July 27 at the internationally renowned Manchester Velodrome saw the start of the 2010 European Masters Track Championships for riders 35 and over. This is the 3rd European Masters Track Cycling Championships and takes place over five days with over 200 riders from 12 European Nations contesting 46 separate championships.
Riders from around Europe are in Manchester for the 2010 European Masters Championships.
Once again, the lions share of the riders competing are British but down in the track centre on Tuesday night was a large contingent of French, Italian and Irish riders as well as riders from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and Finland too. Unlike a ‘normal’ European championship where everyone competes in their national colours, at events like this the riders compete either in club colours or national colours, a choice which is down to the individual.
The racing kicked off with a series of Sprint Time Trials, distances from 500 metres up to a kilometre with male and female riders competing in age bands 35-39, 40–44, 45-49 etc right up to 70 years plus. The riders were competing for the right to wear the UEC champion’s jersey which was awarded to the winners as well as the usual Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for the top three. Classy looking medals which certainly seemed to find favour with the riders.
A packed track centre as riders prepare for their events.
The opening night for riders was, as always at such events, a mixture of meeting friends from around Europe for the first time in 12 months and knuckling down to achieving personal goals that have been the target for each rider for many months. Competition is certainly fiercely but friendly nonetheless.
Talking to a number of the riders, many who compete not only in the British Masters Championships but also the European and World Masters, such events are highlights of their racing calendar. Christine Higgs, winner of the Women’s Points for her age category explained afterwards just how much work went into preparing for such competitions, as did other champions such as Dave LeGrys and Geoff Cooke.
On the opening night of the 2010 event, three new European best times for specific age categories on a 250 metre track were set by competitors, as well as a Worlds best time. Conditions for the racing were good with the air inside the track centre warm and the sun from time to time streaming through the sky light in the roof of the venue.
The face says it all as one of the riders donning the rainbow stripes as a World Masters champion, gives it his all in the Time Trial event.
Britain’s Dave LeGrys lowered the 2009 Worlds best mark of David Wilmott of Australia in the Men's 55-59 category when he recorded a time of 35.135 for the 500 metres, beating the previous best of 35.238. Geoff Cooke meanwhile lowered the European best in his age category when he won his event in 37.200 (the previous best was 37.244) while Ben Elliott chopped off a large chunk of the European best for the 35-40 category with his 1:06.020 (1:08.944).
After the podium presentations, British Cycling spoke to three of the Gold medal winners to get a flavour of these popular events, Geoff Cooke, Dave Le Grys and Christine Higgs. First off the podium was Gold medal winner and new European record holder, Geoff Cooke.
Geoff is from Manchester and represented Great Britain as a senior rider in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and was a British champion way back in 1963. Still competing many years on, Geoff explained to us “I went out there to do a 37.2 which is five tenths faster than what I went at the nationals and felt that would be a great ride for me.”
“What I am planning to do at the Worlds in Portugal is to go under 37 and with the way the training is going, that should happen. During the ride tonight, I got it all out and I did 20.8 for the first lap which is the fastest I’ve been for quite a while so I’m very very pleased.”
All smiles on the podium for the Men's 65-69 event. L-R, David Rowe, Geoff Cooke (both British) and Michael Briat of France.
Asked to give us an idea of how events like this, major championships where the riders from European countries are encouraged to enter, Geoff says it is quite similar to a British Championships but with a smattering of riders from other countries. “Getting the foreign riders to come here is what we want. It is lovely for example to have the Italians here and the international flavour this competition has certainly adds to the attraction of it all.”
Geoff also underlined just how much the riders want to do well when they get onto the boards. “The pressures racing here are the same as at any competition; I just want to win. When I get on the track, I know I want it more than anybody else. Tonight, I rode a bigger gear than I have ridden for a long time, a bigger gear for example than when I rode the Olympic Games!”
