I remember how excited I was, going to watch city centre cycling in Birmingham in the early- to mid-1980s, as a teenager who’d recently fallen in love with the sport. Do you remember the Kelloggs series, which was televised on Channel 4? Riders such as Joey McLoughlin (for some reason, always my favourite), Steve Joughin, John Herety, Malcolm Elliott, Alan Peiper, Sean Yates – most of the European-based British and Australian riders would ride, including occasionally the really big stars such as Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche; I remember seeing my hero Robert Millar one year, and the great Australian Phil Anderson too. I’d go with my cycling mates (Pete Young, Steve Sollis, Andy Betts … are any of you guys still out there?!) to see these professional riders, who we of course respected big-time, race really close-up. It was just brilliant to see some of the best bike riders in the world hurling themselves around our home-town centre, time after time, and to be there to cheer them on. And then we’d rush home to watch the race again, on TV – I think the series was raced and screened on a Friday night, maybe? There’s a real drama to crits, and when it’s top riders in your city, riding the streets upon which you often pedal, the drama is simply magnificent.
So of course I’m absolutely thrilled that – following the efforts of a whole team of people, and on the back of the rising profile of cycling not just nationally but also in our district specifically – city centre cycling is now coming to my adopted home town of Lancaster.
The action is on Friday 22nd June, the day in which the Olympic torch passes through north Lancashire. Here’s some spiel I’ve just sent out to the local media in order to publicise the event. If you’re in the area, you might want to come along and get a taste of the action.
What promises to be a thrilling evening of racing starts at Dalton Square at 7pm. There are two races, each lasting just under an hour. In the second race, stating at 8pm, top riders from across the district will compete with elite cyclists from further afield, in what’s sure to be a super fast and hard-fought spectacle. Riders must tackle the steep climb out of Dalton Square, short straights, tight corners, and lots of cobbles as they complete lap after lap of a one kilometre city centre circuit at high speeds, sometimes likely to be in excess of 40 miles per hour.
With a beer and food tent, live race commentary, and lots of activities in Dalton Square, it’s the perfect way to gear up for the Olympics, which starts with the Men’s Cycling Road Race just over a month later. In the London race BBC Sports Personality of the Year Mark Cavendish has a real chance of bagging Britain’s first gold medal. Everyone is welcome to get in the mood locally, and to roll up to watch the action, which is not only free but also sure to be a compelling evening’s entertainment for all the family.
Lots of local businesses are generously supporting the event, with a big range of great prizes to the best riders in both races on the night. The route will showcase some of the splendours of Lancaster’s historic city centre, with the focus on Dalton Square and the Town Hall. It’s hoped the evening will be the first of a regular annual cycling event, raising the district’s profile, particularly as a place in which it’s great to cycle.
It’s come about through the initiative and enthusiasm of a range of local cycling groups, alongside the support of Lancaster City Council. A big team of volunteers, all eager to support cycling in the heart of their city, is ready and raring to go, to make the event run smoothly, and be a big success on the night.
Fingers’ crossed for fine weather and a big crowd. And for this being just the start, with bigger and better still to come. With Team Sky’s amazing results so far this year, local hero Bradley Wiggins riding spectacularly well, the Tour de France just around the corner, and the Olympics following soon after, I think it’s probably true to say that cycle racing has never enjoyed such a high-profile in Britain. So if you’re in the Lancaster area on 22nd June, be sure to come and get a feel for the sport, and a sense of what all the fuss is about. I guarantee you’ll love it.