Firstly, the definition of a criterium from a man of my acquaintance; ‘a bunch of guys turn up, they ride round in circles for an hour, one of them wins then they all go home’ – it’s hard to argue with…
But things have changed a lot in 45 years, that’s how long it is since attended my first ‘pro crit’ in Edinburgh; well, almost Edinburgh – Ingliston Motor Racing Circuit, actually.
It was round eight of The Yellow Pages Criterium Series, September 1971 – jings – I really am getting old…
‘Lack of co-operation by the authorities’ was cited by ‘Cycling’ magazine back in 1971 as to why the race couldn’t actually take place in Town.
How things have changed – with the Tour Series crit taking place right in the heart of the city on a Thursday evening.
Amateur Road Worlds silver medallist in 1966 and fourth placed in the 1970 Pro Road Worlds, the legendary Les West (Holdsworth-Campagnolo) won at Ingliston in 1:21:5 for the 37 miles from quick sprinter, Jim Moore (Bantel) and double Six Day race winner (London with Sercu and Montreal with Motta) – and in line for the award of Britain’s grumpiest cyclist – Tony Gowland (TI Carlton) was third.
Andy McGhee (VC Phoenix) won the 10 mile amateur event from Andy Sinclair and Sandy Gordon.
And as I recall my Kirkcaldy & District club mate, Rab Speirs won the schoolboy race, or maybe he was second ?
There was another round of the series the next night in Glasgow, I didn’t make it to that one; apparently it involved dead turns but had a good crowd of some 3,500 – Ingliston was sparsely attended, albeit those that were there came up with 18 quid in primes.
Geoff Wiles, another Holdsworth-Campag man, won on Kelvin Way from Reg Smith and Ray Barker (both Bantel); Andy McGhee again won the amateur race but no info. on the schoolboy race I’m afraid.
Recollections from readers who were there are most welcome…
“But hey – enough with the war stories, big man” I hear you say, what about the Grassmarket race?
I had my shades on as I drove happily up from Portobello and abandoned the van in a side street – the forecasters had it wrong, it wasn’t going to be a deluge, it was a lovely night.
Then the big black clouds rolled across the castle just as the renners rolled for their first lap, the skies opened and my shades looked pretty stupid stuck on top of my bald head as Scotland did what it does best – rains.
‘Location scouting’ – us as would be photogs are prone to say – was shelved in favour of those two basics of survival, keeping warm and dry.
So forgive me if most of my pics are from the same spot but eventually even a Nikon packs in if you get it too wet.
First up, ‘constructive criticism’ – that’s ‘moans’ in other words.
The Public Address system was great in the Grassmarket but why not extend it around the circuit so the spectators knew what the heck was happening?
With the field splintering so early and comprehensively it was hard to keep tabs on who was where.
And on that subject, what’s wrong with frame numbers so rider identification is simpler?
As for the programme… it contained a list of all the possible participants from each team over the series but they were not necessarily in this race – nor were the local riders.
At the lowliest Belgian village kermis, the old guy in the race HQ – always a cafe – with the tank top, bad wig and beer to hand enters each rider’s name into his laptop as they sign on, when the sign on closes he hits ‘print’ and a wee portable printer bangs out a wheen of start sheets which are then sold at one Euro to the spectators.
If you’re lucky, Freddy, the ‘Programmas Man’ is on hand to pedal his old bike round the circuit bellowing; ‘programmas!’ – flag him down and buy one. Simples!
Surely with all that Tour Series organisation and tech they could do the same – inserting the start sheet into the three quid programme?
And the circuit is just too tough; the race ceased to be a spectacle after a couple of laps and became a procession of drowned rats.
For a crit to be spectacular it needs to be gutter to gutter, handlebar to handlebar – that circuit does not produce that kind of race.
And like Willard says to the GI in the movie ‘Apocalypse Now!’ – ‘do you know who’s in charge here, soldier?’
It’s a crit, it’s not Flanders or Lombardia, it’s a city centre crit about entertainment – there should be a ‘Capo’ who says how it’s going to be conducted.
The Scottish guys should be in an early move so the crowd gets to see their local heroes – just the first 15/20 minutes, Briggs would still have plenty of time to destroy everyone.
The thing with riders like Briggs is that they are very good at what they do, training specifically for these one hour efforts and riding bikes adapted to crit racing with high brackets – it’s hard for English road pros to beat them never mind Scottish riders used to slogging across the moors in wind and rain.
It didn’t look good for the Scottish guys to get depth charged straight off; even though it was inevitable if no one was choreographing things.
On the positive side – bearing in mind the organisers can do nothing about our Scottish weather – the GB pro teams certainly look the part with cool vehicles, matching kit and bikes.
It was also cool to see a classy world champion like Raleigh’s Morgan Kneisky rattling through around the streets of Edinburgh – good also to see him looking after ‘Home Boy’ team mate Evan Oliphant in the closing stages.
And it must be said Briggs was hugely impressive – but wasted just like everyone else at the death on what was a tough night.
The location is, of course, stunning, sitting below the world famous castle – just a pity about how tough Victoria Street is.
But maybe the best thing about the whole gig is that Edinburgh’s best pizza place – Mamma’s is on the finish straight.
I can recommend the ‘super food’ version with black pudding, pomegranate, black beans and avocado.
And at this point I should be saying; ‘see you at the ‘25’ – but…