Tuesday, 26 September 2017

£40k to save the Good Friday International Track Meet

Anyone got £35,000 to spare?

Can you stretch that to £40,000?

That’s what it will take to save the 115th edition of Britain’s most famous track meeting from being consigned to history. 

The Good Friday Meet, host to World and Olympic champions across the last century, “will not be held in 2018”,  it was announced last  week.

And yet promoter Graham Bristow, organiser since 1984, tells me he still has an option on booking the velodrome for Good Friday 2018.

If he can find a backer with £40,000 he can still put the event on, but time is moving on.

Otherwise, the SCCU simply can’t continue to incur the substantial losses of recent years.

It costs a few thousand to hire the track!

This is the longest running international track meeting in the land, the Southern Counties Cycling Union (SCCU) Good Friday meeting at London’s Lea Valley indoor track.

The event, established in 1903 and until a few years ago held at the outdoor track at Herne Hill in South London, has traditionally been funded by spectator receipts.

But the expense has outrun the income, and Bristow and the SCCU have pockets only so deep.

How ironic that this event be forced to close, with British cycling now the UK’s top Olympic sport. Britain has so many Olympic and World champions – Tour de France champions – all of them punching above their weight in the world’s biggest races.

It is especially ironic because at the Good Friday meeting, once considered the pinnacle of the British track racing calendar, National and local stars always got their chance alongside World and Olympic champions.

In fact, the Good Friday was for years ranked among the most important sporting events on the British calendar, always getting space in the quality national newspapers. The Press Agency (PA) would order copy from whoever was reporting the meeting for Cycling Weekly.

The website - http://veloism.co.uk/the-good-friday-meeting/ - provides an illustrious list of  some of the world’s greatest track riders who have raced the Good Friday.  

They include, from France, Daniel Morelon, Florian Rousseau, Arnaud Tournant; from Germany, Michael Hubner, also Britain’s double hour record breaker and World pursuit champion, Graeme Obree. Also Tony Doyle, double Professional World pursuit champion, and Colin Sturgess, famed also for taking the World pursuit crown.  

National, World and Olympic champions include Germany’s Robert Forstermann, Christian Grassman, Lief Lampater and Nico Hesslich.
There was Australia's Stuart O'Grady Top home riders included Becky James, Jody Cundy, Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton Andy Tennant and Ed Clancy, Jason Queally plus

Sean Yates and the King of British short-distance time trialling, Alf Engers.

Although the introduction of the indoor velodrome to Britain revolutionised how riders train and prepare, and have been key to Britain’s success this new Millennium,they came with a mixed blessing for outdoor track promoters like Bristow.

 “The Good Friday Meet suffered from the advent of 250m indoor velodromes, as the vast open spaces of Herne Hill appeared to be irrelevant to the development of the British Cycling squads who in earlier times would have attended.” explained Bristow, adding.  “Paradoxically there was never any problem with contracting foreign based stars to appear.”

For many top riders, Good Friday’s varied programme of events freed them from the pressure of conforming to the more rigid programme of the World Cup events, tailored as they are around Olympic qualifying races. 

And so released, they would delight the fans as they rose to the occasion in a medley of races, not just their particular disciplines.

But there was another problem for Bristow. Ironically, the transformation of Herne Hill from a rundown dilapidated facility to a fresh new

locally based community hub also created difficulties for the Meeting. 

The ongoing works rendered much of the site inaccessible to spectators and, with no end date in sight, the Meeting moved to the Lee Valley Velodrome in 2014.

The hope was that the event would return to its spiritual home.

But this was not be, Bristow told me.

“When the Herne Hill renovation was completed the committee considered returning to Herne Hill, but sadly, although it has new club house, the venue is no longer suitable for holding meetings with more than a few hundred spectators.  This, coupled with the ever present Easter weather uncertainties, means that such a return to South London is not an option.”

But times change, says Bristow wistfully. The huge rise in popularity of cycling has come with a twist. He reckons that many of today’s new fans who snap up the tickets come to only to see the Tour and Olympic celebrities and show little interest in the rest of the racing programme.

