[I]t’s one of Britain’s most venerable and exciting of spectator sports. But are the thrills of grass track racing proving too daunting for cyclists today?
The tough guys and gals who are prepared to sit in the saddle for ultra-marathon distances like the Lake District’s Fred Whitton sportive may not have the sprinters’ muscles – or nerve – for a mad dash around 300 metres on “knobbly” tyres.
That’s the view of one of the elder statesman of the sport, Bob McLean, of Border City Wheelers, who says he’s struggling to get senior riders into some of the traditional cycling events.
A sprightly 75 who still rides his bike, Bob is the cycling manager for events such as Ambleside Sports. He first came to that event 60 years ago, cycling from Egremont in West Cumbria over the Hardknott and Wrynose passes.
“It’s grand to see youngsters coming into the under-12 and under-16 categories,” says Bob. “The crowds really appreciate that. They really warm to the young riders. But there’s not so many seniors taking part now.”
Grass track racing was once a very popular discipline in Britain and northern France, and in some areas, it still is. The format is simple. On a field such as a soccer field or cricket pitch, on a 300 or 400 metre grass oval that’s marked with chalk and wooden stakes, riders race each other on fixed wheel bikes that are fitted with knobbly cyclocross tyres to provide a bit of traction in the corners.
Races are short, so riders can have a go at a number of different races at any single event. There are sprint and endurance events, but arguably the most exciting is Devil Takes the Hindmost. This is a bunch race which sees the last rider to cross the finish line on each lap being eliminated from the race; when there are only three riders remaining, the race becomes a flat out sprint over the last lap to declare the winner.
“Many events with our type of location have switched to mountain cycling,” says Ambleside Sports chairman Jak Hirst. “However here at Ambleside we have retained track cycling around a 300m circuit which ensures that the sport remains exciting for the spectators. Both the Senior and Junior events are also handicapped which helps to ensure that every race is closely contested.”
There’s modest prize money, but lots of glory at stake. Cyclists who want to have a go should talk to Bob McLean on 016973 61392. Entries for Cycle Events close 12th July.
More details: http://amblesidesports.co.uk/?page_id=15
Ambleside Sports is on Thursday July 27. There’s a food court, beer tent, craft marquee and trade stands as well as track and fell running, Cumberland wrestling, and hound trails.