Preston Park Track League #3
Posted May 1, 2010; Report by Gavin Smith, photos by Sally Page & Pauline English
Report from Round 2 of the PP Track League
The fabulous spring weather brought hordes of riders to the third meeting (April 28) of the Sussex Cycle Racing League at Preston Park. No fewer than 84 competitors signed on, the highest number for several years.
Part of the renewed interest in the racing comes from the number of newcomers, with 12 new seniors and 11 new youths in action so far this season. The amount of spectators is also rising, not to 1950s pre-television levels, but certainly more and more people can be seen in the stands enjoying the entertainment and the delights of Andrea McClelland’s award-winning refreshments.
As always, the efficiency of the organisation was well in evidence, led by Chief Commissaire Vern McClelland and Chief Judge Dave Gerrey.
With 39 seniors on the start-line for the 6-lap opener, it was anyone's guess who would take the win - or was it? Mark Burgess, Felix English, Lee Povey and Brock Duncumb-Rogers were the main favourites, but anything could happen with so many riders keen to get those 6 league points on offer.
The focus is on Felix English
Almost from the start, Mark Mergler and Matt Davies were away and building a respectable gap. With the work fairly shared between the duo, their initial efforts took them to a 100-metre advantage. Drew Holmes sensed the danger and launched an explosive attack from the peloton, but he was eventually reeled back under the impetus from, among others, Stuart Bettis, Ben Miller, Paul Barnard and Jack Oliver-Blaney. This left the two escapees out front and the bunch trailing by around 75 metres.
With 2½ to go, English set off from the bunch and the leaders' fate was sealed. One lap later, the stylish young star was out in the lead alone, and the Mergler/Davies train was back in the bunch. There was no stopping English and he duly stormed to a fine solo win, while the sprint for second went to Povey, followed home by Ashley Dennis, Duncumb-Rogers, Oliver-Blaney and promising new rider Matthew Earnshaw.
As last week, the sprint heats threw up no shock results, with Duncumb-Rogers, Davies, Dennis, Burgess, English and Povey qualifying for the final. Before that race, though, the minor final featured a thrillingly close sprint, Richard Bailey getting the narrow verdict from Holmes and Oliver-Blaney.
The final itself saw a cornucopia of cycling talent on the line, including Preston Park 2007 and 2008 league winner English and Euro Masters champion Povey. There was no hanging about as the sextet thundered tightly-packed along the back straight with 300 metres left. Povey, as always, was well-positioned with 200 to go, but English could be seen ominously moving up fast on the outside. Round Dressing-room Corner, English was in control and he came home to warm applause for a great win. Next in line were Povey, Burgess, Duncumb-Rogers, Dennis and Davies.
Riders and spectators just had time to get their breath back, when it was time for the two "dashes", for even then odd numbers, each over three laps. These events often turn into a 2-lap procession followed by a 1-lap sprint, but tonight was the exception. English went away with Bettis at the start of the even-numbers race and they held their lead together until the bell, when Bettis could no longer sustain the pace of the ace. English held on for his third victory of the evening, then came Duncumb-Rogers, Dennis and Oliver-Blaney, followed by Bettis and John Powell.
Davies tried his luck in the equivalent odd-numbers race, surviving out front for the first two laps, but being swallowed by the Mergler-led bunch at the bell. In one of the closest finishes for a while, Povey took the win ahead of Holmes, Nick Smith and Earnshaw. Barnard, no doubt with his mind on his forthcoming wedding on Saturday, took fifth, and Mergler grabbed sixth spot.
Remaining daylight allowed for a longer-than-usual unknown distance race. Before the start, the inevitable question "How many laps, Vern?" came from several riders to the Chief Commissaire, but he was as tight-lipped as usual over such vital matters. The final race of every Preston Park meet has been upgraded this year with the introduction of the prestigious Twilight Trophy, to be awarded to the most successful rider in this event throughout the season. There is also the small matter of three £5 primes during the race, which are often pocketed by cash-strapped youngsters and students.
John Powell went away from the start, creating daylight between himself and the bunch. James McCarron was next to show, then it was the turn of Drew Holmes, Nick Smith and Martin O'Brien to give it a go.
