After many years of inactivity St Athans airfield was resurrected for cycle racing again in the form of the National Youth Circuit Series promoted by Maindy Flyers. The fact the Chief Commissaire won the last race on the circuit, while a young man, gives an indication of how many years!
The first race of the day saw a combined under 8 and 10 field of 28 riders following a large influx of entries on the line. The conditions were officially described by the RAF weather station as a "gentle breeze" which resulted in the race literally blowing apart on the first lap.
Benjamin Talett, Kieran Morris, Johnny Bouch and Owain Roberts got away and were only seen again by the rest of the riders when they lapped them. James Codd valiantly gave chase for a couple of laps, but the elastic finally broke on the first sprint with another increase of pace from the leaders. Benjamin proved to be the strongest in the first sprint, and that proved to be the pattern for the rest of the race, with Benjamin taking the second sprint and the overall victory.
In the under 8's race series leader Bevan Smith again showed great promise for the future in amongst the second group of under 10's. Particularly difficult on the downhill, down wind section trying to keep up on the lower under 8 gear, he would eventually finish over half a lap up on the rest of the under 8 field and remain the only under 8 not lapped by the under 10 leaders. Behind him there was a close battle for second with Kye Lewis gradually dropping off Bevan's pace and with Aled Trott riding strongly behind they changed places in the middle of the race, only for Kye to come strong on the last couple of laps to get back past Aled and hold on for second.
As the under 12's took to the line the full circuit was brought into play and the full horror of the uphill section into the wind to the turn was revealed.
Again the race blew apart in the first lap with Dan Tolett and Tomos Owens creating a gap to the main bunch. By the first sprint the pattern was establish, with Dan proving the stronger and then a chasing group of 6, with Ryan White and Rhys Britton claiming 3rd and 4th places. The chasing group never gave up and by the second sprint had reeled in the early leaders. Again Dan was the fastest sprinter from Tomos, but this time Jess Roberts and James Tillett claimed 3rd and 4th.
The leading group stayed together lapping nearly half the field. A group of 5 riders, Lauren Murphy, Louis Rose-Davies, Sam Tillett, William Crofts and Ieuan Best worked resolutely together to stay un-lapped by the leaders, no doubt spurred on by Sam's desire not to be lapped by his brother James.
At the finish Dan Tollett was again the fastest sprinter, pipping Tomos Owens, with Jess Roberts finishing 3rd and winning the prize for first girl. Ryan White repeated his sprint from the first points lap to claim the spot as 3rd boy. In the second group Lauren Murphy won an impressive sprint to take 2nd girl, with Megan James in the next group back claiming 3rd, just pipping Bethany Maunders.
As the under 14's took to the start line there was a marked increase in the size of both the riders and the wind. Now officially classed as a "stiff breeze" it was rocking the 10 ton RAF truck parked at the finish line for the judges (although the dancing of one of the judges in an attempt to keep warm may have contributed to the more severe rocking on the back of the truck).
The under 14's bucked the trend and stayed together as a bunch, with only 2 riders tailed off in the first 4 laps. The deceptive pace however was taking its toll and by lap 5 the elastic keeping a number of riders at the back of the bunch finally snapped, with a further 5 riders tailed off. This pattern continued until the first sprint lap with the 2 Wolverhampton riders Ryan Phillips and James Ireson emerging to take the first two places, but still no attacks happened to break up the bunch. The 7 riders tailed off earlier continued to work in small groups but without the shelter of the bunch the wind was taking its effect and inevitably they were being lapped by the leaders.
By the second sprint the main bunch were still intact with again a Wolverhampton 1,2, but this time Ryan Phillips pipped Jack Escritt to the line. The race then resumed its pattern with no-one being prepared to commit to try and get away from the bunch, and with Wolverhampton having 3 of the 7 riders in the bunch the conversation turned to whether they would regret not pushing on form their sprint wins. Sure enough, as the finish loomed it was Henry Dawson who appeared at the head with a fast finishing Joe Holt in second and the national champion James Ireson in 3rd.
We moved on then to the second combined age group race of the day, and again a very different race. With the under 14 and 16 girls starting together it was an under 14, Emily Haycox, who struck out in the first lap. There seemed little enthusiasm to chase so Emily ploughed on, and by the first sprint lap she had a gap of 40 seconds.
After another 2 laps, however, the deceptively fast pace had seen the majority of the other under 14's dropped from the chasing bunch, and most who remained were hanging on the back. It was at this point Megan Barker set off in pursuit of her team mate. Having closed half the gap a number of under 16 girls also responded to chase both Meg and Emily. This injection of pace however was the final straw for the remaining under 14's in the bunch and the chasing group were now all under 16. By lap 10 Meg had closed the gap to Emily and with no other under 14's in the bunch they eased to rejoin the chasing under 16's. After a brief pause Alice Barnes then struck for home from this bunch. A moment's hesitation from the other under 16 girls was all it took and Alice was away. She took the sprint on the next lap and then time trialled her way over the last third of the race to victory. Behind her Meg Barker also attacked with just over a lap to go to give her the under 14 girls win. After a short hesitation Emily gave chase, but it was too late and Emily's earlier efforts were taking their toll, although she remained away from the remaining under 16 riders to take second in the under 14 category. Waiting for the sprint Melissa Lowther took second under 16 from Amy Hill in third.
Finally it was time for the big boys. In a breeze now described in South Wales as "lively", in New York it would have been classed "run for the hills", 33 riders assembled on the start line. In a fast pace from the off a third of the field were dropped in the first 2 laps, over half by lap 3. The bunch of 15 or 16 riders continued to respond to individual attacks, not allowing anyone to get away, but these attacks caused problems for Benjamin Chapman and Callum Ferguson, who both showed huge determination to get back on the bunch and to eventually achieve high finishes.
A group of 6 riders created a small gap to contest the first sprint, won by Jacob Scott from Oliver Wood - a taste of things to come. The bunch then came together for a couple of laps before Jacob and Oliver struck for home. Opening a substantial gap very quickly it was a further 3 laps before Luc Hall made a determined effort to bridge the gap. After 2 laps of chasing Luc had joined the leaders in time for the second sprint, but again Jacob was the strongest, taking it ahead of Oliver and Luc.
The 3 rode on strongly increasing the gap to the bunch, which by now was down to 11 riders, with the remainder of the field being lapped at regular intervals and with a high attrition rate, including the national champion, suffering with a sore knee.
With 4 laps to go Jacob and Oliver struck out again and the earlier efforts were taking their toll on Luc, leaving it a straight fight for 1st and 2nd, and Luc had a secure gap to be safe in 3rd. For the third time Jacob proved the faster sprinter to take a well deserved win, form Oliver and with Luc coming in a fine 3rd. The bunch sprint was won by Jake Womersley and Charlie Tanfield took the last of the prizes in 5th.
A huge thank you needs to go to all the volunteers who helped put on the event. To the RAF for all their support and the RAF and Welsh Cycling for arranging access to the site. Also to Tredz bike shop who supplied a number of prizes and Eirscot engineering who supplied the barriers. Without their help the event would not have happened, but I hope all that rode it enjoyed it, and if we can hold it again next year we'll see if we can get a bit of wind to make it interesting!!