Sunday April 17th 2016
Saturday April 16th we made our way north up the A1 to join the madness and excitement of the intense competition that is the National Youth Circuit Series. My son Max was one of six u14 boys, one u16 girl and five u16 boys from LVYCC who had their entries accepted for the race. There was plenty of rain as we travelled on Saturday, and at least 4 bouts of hail but the sun was just about shining as we arrived at Hetton for a reccy late afternoon. Max had never raced this circuit before so wanted to try out riding it before the craziness of the race. The park is developed on a former coal mine, and reminded me a bit of the first scenes in Billy Elliott with high up terraced houses and headlands. It was certainly a scenic place to ride, but the cycle track is fairly narrow and very twisty and undulating – it seemed challenging, particularly as it had puddles and mud right across it in places at that point. There was however a perfectly positioned playground in view of the finish line which was perfect to contain 5 year old Leo.
Reccy complete we travelled a few miles to Durham for a pleasant night in a Premier Inn – surrounded by other racers, mainly from the Isle of Man. There were many racing bikes travelling the corridors for safe storage in rooms.
Sunday was sunny – and probably as warm as Hetton ever gets in April as there was comparitively little wind to the day before. We got there early, got a good parking spot and walked the circuit – several volunteers out with brooms sweeping off the puddles. Barriers were going up, catering vans had arrived, transponder line and lap board was going in. No beautiful judging box – just a couple of cars and a gazebo. We are very lucky at Redbridge. Unfortunately last minute hiccups meant the LVYCC gazebo remained in London but the Dale family camper van provided a useful warm up spot. The u14 boys were the second race of the day – due to start at 12:15. By 12:10 all LVYCC riders were on the start line, Dexter and Ritchie perfectly positioned right at the front. Max not so perfectly positioned right at the back. Then came the news that a footballer had broken his leg on the pitch higher up in the park. The race medics were helping out and they needed to keep the track clear for an ambulance to take him out. After 20 minutes or so the boys were released from the start and told to come back at 1pm. This started round 2 of the battle for start positions – some returned to previous warm up spots, other positioned rollers on the start line. It was like a very slow motion rugby scrum – there is no gridding for the first race of the series, the Hetton track is narrow and difficult for moving through the bunch – in theory lap one was going to be neutralised behind the motorbikes but this wasn’t cutting it with the riders. They knew they needed to be near the front and were going all out to get there. At 1pm the start was delayed for a further half hour. Now pretty much all riders were either on rollers on/behind or in front of the start line or standing in coats trying to manoeuvre into positions.
Fortunately at 1:30 the torment was ended, the ambulance left the course and the race began – shortened by 5 laps. Alex won a front line spot, Max and Ritchie had to make do with the back. There was a small cheer as the riders optimistically standing in front of the start line or on the grass were also sent to the back.
During the race I stood in the pits praying Max did not get a rear wheel puncture, as a Team Sky mechanic I am not. From this view point I could see the bunch fly past 17 times, gradually getting smaller and smaller, and listen to the Isle of Man coaches working out exactly how they were going to get all riders and bikes off the course, into the minibuses and off to the ferry on time. I know two unlucky riders were caught up in a crash on a puddle during the neutral lap at the other side of the course from the pits as the commissaire came across asking for wheels – unfortunately this meant the end of Welwyn rider Oli Stockwell’s race. Wish him better luck next time. First year u14s Alex and Luke, riding to build experience for next year, were the first Lee Valley riders to lose the bunch. Ritchie became part of a second bunch behind the leaders. Oscar Nilsson Julien from VC Londres made a fantastic 5 lap breakaway and Dexter put in a massive effort to try and get to him, his words: “I was trying to bridge across to Oscar but wasn’t getting any help, so I just burnt myself out and blew a couple of laps later’. Harrison and Max held in the bunch till the end. Max spent most of the race riding towards the back of the bunch, managing to dodge the multiple crashes as increasing numbers of riders dropped off the back. Harrison, however, was not so lucky; crashing on the second to last lap, going over his handlebars, but still managing to carry on, more annoyed than hurt. Max, in his back of the bunch position, got delayed behind a separate last lap crash, he eventually finished 20th and Harrison 27th. Fantastic efforts from all of them and my brief description doesn’t tell the full story – I could only see snatches of action. They finished covered in mud looking like they’d rode Paris-Roubaix.
I saw the start of the shortened u16 girls race, with Mily Knight riding for LVYCC. We couldn’t stay and watch – needed to start the mammoth journey home but Mily reports it was a large field – almost 70. She stayed with the bunch for the first half the race. There were a number of attacks and a frequent change in pace, instigated by some of the many teams riding. Unfortunately Mily began to suffer from cramp and slowly lost contact with the bunch. However she was pleased with her performance, having now moved up to youth A where the standard at National level is way above what she has been doing at regional level.
The u16s boys race began at 4:30 and was also shortened, to 35 miles. I know there were plenty of crashes but we didn’t see any of it as we had to go and face the A1. Got home 9:30pm, exhausted but with a happy holiday feeling. It was worth it, I loved the community feeling and family team effort.