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Over the last couple of winters we’ve tracked down and spoken to some of the ‘greats’ of British cyclo-cross, John Atkins, Keith Mernickle, Chris Wreghitt and Barry Davies to name four. But our Spanish mentor, Al Hamilton pointed out to us that we hadn't spoken to the man who won the title seven times in the 80’s and 90’s – Steve Douce.
The European Cyclo-Cross Championships were held in Pont Chateau, France last weekend. ‘A Flatlands Fest, no doubt’ I hear you say. Well, the Ladies’ race was won by Thalita De Jong of the Netherlands; the U23 Men’s went to Quinten Hermans of Belgium and in a tactical Elite race former past and present World Champions, Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands) and Wout Van Aert (Belgium) finished second and third respectively behind Toon Aerts of - Belgium. But to break the Benelux monopoly, the junior race was won by an English rider, 17 years-old Thomas Pidcock from Leeds.
The Skol Six Day 1980, Wembley, London and I'm down to watch those brilliant late night chases, along with Sandy Gilchrist, Phil Griffiths and Stuart Sutherland. We're staying with a larger than life Londoner called Johnny Morris. Griffiths has the patter and the cheek but he he's no match for Johnny - a tousle-haired bear of a man who sells loft conversions and who's greeted as a king when we appear at the Indian restaurant each night, en route back from the Six; with his Jag parked outside at a jaunty angle on the double yellow lines on the corner, just beside the traffic lights. Needless to say, he didn’t get a ticket.
“James Spragg,” now there’s a name which hasn’t appeared in our pages for a while - but he’s back in harness and doing nicely thank you with some solid performances. We first came across James back in 2010 when he rode for the Qin Cycling Team and he's with Continental Team, Champion System for 2015 and back in the groove with some good results – like 10th on GC in the recent Baltic Chain stage race in Estonia.
All you’ll read about for the foreseeable future are Porte, Aru, Uran and Contador – plus others who the press will ‘big up’ to make it seem like someone other than those four can win. But of course, there isn’t. So if you’ll forgive us if we’re going back to a time when our champions didn’t Tweet but had much more worth talking about - Germany's Mike Kluge is our man; quality road rider, triple World Cyclo-Cross Champion, top mountain bike rider and equipment innovator – he’s the man who started Focus bikes in 1992.
John Atkins is Britain’s greatest ever cyclo-cross rider; 13 times a British champion and still the nation’s best ever finisher in the Worlds – and at a time when ‘cross gods, the de Vlaeminck brothers were at their zenith. He lives quietly in retirement in Wales, doesn’t ‘do the internet’ and isn’t a man for the ‘stats.’ He was surprised we wanted to speak to him but gave freely of his time and anecdotes. Here’s what John had to say to VeloVeritas just after young van der Poel had won the Worlds in Tabor.
These last few winters we’ve tracked down some of those colourful British cyclo-cross stars of the 70’s and 80’s – Keith Mernickle, Eric Stone and Chris Wreghitt have all told their stories to VeloVeritas. But perhaps the most colourful of them all was the man with the ‘George Best Look’ and the lightest of bikes – Barry Davies.
Unfortunately, VeloVeritas didn’t make it to the 2014 Scottish Cyclo-Cross Championships; it took that nice big colour shot of Rab Wardell (Orange Monkey Pro Team) in ‘Sportivs and Lance DVD Sales Weekly’ (aka 'The Comic' - or Cycling Weekly) to remind us of the error of our ways. We soon had the man who’s forsaken tarmac for mud and single track on the end of the phone...
We're at the Gent Six Day, and of course, the pils still gets the better of a few of the ‘don’t get out much brigade.’ Friday night didn’t see the best madison chase ever, and on a unanimous decision we headed for frites – and beer. We love the Vivaldi, the landlady, the crazy clientele, the 70’s Disco and the fact that no matter how late we stay, we’ve never seen closing time... And the Saturday of the Gent Six Day means just one thing – the big ‘cross at Koksijde.
Back in the 70’s when ‘The Comic’ was virtually the only source of information on bike racing during the winter there were comprehensive reports on ‘cross and the Six Days over the winter months. There was a man whose face graced the magazine most weeks during the 'cross season – Eric Stone, a wiry ex-runner who made the top 20 in the Worlds six times including a top ten result.
It's almost time for Nys, Albert, van der Haar, Meeusen - and not forgetting Ian Field of course - to chuck the 'cross bikes in the coal shed for the summer and head for the beach. We thought we might have one last look at this highlight of the 'cross season through the eyes of a man who was right there in the mud of Hoogerheide - New Zealand's Angus Edmond - before we draw the curtain on another great winter of cyclocross.
