After what seemed like
an extraordinarily long time away from the front lines, I finally returned to
race action on the weekend.
I had decided in my
infinite wisdom that a holiday in Italy would be a much better option for July than
slogging it out in the Czech Tour, and as such I hadn't actually turned a pedal
in anger since the National Road Race Championships, one whole Tour de France
It was good then to
throw myself back into the sharp end at the National Criterium Championships on
Friday night. The 'Crit' champs are a little bit of a quirky anomaly in the
grand world scheme of cycling. To the English speaking nations - principally
the UK, US & Australia, criterium racing is a big thing.
The domestic scenes in
each of these countries is dominated by criteriums; in Australia there are
crits throughout the summer months and no road races whatsoever, in the US they
package bike races like wrestling matches and are constantly going to do races
called the 'So-and-so Downtown Crit',
and in the UK, of course, the Halfords Tour Series is the closest thing we have
to the big time.
In Europe however
criteriums are something of a sideshow, a close-up display of cycling: pure
exhibition. Occasionally they serve as a supporting event to warm up the crowd,
watching amateurs while they await the arrival of the big boys who are off
riding the real race in the countryside for hours on end. It is no secret that
I am not a big fan of this kind of racing, and over the years I did adopt this negative
attitude toward these races.
I do have to admit
that while I might not be into these races myself, I have immense respect for
the guys who do love to race them. We have some of the best guys in the country
at this particular discipline in our team and it's a pleasure on nights like
Friday to see just how they work.
The thing is criterium
racing is truly a speciality with its own set of challenges; they are so quick,
so fast that the room for error is tiny, and the intensity on the races is like
nothing else. While some road riders can turn their hand to it, it takes a
certain kind of rider to actually love these races. In my mind these are the Peter
Pan characters of cycling: they just won't grow up.
They exhibit all the
traits of the gung-ho 19-year-old; they are fast, able to attack endlessly and
recover in no time at all, they have no fear - diving into corners, scraping
their knuckles on crash barriers lap after lap. They simply love the weaving,
jumping, ducking, swashbuckling, fast-finishing style of racing that I thought
I had left behind when I got my first racing licence that allowed me to race on
the open road.
I was thinking this
very thought (albeit in a distilled version) on Friday night as I rounded the
top corner on the circuit, a brick wall falling away on my right- beckoning me
to lean ever closer, my tyres kissing the ground at an angle that only allowed
the slightest contact, and a sweaty guy leaning so close into me that the
moisture from his breath was condensing on my glasses.
I concluded as I
rounded the bend, pulling myself upright and launching out of the saddle to try
to close every single centimetre of naked tarmac between my front wheel and the
back wheel of the rider in front, until I was close enough for them to mate, that
these guys might be mad, but my word they are good at it.
Hats off, then, to
Graham Briggs (pictured) the 2011 National Criterium Champion, who coincidentally proved
my theory (by returning from his honeymoon only days before the race) that: A
happy bike rider is a fast bike rider (in any discipline).