The preparation for the Championships has also been hard with Geoff saying “If anybody thinks I just turn up and ride it they’re wrong. I put a lot into this, both in the gym and on the bike. I have a lane around three miles from where I live which is ideal because I can do my rolling starts and I can come off the ‘bump’ the same as I do here doing 40 mph. I’m doing everything on the lane that I would be doing if I was doing a track session.”
Another key ingredient for riders at such an event is the social networking that goes with not a computer in sight. Just like any rider who competes at a major multi-nation competition, friendships are struck with like minded people from around Europe and the World. Geoff explained “I still email people in Ghana who I met when I was racing properly. It really is quite nice to be able to do that especially as we get older.”
Geoff also wanted to express his gratitude to the organisation for putting the racing on for the riders because in his words, “it’s absolutely brilliant”.
The Europeans came to Manchester when the venue lost the World Masters to the Aussies a few years ago and now the event this year, the Worlds, has moved on to Portugal. Whilst the Europeans has its own special atmosphere, the riders do agree the Worlds is even more special because of the presence of the riders from Australia, the Americas and beyond.
Another of the Gold medal winners was one of the sports great characters, Dave Le Grys or Legro. Asked how he felt after the victory, he did of course come out with something quite left of field when said “I need to go for a pee” or words to that effect. Before he rushed off, he explained, “this event is a stepping stone for the World Masters and one where I can see how well I am going right now.”
Dave (pictured above), like the other riders, takes such championships very seriously in their training and he explained “I’ve ridden the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships as a younger rider and I’m actually more nervous for this. That may be daft but I think there is a fear of failure in such events as well as this Masters spirit which is good fun. The racing though is very serious. But, that is what it’s about, having a good time as well as having some serious racing”.
Having spoken to some of the Men’s winners, we also spoke to one of the Women competitors who had been racing that night in the Points race. With all the categories combined in the one race, won overall by Britain’s Janet Birkmyre, medals were then awarded to the winners of the age categories including a Gold to one rider, Christine Higgs (below).
Christine was wearing her World Champion’s colours in the race and admitted it is great to be racing with the girls in her age category at such championships instead of the Juniors and younger riders she’s up against at events like the Women’s National Series Omniums and so on.
“I have ridden a few of the Women’s Omniums and in them, you get thrown in with the youngsters off the talent teams and squads so its good racing but we’re lucky in this country to have that scene still going on. When I go to ride in Masters events, you certainly notice the difference between your skills and other people my age group who perhaps don’t have that type of racing in their country.”
Talking about the preparation she does for such an event, Christine says “we go all out for it really. It’s come in from work and before you do anything, we’re saying, ‘what are you doing for training’? If the weather is bad, you’ve either got to go on the turbo or out in the elements. In the winter, that means also going out in the dark as well and so training is tough”.
Clutching her Gold medal, Christine agreed with a big smile that the effort is certainly worth it.
Christine added that while the field at the Europeans was a little poor, she is seeing at events like the Nationals more and more women giving track racing a try, particularly in the time trial events and as anyone who looks at the British Cycling website will see, there are weekly track leagues around the country where men and women of all ages can get started with the track.
Women's Points race.
The daily competition at the European Masters Championships continues on Wednesday (July 28) anyone interested in going along or checking out the results, can do so on the Masters website www.cyclingmasters.com. Spectators are welcome, tickets are free for the daytime qualification sessions and £8 (£4 concessions) for the evening finals sessions.
The French team have a strong squad of riders in Manchester for the Europeans.
Ivor Reid was in winning form on Tuesday night.
Italians were very colourful in their Mapei skinsuits.
Great Britain skinsuits spotted on the track in the over 60's Men's non-championship Scratch race.
Handshakes all round, serious on the track, all friends off the track. L-R, Peter Tranberg, Roland Crayford and
Podium for the Women's Womens 40-49 Points, L-R: Jayne Paine, Janet Birkmyre and Orla Hendron.
Final race of the evening was the non-championship Over 60's Scratch race.