“They watch Wiggins race then disappear from the trackside.  Same when Hoy (both now retired) came on,  they’d come back in to watch him, then disappear again! They don’t appear to be interested in the racing itself.”

The Good Friday Meet has always been a big social occasion, where young and old acquaintances, fans and riders alike, renew friendships at the opening track meeting of the year.

Spectators were not only drawn by the promise of seeing both home and foreign internationals clash but also talented rising stars, both foreign and home grown, take on the names.  To thrill to the sound of big motors in the motor paced event, always a big draw.

And it would all come to the boil in the final event of the day, the Golden Wheel scratch race, a furiously paced bunched race carrying an eye watering £1000 first prize.

Tony Doyle, one of the Stars at the Good Friday International over the years, recalls some key moments for him.

“I first rode the Good Friday Track Meeting in 1975.  In the 10 minute pursuit I finished in 3rd place behind Alf Engers. I then rode & won the 10 minute Pursuit in 1978.

“In 1981 I rode a World Champions Revenge Match against Dutch rider Herman Ponsteen. I regularly rode the meeting during the 1980's and the meeting regularly featured many Pro Omniums with riders like Danny Clark and Stan Tourne. 

“In 1984 even Gary Wiggins (Bradley Wiggins’ father)  rode and I remember clearly meeting a young cheeky scoundrel, called Bradley.  I regularly used to get preview interviews with both Thames and BBC TV. I always got regular radio spots with Capital Radio and BBC.”

When the world’s best came for the Centenary Meeting

I still have my press pass from the biggest Herne Hill meeting of recent times, the SCCU’s Centenary Track Meeting on the 18th April, 2003.

It’s one of my valued souvenirs.

The place was packed out. British riders were beginning to make a big impact on the world scene.

This meeting boasted at least four current World champions, three of them British.

They was Chris Hoy, the World kilo and team sprint champion, his World team sprint champion teammate, Jamie Staff.

Chris Newton, World points champion; Sean Eadie, Australia’s World sprint champion.

There was Bradley Wiggins, a Herne Hill regular since he was eight years old, the 1997 junior world pursuit champion in his first season with a first division team, riding for the French outfit, Francaise Des Jeux. (A year later, Wiggo would stun us at the Athens Olympics, begin his march to greatness).

And there was multi-world medallist from Italy, stylish Roberto Chiappa,  another Good Friday regular.

Plus a host of talent to take them on. And it was a sunny, warm day, not a cloud in sight. A perfect day. Super racing. And fun, too, especially the celebration dinner that evening where I recall Wiggins the comic getting all tangled up in the coat hangers in the hotel lobby.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Dutch Heaven - UK Hell

ABOUT a month ago I was again reminded of Britain’s inadequate provision for cycling on the roads when I saw another great film celebrating Dutch cycling. It was provided by Cycling UK in their regular email to members.

Tens of thousands of people of all ages cycling on all manner of bikes, along superb cycling paths in towns and around. Cycling to work, to the shops, to school, cycling in pairs, hand in hand, with children perched on shoulders, or sat in trailers.

All going anywhere you care to mention and enjoying right of way across junctions. And not one cycle helmet in sight!
As for their cycle parking facilities at railway stations - well. It takes my breath away.

Brilliant, inspirational.

Utopia, whereas in Britain….Oh, GOD!

Other than some small well designed facilities, a few kilometres of segregated cycle route here and there, Britain’s roads are designed to process fast moving traffic with little thought of how vulnerable road users are to cope.  Let’s be blunt. The road system, especially at roundabouts, remains hellish.

The Dutch approach to providing safe conditions to encourage cycling is well known and I never tire of hearing about it.  Their work has become the benchmark by which transport planners in this country ought to at least try and emulate, but they don’t.  Instead, Britain’s lamentable progress to provide decent cycling conditions is a sad reflection of a very deep political and social divide.

