The IG London Nocturne has frequently been a showcase for British talent and is set to be so again on Saturday night when tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to London’s historic Smithfield Market.
Team Sky have won the men’s elite criterium twice in the last two years, with Alex Dowsett and Ian Stannard both leading from start to finish (Dowsett even lapped the field en route to victory).
The British time trial champion will return on Saturday to the scene of his 2011 triumph as a Grand Tour stage winner, having ridden to victory on stage eight of last month’s Giro d’Italia.
Dowsett and his Movistar team-mate Benat Intxausti, another Giro stage winner, will face a strong challenge from the top domestic teams, who between them won each of the jersey competitions at last year’s Tour of Britain.
On Saturday, a new British team will take its place on the Nocturne start line. The Roger Hammond-managed Madison Genesis squad has quickly made an impression, winning its debut race, the indoor IG Nocturne at January’s London Bike Show, and is currently third in the team standings of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series, just four points behind second-placed Raleigh.
Britain’s newest UCI Continental squad, one of a handful of domestic teams registered to compete in the UCI EuropeTour, is a mix of youth and experience, and its twin-track approach is evident in the team’s provisional line-up for Saturday’s Smithfield encounter.
As a rider, you want to ride the biggest races against the biggest riders. The Smithfield Nocturne is definitely one of those races.
Andy Tennant, a world champion on the track, Dean Downing, a former national circuit race champion, and Ian Bibby, a former Premier Calendar champion and the man responsible for Madison Genesis’ debut victory, will lead the line for the Milton Keynes outfit.
But among the developing talent in their Nocturne squad will be Chris Snook, the sole member of the team holding down a full-time job as well as pursuing a racing career that has already seen him line up against some of the biggest names in the sport, including Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Snook describes his experiences to date with the team as “pretty surreal” and on Saturday will enjoy another slice of the big time. “As a rider, you want to ride the biggest races, against the biggest riders, with crowds,” he says. “The Smithfield Nocturne is definitely one of those races.”
Rewind a year and Snook was a promising amateur, riding in the biggest domestic races, the Lincoln GP and the national road race championships among them, and working in the role he retains, as press officer to his new team’s sponsor. When Madison decided to run a professional road team, Snook was handed a golden opportunity to fulfill his ambitions and develop his potential under the watchful eye of one of the best British riders of the last 20 years: Roger Hammond.
“Having Roger managing us is massive,” Snook says simply. The guidance of a rider who competed in cycling’s elite WorldTour for seven years is clearly one Snook values, and became apparent as early as the team’s first international race, the four-day Challenge Mallorca in February.
The challenge of Challenge Mallorca
Snook had researched the challenge of Challenge Mallorca online. The team sheet, containing some of the biggest names from cycling’s top tier, Sky Pro Cycling and Omega Pharma-QuickStep among them, provided inspiring reading. The rider list was no less daunting: Wiggins, Valverde, Cunego, Petacchi et al. “Hearing those names was like a dream come true,” Snook says. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also nervous.”
The team provided an early indication of Hammond’s pledge that Madison Genesis would not be racing simply to make up the numbers, and Snook highlights the accuracy of the manager’s pre-stage predictions on a host of details, ranging from sections of the parcours on which pressure would be applied to wind direction.
Bibby again delivered the best performance, racing to 10th place on the gruelling mountain stage, and finishing in the same group on the road as world time trial champion, Tony Martin. The Lancastrian was a member of last year’s all-conquering Endura Racing squad and a surprise omission from its graduation this year to the Pro Continental tier in a merger with NetApp. But he is not alone among the established talents at Madison Genesis, and along with Tennant, Downing, and Liam Holohan, has taken on a leadership role in the team, according to Snook, who highlights Downing’s willingness to share the benefits of his experience.
“Dean Downing has been great in sharing his experience with the newer riders such as myself,” says Snook. ” Sometimes they are just small tips, like how to move through the race convoy – things that stop you panicking and wasting a lot of energy.”
Downing has twice come within inches of victory at this year’s Pearl Izumi Tour Series, at Stoke-on-Trent and Torquay, and Snook is backing him to bag a victory in the remaining few weeks of the series. Downing’s results, and those of his team-mates (Tennant was fourth in Durham, Stoke-on-Trent and Aberystwyth, Holohan second in Redditch) have helped to propel the team to third in the team standings behind the established squads of Raleigh and Team UK Youth. As an employee of the sponsor, Snook is aware of the value of a high position in the team classification, but as a rider has a keen understanding of the desire for an individual win.
Dean has been great in sharing his experience with the newer riders such as myself. Sometimes they are just small tips, like how to move through the race convoy – things that stop you panicking and wasting a lot of energy.
Snook has been deployed by Hammond in one-day road races, rather than the Tour Series, and has raced in two of the toughest: the Rutland Melton Classic and the Lincoln GP. Saturday’s Nocturne, however, will reacquaint him with the intensity of crit racing. Snook describes the Nocturne as one following a “unique formula”. The offer of night-time racing in front of huge crowds on the streets of one of the world’s major capitals makes it an irresistible lure, even for the best overseas riders.
The draw of the Nocturne to a British champion and former winner, whatever his success on the international stage, is perhaps easy to understand. But Snook highlights the presence of Dowsett’s team-mate, the Spaniard, Intxausti, wearer of the maglia rosa at the 2013 Giro d’Italia, as well as the winner of stage 16, as evidence of the international appeal of racing under lights in the City. “The Smithfield Nocturne is a pretty unique event,” he says, one that will offer him another encounter with world cycling’s elite.
“Excited!” he tells us, when confirming his selection. When the flag falls on Saturday night, and nearly 60 riders roll off the Smithfield start-line, he won’t be the only one.