The UK's top youth track sprinters had the chance to shine this weekend on the boards at the National Cycling Centre in the 2012 Sprintfest.
Over forty invited youth A and B boys and girls from all over the UK fought it out in a full programme of 55 races run over two days culminating on Sunday afternoon with the finals of the 500m handicap, 200m time trial and the five by three up events. Winners of the events were presented with a host of superb prizes which included signed Great Britain and Team Sky race tops donated by Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Team Sky. Sprint stars John Paul and Matt Rotherham were on hand to present the prizes along with Kian Emadi and Louis Oliva who were the guest experts for the weekend.
Commenting on the weekend’s action, world junior sprint champion John Paul said: "The standard of the riding has been fantastic. When I was on the Talent Team we had the National Sprint School which is no longer around so it’s been difficult for the youngsters to get specific sprint coaching so this event has been awesome.
“It’s been a real sprint competition but with the added bonus of having the sprint coaches on hand to give advice to the riders and point them in the right direction - the racing has been very tight and the times are outstanding for this age group. It’s been really great to hear all the encouragement from everyone and it gives me an opportunity to come down here and put something back into the sport."
In the youth boys A category it was Sport City Velo who were the dominant team with overall victories in both the sprint and the handicap events. Thomas Rotherham took the overall from teammate Jack Payne in the sprint final securing victory with two wins from three while Chris Dowling took a fine win in the handicap final riding off 40m, holding off Velocity's Joe Evans and Heanor Clarion's James Shaw. A name to keep an eye on for the future is Jack Hoyle (Team Terminator) who secured third spot in the sprint taking two wins from three against Charlie Tanfield and already looks an accomplished rider for his years.
Ryan Phillips made sure of the overall victory in the youth boys B handicap race, the rangy Wolverhampton youngster riding off the 10m mark kept a cool head to take the win from Eastland Velo's Harris Redgrove and Rhys Donnelly of Glasgow Riderz. Phillips’ teammate James Ireson, riding number 13, held his luck to take victory in the minor final. Max Nethall (Cardiff Ajax) took the overall sprint victory from Ireson winning his two heats from three.
We spoke to Rebecca Rotherham (mother of Matthew and Thomas) about the commitment of parents and supporters of youth racing and what it means to have two riders racing week in, and week out.
"Matthew has been and is successful and it looks like Tom is going down that same route,” she said. “It takes a lot of training on their part and a lot of commitment on ours taking them to and from events, making sure everything is OK for them. This weekend has been great for the riders who want to ride sprint.
“When Matthew got onto Talent Team it was pretty much endurance based training which for him was frustrating but we recognised that to race sprint you have to have endurance training groundwork. British Cycling have now recognised that there was a gap for specific sprint training which has now been addressed and Tom now has that advantage which Matthew probably missed when he started around five years ago. Tom has gained a lot from this weekend not just from the racing but the coaching has been brilliant and not seeing that before has been a real plus point for us.”
John Ireson (father of James) added: "We as parents go through a lot of emotions when we come to these events, we have to sit on the sidelines and really hold our opinions back because you have to realise these guys are giving everything they possibly can.
“We really are only there to give them support when they need it and of course leave the house very early in the morning to get them to races but so long as they compete to the best of their ability we are more than happy to support them. This weekend has been really well run and very well organised and the best thing is we as parents aren't allowed to get involved once they are in the competition environment which does help to make them more independent as riders.”
Bush Healthcare's Ellie Coster took the overall in the sprint competition securing victory over Hannah Blount (Derby Mercury RC) taking two wins from three. Grace Garner (RST) beat Halesowen's Emily Nelson but took the longer route for third spot by winning the first two outings only to be disqualified in the second for leaving the track and having to come out for a third time to ensure victory in the final event of the weekend.
Naomi Johnston (Clifton CC) took the honours in the 500m handicap final riding off the 40m mark holding off Flora Gillies into second spot and Paige Millward (Lyme RC) into third.
Organiser Tim Buckle gave us his thoughts on the weekend and on the future of sprint racing for British cyclists. "The main objective of Sprintfest was to give sprint racing some kudos and bring it back into the mainstream a bit. I said to the riders at the beginning of the weekend sprint training has not been really visible to our riders over probably the last five years," he said.
“By putting this weekend on gives riders who want to race sprint the opportunity to do that because there hasn't really been any opportunities for them to do it and that’s why Sprintfest has been so important for the guys who are motivated to have the opportunity to become the next Victoria Pendleton or the next Chris Hoy. This weekend has been the culmination of six regional schools of racing which have been run since October with two for sprint racing so everyone here has shown an interest in sprint and proved themselves to be invited to this weekend.
“What we have seen from the weekend and recently is unbelievable, we have a highly skilled team of volunteers that can deliver the correct training to the youngsters and I think we will be seeing a domestic scene that will be the best in the world - it’s great.”