Blog: Patrick Salt’s highlights of the last week

Patrick Salt, long time die hard fan of the sport of kings, cycling that is, writes … “I had expected that work (aargh!) would get me into the Stoke/Manchester area by Tuesday, but not to be. Don’t you hate people who cancel appointments at the last minute? Just because someone has a baby a week early….

Anyway, I did manage to get to Oldham, on a sunny evening that was cooling down later. What I had not realised was that the place is on top of a hill, and quite, er, breezy. It’s strange, a very “northern” town, industrial heritage and all that, yet you can look between buildings and see nothing but green hills. Which is a change from some places I can think of. The women started off proceedings, on a circuit which seemed to be either up or down, with a tough finish.

Within a few laps, their race fragmented, the usual suspects in the front and lots of little groups engaged in their own battles. It’s a bit of a shame that there are not bigger fields and that the riders vary so much in ability, but I suppose if there is enough racing and more support it, the standard of the “lesser lights” will rise and the break/peloton pattern will begin to show more clearly. In any case, they put on a good show for their 30 minutes and 5 laps, and once again a lack of punctures and crashes was noticeable. A good four rider finish and some happy people in the Horizon camp, anyway…

Seven o’clock and off go the men. Please Mr Bennett, why oh why do they do so many laps with the motorbike before the racing starts? Listening to spectators, they are confused and don’t quite understand what is happening or why – neither do I – one or two laps is OK but more adds nothing to the show. Plus the music is SO LOUD it’s hard to hear the wonderfully excitable commentator (Joe Fisher)!

The one corner on the circuit where I stood for quite a while produced the expected “off” for Graham Briggs, who simply overcooked it in an early leading break. Let me describe this interesting bend, at the foot of a sharp descent, taken at around 50/60kph, more than 90 degree, drain cover just off the best line, and lots of padding on the barriers coming out of the corner. All in front of a shop named “Destruction”! Perfect name for the corner…

Anyway, no serious damage to tough little Graham, he was up and off to the pits to rejoin very quickly. The Wheelbase guys who had, by all accounts, a horrible time at their first “guest team” appearance, did OK this time, and at least looked competitive. I did spot their team manager (and an attractive lady) in deep discussions with a certain commissaire, so maybe we will see more of them in the future.

Getting behind the pits, very strictly controlled with quite a bit of ejection at times, no pass, no in, seems to be the rule, what is clear is the good atmosphere between the teams, organisers, and officials. I’m sure it can get a bit stressed at times, but they all seem to know each other and mostly get along well. Big Phil Griffiths was even sitting back in a camping chair watching his charges perform, taking it easy while the slaves worked. You should see the size of his motorhome, parked in a side street close to the course, I saw Phil driving it and even he looks small in the thing. I’m sure his guys appreciate it though, a nice place to relax before and after the races.

Again it was good to see a break succeeding, but the chase from Marcin B of Motorpoint was something to behold. Then he makes a simple mistake of sticking a hand up just short of the line and getting pipped for the win, in a very tight finish. Bet he won’t do that again in a hurry. All that effort could have been capped by a win, except for a silly mistake – aargh!!

The next day, back indoors at chez Salt, I watched the TV show. What a difference. The womens race was edited almost out of existance, and the men’s coverage didn’t get the atmosphere at all, made little of Marcin B’s heroic chase, and the whole thing looked a tiny bit flat. The TV commentator did his best but sounded a bit off form too, shame because it was a good evening. One thing TV can’t really show is gradient, have you noticed? The slope of the climb to the finish must have been around 6-7% in places, but it never looks so much on screen – only the courses of bricks on the roadside wall at Oldham gives it away.

What they can do about it I’m not sure, but at least it might get mentioned in commentary. Anyway, just my opinion and I’m one of the many spectators who turn up and enjoy the live atmosphere, having started years ago by seeing races on TV – thanks Eurosport, all your fault I ended up riding a bike as well! Then I discovered that the live experience can be so much better for the town centre races, so right now I’m hoping to be able to get to the great smoke later this week, and content myself with watching the Woking race on ITV4, plus catching up on the Tour de Suisse via Eurosport.

Did anyone watch Monday Tour de Suisse stage? The skill on the last descent was amazing, from both riders and TV motos. Knowing a bit about physics and centres of gravity, a solo bike can corner faster on mountain roads than a motorbike. That’s the theory, but watching the TV, the motos  were staying with the front, loaded up with two people, camera kit, total weight about 450kg – or close to half a ton on two wheels. The angles of lean, footpeg scrapes, changes from dry to damp surface, wow.

I was just waiting for a horrible moment when the camera went skywards, but it never came. As Mr Harmon might say, “Chapeau” to the moto TV guys. Pilots for brilliant skill, bravery, and commitment, and cameramen for having the nerve to do the job. Fantastic job guys, you bring us great pictures even if it is a bit “heart in mouth” at times on those bends. Mind, one sector down straight but narrow mountain roads at high speed was a bit good, too.

I guess they must have some softer tyres than standard (and wear them out fast!), plus suspension upgraded for the weight, but eventually it all comes down to rider skill. Fantastic. And the riders in the race were a bit tasty as well!

Off to do some of that w-stuff now!