August, but a bit of preparation work is needed first.

Alconbury grew from one of the many World War Two bases in to one of the big American cold war bases which once dotted East Anglia. Today the Phantoms and A10 Thunderbolts, which used to pair up and practice dummy attack runs on my school bus as it crossed the Fens, are long gone. The elegant F-5 Tiger fighter, gate guardian for the main entrance, still I think points to the sky.

I first visited the base as a teenager. We went bowling. We went to an overseas territory of the US of A slap bang in the middle of the Cambridgeshire countryside. We showed our passports and exchanged our pounds for dollars. We bought Hershey bars because they were an exotic novelty, not for the taste. The second time I went was over twenty years later racing in the Tour of Cambridgeshire; I only remember the wind and sleeping policemen. On Tuesday I went for the third time to help prepare the race circuit. Behind the new entrances I saw Alconbury airbase is still a peculiar and alien world. The great length of the runway is lined by giant walls of steel shipping containers. Ranks of brand new cars, regimented by make and model sit on the concrete, but the great whale backed humps of the hangers are still there, nestling like small, bomb hardened hills between high rise pallet towers. Other cold war relics are still there too; control towers, water towers, a derelict bus stop and miles and miles of barbed wire fencing. There’s always a reminder of what this site was.

Anyway the circuit. Much of the hardwork had already been done, but there was still enough to fill the evening. Tom, from the club, two Chevaliers and I teamed up to clear a section on the back of the course. It was part of the old perimeter road and we were tasked with unearthing the kerbs and clearing any other debris. It was satisfying work and bit by bit we cleared away two decades of accumulated neglect and muck. Hopefully we’ll get some heavy rain before Tuesday to wash the rest of the muck into the drains we uncovered. Overall the surface of the perimeter road is pretty good. The perimeter road ends abruptly with a tight 90 degree bend leaning back to the runway through a pallet canyon. From there the course is traced by cones through the cars. Then it is back to the perimeter via a fairly rough section, but probably no worse than many open roads. It should make for an interesting race, I’m looking forward to it.

Our section of the Perimeter road

Our section of the Perimeter road

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Rocko catch-up


The last two races have gone unblogged, well the first one got “lost” by a WordPress app crash and I couldn’t be bothered to re-write it or start the next one. Now I’m catching up, so a quick summary. I felt good in both races, worked well pulling my share of turns, but the groups never got organised – there were too many passengers. Worse some of the passengers could have helped, but couldn’t be bothered; I had just pulled a turn at the front and was drifting back. I noticed a gap in the line moving forward, so I called to the lad causing the gap to move up and close it. He replied, and with no shame, that he didn’t need to work because he had mates in the group behind so he would wait for them thank you very much. Rhino Paul suggested he might like to get out the way and sit at the back. This week was much better.

St Neots were represented by me and Michael in the 3rds and Tom in the 4ths. Jake was along too, but sporting a brand new Team Spirit kit. At the start of the year I thought his ambition to go from 4th to 1st in a season was just a young lads boast. He’s not there yet but I doubt he’ll be racing the 2/3/4 Rockingham races for much longer. He’s the got the talent and the drive, so its excellent news he now has a team behind him who can really begin to push his potential.

With the race under way we tried to get things organised. It took a lap or two but we sort of did. We had the usual passengers, but those of us who were willing to work, and there were enough of us willing, kept the pace sufficiently high that we started gaining on the 4ths. A very different story to the previous weeks chaos when we started losing time against them. We caught them before the thirds with points caught us. I felt a small sense of achievement in that catch but we didn’t have many free laps before the remaining thirds and seconds caught us.

With all groups together the attacks started in earnest. Jake made a solo break and Michael sat at the front to trying to give him more time. I was sat in the bunch watching and thinking perhaps he meant to solo to the end and do his new Spirit jersey justice but he sat up after half a lap! The pace stayed relentlessly high and riders were being dropped, Tom included. I stayed with it but was too far back to bother contesting for the sprint – I had been blocked a lap earlier and slipped back in the bunch. With the pace so fast it was a struggle to move forward, so I finished just outside the top 20. Jake finished 2nd, behind Rory Havis of St Ives, and Michael was just ahead of me. It was a good race and this time I really enjoyed it.

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Mungo’s Hi Fi feat. Pupa Jim – Bike Rider #cycling


“Everybody should ride bicycle.
Bike for me,
bike for you,
bike for everyone”

I’m sure we’ve all heard Queen’s Bicycle Race and Kraftwerk’s Tour de France. You may even have heard Chemical Brother’s Velodrome – theme for the Olympic Velodrome – it did slip rather unnoticed beneath the boards. But until Don Letts Glastonbury preview show over on BBC 6 Music, I had never heard the pure reggae joy of Bike Rider by Mungo’s Hi Fi feat. Pupa Jim. If I used headphones I would be skanking on my bike, but probably not a suitable stylee for the club run. Enjoy and thanks to Rich Broad for the link.

 

 

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NCRA Rockingham Speedway, Warming up


We were a dozen pointless 3rds group chasing a much larger 4th cat group. That group contained Adrian, David H and Tom – Michael and Kyle were chasing points over at the MK Bowl 4ths only race. Behind me, Jake was in the scratch group.

My group’s first twenty minutes were as close to perfection as you’re likely to get at Rocko. Our chain gang may not have been the most elegant, but we worked consistently from the start. Bit by bit we were closing down the 4ths. Five more minutes and we would have them. Except someone decided to demonstrate what big cojones they’ve got and attacked. A couple more chased him and within seconds he was back in and our group went dysfunctional. We lost our rhythm. Some of us tried to get the old mojo back, but it wasn’t happening. Instead a couple more decided to attack.

In the end a group of three split off. They made hard work of getting across – I should know because I was one of the few in our group still taking turns at the front. One lad – I thought he had been dropped because I hadn’t seen him for so long – found himself at the front and just sat up. Ian from Peterborough told him to do some work, or something to that effect (no swearing). He replied that one of his mates was in the group of three sitting between us and the 4ths. Seriously I thought, that’s your reason for not doing any work? You’ve got a bunch of stronger 3rds and 2nds bearing down on you, but you’re trying to protect your pal, whose trying to bridge to some 4ths and will get caught by the stronger 3rds and 2nds, by sitting in. Well, it is a tactic, I suppose.

The pointed thirds caught us and a couple of minutes later, at the head of my group I joined it to the 4th cats’. It was a relief; the last five minutes had been unnecessarily hard for most of us.

The next question was, could we stay away from the 2nds? The answer was three quarters of them. With 4 or 5 laps to go four of them caught us. Jake and bunch of the fast young lads were now in the main group.

On the last lap I kept towards the front. It was warm and I felt fitter than I had done all season. On the penultimate bend I was in the top 10, another rider separating me from Jake. A good position and, if I could hold it then points were on the cards. Approaching the last bend I was on the inside, but a stream of riders slipped by on my right. I got squeezed around the bend, but once round space opened up and I did the only thing I could. I sprinted and finished 14th, 12 places behind Jake and my best placing this year. The rest of the club riders finished safely in the bunch. Next week I’ll aim to get some points, although I might need to remind Jake he still owes me a lead out….

Over at the MK Bowl, Kyle and Michael took a St Neots one two. Overall a good evening’s circuit racing for the club.

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