Cycling in Britain, we’re regularly assured, is on the march – Team Sky’s back-to-back Tour de France victories, continuous success on the track for the national team, and thousands lining the route for this month’s inaugural Women’s Tour only the most recent evidence of a seemingly unstoppable trend.
But the success of British riders in international competition is only half the story. Teams competing on the domestic circuit become slicker, faster, and more professional each season, with squads like Madison-Genesis and debutants NFTO proving that well-funded commitment to success is not limited to the WorldTour.
A revamp of the domestic calendar ensued over the winter, but the heart of the British domestic scene remains the Tour Series – fast-paced, inner city criteriums held up and down the country for six weeks from May through June each summer.
This year’s Series is in full-swing, with Durham the latest stop, and RCUK mingled with riders and the thousands of punters crammed into the picturesque and historic city to watch as Jon Mould (NFTO) sprinted to victory.
The route in Durham is quite unlike many of the others faced on the Tour Series – furious descents, cobbled secteurs and a sharp, narrow climb make it among the toughest on the circuit.
South Street is its Koppenberg, and it certainly attracted a lot of fans lining the road side.
“It is brutal,” former British champion Kristian House (Rapha Condor-JLT) reliably informed me. “It wears people down. At the beginning, you hit it and even the best are thinking, wow, this is pretty tough.”
The gurning and straining that took place on the climb certainly lends proof to those claims.
The beauty of the events is that, being a fast and furious, evening criterium there is rarely a lull in the action and there is plenty of opportunity to just head along after work and see some of the biggest British domestic names.
For some, it means Olympic champions Ed Clancy (Rapha Condor-JLT) and Steven Burke (Haribo Beacon) haring past your front door – and there were plenty taking advantage of that.
One student house en route had pitched kitchen chairs, a barbeque and a large speaker outside to ensure they got prime viewing.
Pubs were also proving to be hugely popular, with crowds packed both inside and out during the hour and five laps of racing.
The paddock offered fans the chance to check out the steeds of their favourite riders and then it is onto the racing, which certainly lived up to its fast and furious billing.
Great Britain’s Chris Lawless was quickest out of the blocks, setting the first ‘fastest lap’ – a mark which proved to be unbeatable for the rest of the race.
The cobbled ascent of South Street took its toll on some of the riders almost immediately, huge gaps forming early in the race – though the crowd cheered, applauded and hammered the boards as fervently for the back markers as they did those at the front.
Of those at the front, perennial Durham contender House – who proved to be a popular figure with the fans all night – was among those pulling hard.
Graham Briggs (Rapha Condor JLT), Raleigh duo Mathieu Boulo and Morgan Kniesky, Mould, Marcin Bialobocki (Node4-Velosure) and the latter’s team-mate, George Harper, completed the group, each performing big shifts on the front.
Mould, in the sprint leader’s jersey, swept up the three intermediate sprints – beating Briggs on each occasion – but no rider was able to earn a solo gap, House playing the role of spoiler and keeping the group together.
The constant stream of action means the 30 laps or so they race pass very quickly, the lead motorbike distinguishing the front runners from those battling only to finish the race in the highest possible position.
Before long, the back markers are taken out for the final five laps and it is on to the action at the front – where Mould and Briggs remained to contest the stage win.
Briggs led the sprint out but – having missed out in round four in Aberystwyth in similar fashion – Mould pipped him to the line for his second individual win of this year’s series.
Team honours, meanwhile, went to Raleigh though Rapha Condor-JLT held on to their leaders’ jerseys for Thursday’s round in Edinburgh.
It was a great end to a great evening in front of a great crowd – but do not just take our word for it.
Durham debutant Mould told RCUK post-race: “It’s been a really good night actually. It was really nice to get my hands in the air after being pipped on the line on Friday. It was a really good race and a really good end to it.
“It’s the first time I’ve done Durham, and everyone said how hard it was and it definitely was hard tonight.
“It’s been really good – I’m not going to complain about getting my hands in the air.”
If the evidence of Durham is anything to go by, British Cycling is indeed in rude health and with rounds to come in Edinburgh, Redditch, Canary Wharf, Woking and Jersey there is plenty more to come as far as the Tour Series action is concerned.
Tour Series: round five (Durham) – result
1) Jon Mould (GBR) – NFTO Pro Cycling
2) Graham Briggs (GBR) – Rapha Condor JLT
3) Matthieu Boulo (FRA) – Team Raleigh
4) Kristian House (GBR) – Rapha Condor JLT
5) Marcin Bialoblocki (POL) – Node4 Velosure
6) Morgan Kniesky (FRA) – Team Raleigh
7) George Harper (GBR) – Node4 Velosure
8) Mike Northey (NZL) – Madison Genesis
9) Evan Oliphant (GBR) – Team Raleigh
10) Steve Lampier (GBR) – Node4 Velosure
Overall team standings
1) Rapha Condor JLT – 64pts
2) Madison Genesis – 54pts
3) NFTO Pro Cycling – 48pts
4) Team Raleigh – 47pts
5) Node4 Velosure – 34pts
6) Metaltek Kuota – 29pts
7) Great Britain – 27pts
8) Starley Primal Pro Cycling – 22pts
9) Pedal Heaven Colbornes – 17pts