There are less appealing places to hold a bike race than Canary Wharf on a warm evening in June.
The gleaming towers of London’s business district, a modern but no less opulent interpretation of the Square Mile, hosts the eighth round of the 2013 Pearl Izumi Tour Series: a 1.1km loop among the Docklands satellite of the world’s financial powerhouses.
Glorious sunshine lights the scene, and the polished team cars lined up on Canada Square wink their approval. The bicycles are no less immaculately prepared, but look closely and the scars of racing are readily apparent. These are not show bikes.
Riders warm up on rollers in the spaces between and around the cars and spare bikes. Team Raleigh’s Graham Briggs, a former national circuit race champion and a compact sprinter built on Cavendish lines, busies himself with last minute preparations, adjusting his skin suit, gulping a gel, and radiating nervous energy.
Magnus Backstedt (MG-Maxifuel) is given the honour of leading the peloton for two laps, having announced his retirement in Canary Wharf. Big Maggy has done big service to British racing, never giving less than his all, and giving British fans a glimpse of a Paris-Roubaix winner. With a distinguished career drawing to a close, his competitors show their appreciation, and Backstedt takes his bow with dignity.
Big Maggy has done big service to British racing, never giving less than his all and giving British fans a glimpse of a Paris-Roubaix winner. He takes his bow with dignity
The race starts at a leisured pace, with eventual winner, Chris Opie (Team UK Youth), the first to show a desire to ignite proceedings, riding ahead of the bunch for several laps. Opie’s employer, team owner Nigel Mansell, the 1992 Formula One world champion, takes his place in the paddock on an evening where his charges ride in the red jerseys of team series leaders, and strengthen their hold on that competition by placing a further three riders in the top 10 behind Opie.
Rapha Condor Sharp hold a watching brief with Kristian House taking frequent turns at the head of the bunch without showing a desire to attack. The team’s double Olympic champion, Ed Clancy, will contest the final sprint tonight, providing a delayed explanation for House’s early restraint. Felix English, the team’s rising star, also holds a place towards the head of the field, but a contrast in riding styles gives the appearance of the younger rider expending greater effort to do so. English is a picture of concentration, positioned low over the bike as he sweeps through the first of two 90 degree right-handers at Canada Square, focused intently on maintaining position; House, by contrast, takes turns on the front as if by right, languidly towing a strung out line of riders behind him.
The orange jerseys of Node4-Giordana mass at the front with three laps to go as the commentator calls for all lapped riders to leave the circuit. For those unable to keep pace, it has been a long evening. IG Sigma-Sport’s Ross Edgar has been a study in determination. An Olympic silver medalist in the keirin in 2008, he has found the Tour Series a different proposition. Dropped early at Canary Wharf, he has ridden alone, been lapped, and rejoined the back of the group. It must be a frustrating experience for a rider of Edgar’s proven talent, but he rides on, perhaps in the knowledge that should he master the crit rider’s art, his track star speed in the final 200 metres would leave even the fastest road men fighting to hold his wheel.
Ross Edgar has suffered a frustrating evening for a rider of his proven track talent but rides on in the knowledge that should he master the crits, his speed in the final 200 meteres would leave even the fastest road men fighting to hold his wheel
The bell sounds for the final lap, acting as a starting signal for an impromptu foot race among the team mangers with riders in contention. Raleigh’s Cherie Pridham and Dave Povall (Team UK Youth) are two of the ‘competitors’ who sprint for a place in the final corner before the pit area, crouched down and pressed against the track side of the crowd barrier for the best view of the final sprint unfolding on the approaching straight, leaving them inches from the exhausted riders who sweep past seconds later.
Music blares from the PA system, the announcer calls for a final cheer from the crowds massed on the North Colonnade and the support crew manning the podium ready themselves for the presentations. The energy in Canada Square has transferred to the opposite side of the barrier. The riders have expended all they had to give; now the support crew moves into action. Riders slump variously in chairs and on the ground. Briggs searches for a place to rid himself safely on his machine, and opts to prop it by the pedal against a kerb inside the Raleigh pit area.
The British public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for road racing has been satisfied again tonight. A love affair that blossomed fully at last year’s Tour of Britain shows no sign of fading. A further three rounds of the Tour Series will be crammed in before the end of June, and on Saturday thousands of people are expected at London’s Smithfield Market for the IG Nocturne. 2012 was branded ‘year of the bike’, an appealing tag, but one suggesting an end point. This year might prove that the events of a golden 12 months for British cycle sport were just the beginning.