All riders were back together when McClelland's whistle signalled the first prime, won by a rapid Ashley Dennis. This sudden upping of the pace led to the shedding from the back of several riders, and before we knew it the 39-strong bunch was down to a mere score. This was turning into a fascinating race, with one main pack but also the dropped riders spread around the whole of the 580-metre track.
English took the next prime, though Oliver-Blaney, Duncumb-Rogers, Holmes and Davies were hot on his back wheel and this quintet had developed a promising gap on the bunch. English grabbed the final lap-prize three laps later, by which time the others were finding it harder to stay with him and they eventually returned to the much-dwindled peloton.
At the bell after 16 laps, English was assured of yet another excellent win, and the close bunch sprint was won by Duncumb-Rogers for second place and Oliver-Blaney third, the next points-scorers being Miller, Dennis and Nick Smith.
On tonight’s evidence, 2007 and 2008 league winner Felix English is well and truly in the driving seat for the 2010 league trophy. Put simply, he won every race he took part in. He and Brock Duncumb-Rogers are tying for the lead on 48 points, but in English’s case the total has been achieved from just two attendances. Lee Povey, tonight’s other race winner, is ten points off the pace, and current league champion Mark Burgess is a further eight points adrift. Stuart Bettis and groom-to-be Paul Barnard are sharing the lead in what promises to be an enthralling B-league competition.
The numbers of youth riders has to be seen to be believed, with nearly every age-group having a high attendance list. The quality of racing has improved dramatically over the past few years, and riders are now more likely to “have a go” rather than just sit in the bunch. The weekly £5 youth prize was this time awarded to the astonished but delighted Sarah Cooper. In her first season at Preston Park and riding among the U16s, she not only rode strongly throughout the meeting but also showed at the head of the bunch on several occasions.
Under 16 / Under 14
The joint 4-lapper got off to a quick start, with Jake Marley, Amy Barnes and Jack Hoyle (all U14s) not afraid to make their mark at the front of the bunch. The tempo wound up throughout the race, and with no successful breakaways it was U14 Jack who led home in front of U14 Kimberley English. Next over the line were U14s Amy Jacobs and Imogen Farlie, then came U16 Matthew Hill and U14 Jack Priddle.
The next battle featured a 3-lap scratch race. Sarah Cooper showed well at the front early on, as did Nathan Moore, but with a high pace it was hard for anyone to gain a gap. Kimberley was at the head of affairs at the bell, but it was Jack Hoyle who sprinted to victory, beating Kimberley, Amy Jacobs, Jake and Imogen in that order.
The final event was a 4-lap scratch, with Olly Priddle setting the example on the first lap with an adventurous move, though as usual it was hard to upset the apple-cart with so many youngsters keen on victory. Michael Dixon and Kimberley were lined up at the front at the bell, but at the finish Jack made it three wins in a row, with Kimberley and Matthew next, followed by Jake, Michael and Amy Jacobs.
The 2-lap opener was won by Amy Smith in front of Luke Stacey and Thomas Burnett. Ben and Ted O’Brien followed in, then it was Douglas McCauley, last season’s U10 league winner.
The next event was a 3-lapper, with Joe Hill trying his luck halfway through with a breakaway attempt, alas to no avail. Thomas attacked during the final lap, but in the end it was all down to a bunch gallop, again won by Amy, then came Luke, Thomas, Ben, Douglas and Ted all in close attendance.
In a tight finish to the 2-lap block handicap race, Joe came out top ahead of Isaac, Sam Booth, Nicholas Wickens, Lois Parle and Amy.
Under 10/Under 8
Harry Stacey led home in the joint 1-lap scratch race, slightly in front of Bethany Lewis and Cory Anderson in a very close sprint. Next in line were Richard Hoyle, Stan Abbott-Stacey and Bradley Burke. First U8 was Rahul Fortescue-Talwar ahead of Oliver Brooker and Rory Burke.
In the U8-only 1-lap scratch event, Rahul posted another fine win with Rory second, Oliver third and Freddie Davies fourth. Young Freddie was adrift by the finish, but he always ends his race with a sprint and a smile. The U10s faced two laps, and it was again Harry who triumphed, this time Cory getting runner-up spot and Bethany third. Stan and Richard were next, and Michael Wickens took the final league point on offer for sixth position.
Devised by Chief Commissaire Vern McClelland, the block handicap race had a close finish. Rahul made it a hat-trick of wins on the night, then came Harry, Bethany, Cory, Richard and Stan.