It’s always good to see fellow Scots doing 'the business', especially when it involves bringing home a nice new national champion’s jersey. MTB cum hill climb star Grant Ferguson was the man on this occasion; he took time to talk to VeloVeritas about his winning ride in the British U23 Cyclo-Cross championships. He did get his Worlds ‘cross tip wrong, though – but so did most of us.
The Czech Republic's Radomir Simunek junior shares his name with his father who remains the only man ever to be a world champion at junior, amateur and professional cyclocross levels. Radomir senior died tragically early at just 48 years-of-age in 2010. Young Radomir has been a runner up in the Worlds at both Junior and U23 levels but has had the misfortune to be a round at the same time as his countryman Zdenek Stybar – one of the most gifted cyclocross performers in the sport’s history.
There’s a man from Berlin who has to be viewed as a podium possible for the 2014 Worlds in Hoogerheide; 26 year-old Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus). This winter has seen him consistently on the podium in the World Cups, rubbing shoulders with the very best – Nys, Albert, Van Der Haar and all the rest. Philipp took time out from the hectic Xmas/New Year ‘cross frenzy’ to talk to VeloVeritas.
Within only 23 minutes of the Dig In at the Dock Cyclocross race going live on the internet, it sold out of it's first 100 places. The organisers were tasked with looking through the list of around 60 riders on the waiting list to select 30 who they felt could add even more sparkle and fun to the now increasingly popular season ending one for all bike race.
A pictorial summary of the Gent Six Day and our trip to the Koksijde Cyclocross race in the beach dunes of Flanders. At the track, it took me back to the days when I stood on the apron, bottles at the ready for Kris to hand up – but not too much in them so they don’t splash when the rider grabs them - just taking in the speed, noise, music, heat, people and that Gent buzz - high as a kite on the Gent Six Days.
Sometimes you time an interview just right and your subject goes out and does something big right after it. Take British cyclo-cross champion Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) – or should that be, ‘Field de Brit’ as they say in the Flatlands. We spoke to him on Wednesday and on Friday his coach Dan Fleeman of DigDeep Coaching called us to tell us that he’d pulled off a ‘biggie’ – 13th in the Koppenbergcross after leading for the first two laps and a puncture with two laps to go.
Demonstrating that the Scottish 'Cross scene is in burgeoning good shape, there were lots of riders in each category at the Scottish Cyclo-Cross Championships, with the Senior riders going off last and enjoying the nicely churned course in drying but ever-colder conditions.
With the bell approaching, Grant Ferguson finally made his move and he broke clear, able to stretch his lead to around half a minute at the finish line, as he claimed his first national Cyclo Cross title.
‘When I were lad,’ the ‘Comic’ (Cycling Weekly) was different – come the winter there was proper coverage of the Six Days and cyclo-cross. It was hard to be unaware of what was happening in the ‘cross’ world – even 40 years later, I can remember John Atkins, Barry Davies, Chris Dodd, Ian Jewell and – Keith Mernickle.
The current state of British cyclo-cross is perhaps similar to how the road scene was before the days of Peter Keen, lottery money, 'the Plan,' David Brailsford and Sky came along. No real development system, just the odd talented individual who forces their way through but the rider who perhaps aroused the most excitement was a tall young man called Chris Wreghitt.
Whenever there is a long gap between me writing blogs it usually means I have been really busy training and racing hard. This time is no different! I ended the last blog on the disappointment of the Koppenberg Cross and as I mentioned next up would be the Superprestige at Hamme. I got a really good weeks training in between the two races and morale was high as my girlfriend was able to come and visit for just over a week.
It seems like a lifetime ago that we (that's the 'royal we' i.e me, Helen Wyman and hubby Stef) were packing the car and heading off for the first world cup of the season in Aigle, Switzerland.
On a freezing, grey, Sunday afternoon on the frost hardened grass and mud of Dundee's Caird Park, Scotland's newest professional, Ross Creber gave his sponsors, Plowman Craven their first national cyclo-cross title. The slim mountain biker was head and shoulders above the rest; a gutsy ride from Greig Walker (Edinburgh RC) gave him the silver medal ahead of junior, Kenta Gallacher (Team 777) who took bronze.
We all dream about it (or have dreamt about it) but 20 year-old South Quensferry man, Ross Creber has done it-put pen to paper on a pro contract, with Plowman Craven. VeloVeritas were on the phone, before the ink was dry...
'Scottish Aussie,' Paul Rowney (Velo Ecosse) rode Sunday's British Elite Cyclo-Cross Championship; we caught up with him [hands"“free, of course] as he chased the cat's eyes north after the race.
Craig Hardie (Dunfermline CC) disproved the old adage that; "a good big 'un, will always beat a good little 'un," when the 37 year-old from Dalgety Bay left his much-taller rival Dan Whitehead several lengths back to win the Scottish Cyclo-Cross Championships 2007 on a snowy and technical circuit at Plean Country Park.