There is simply not the political will to provide a decent integrated transport system in a country where the car is king/queen. 

Take the provision for cycle parking at main line railway stations, embarrassingly low compared to Holland.

Mind you, the Dutch are not without their problems! (I write with tongue in cheek.)  Provision for cycle parking at Utrecht, for example, simply can’t keep up with demand, according to The Guardian last month. 

Today at Utrecht’s railway station there are 6,500 parking spaces for cycles. How many? 6,500!

By the end of next year this will be an additional 6,500 spaces, doubling to 13,000!

How many?

It will be the biggest of its kind in the world.

Yet this huge provision for cycle parking – there is nothing like it in the UK - won’t be enough, say the Dutch cycling organisation Fietserbond.


13,000 bike parking spaces at one station not enough?

Correct. This is simply because so many more people are taking up cycling to get about town and country. In Utrecht cycle journeys have increased 40 per cent from five years ago.

In The Hague a bike park for 8,500 cycles is due to open next Spring. There is a 5000 bike park at Delft. Amsterdam plans to excavate a 7000 bike park beneath the waterfront.

There are a staggering 22.5 million bicycles in Holland – and 17.1 million people!

28 per cent of all journeys are by bike. In Britain, despite big increases in the numbers cycling, utility cycling remains at around *2 – 4 per cent.

You may wonder how it is cycle stats remain so low in the UK,  with such a big rise in numbers cycling in London and other cities, notably Cambridge. Well, according to a survey a few years ago the low overall percentage for the UK is due to a drop in cycling in rural areas.

However, cycle parking provision at UK rail stations is improving, but not fast enough, evidence all the “fly parking” – bikes left locked to railings all around the stations.

There was a “big” increase in cycle parking provision at some main line stations in Britain a decade ago, as a result of Labour Peer Lord Adonis promoting the idea.

I seem to recall transport minister Lord Adonis, himself a bike rider,  persuaded Leeds – with grand aid -  to put in a 300 space cycle parking hub at their main station.

 I think a few other stations may have followed suit.

Dave Holladay, an Independent Transport Specialist working for Transportation Management Solutions, who also advises Cycling UK (formerly CTC), provided me with latest information on cycle parking at London’s main line termini.

Back in 2002 there were 30 spaces on two platforms at London Waterloo, the busiest station in the UK.

 By 2010 cycle parking at London Waterloo had increased to 300 in 2-tier racks. Today there are 650 spaces. Not many when you consider Waterloo has close on 100 million people a year rushing through.

There were also 124 docking points issuing 500 Santander hire bikes every morning. The hire bike system is one of the truly successful cycle projects to date.

A number of years ago the total number of cycle parking spaces across all of London’s main line termini was put at about 1000. Holladay tells me this has since improved with some individual stations boasting 1000 spaces.

However, none of this parking is secure.

“No one has yet delivered secure parking, although with modern phone apps, q/r patches, or RFID cards the public are equipped to engage with automated systems,” says Holladay.

And yet there is a system available, he says, citing the one used in 1996 for the Portsmouth hire bikes. This is an unmanned secure entrance enabling user’s access to the bicycle storage area. -  http://www.meesons.com/securityproducts/the-bike-guardian/ 

He tells me there has been a long promised bike hub at Waterloo.  Caverns exist under the station, including a massive and empty car park vacant since Eurostar services moved to St Pancras.

But he also tells me of poorly audited waste of public money on cycle parking at stations by some Train Operating Companies (TOCs)

It seems that just as Local Authority highway planners often engage with local cycling campaigners in their preparatory work, when they come to making final decisions they generally go their own sweet way, paying little attention to guidelines and building sub-standard facilities with limited appeal.

In providing for station cycle parking there is, I understand, often poor project preparation, resulting in building either the wrong thing or failing to properly survey the site. I know a man who can give me chapter & verse on the missing/misspent money.

Here follows the latest cycle parking scenario for London’s other mainline stations, besides London Waterloo, already detailed.

Euston is probably close to Waterloo’s provision, with some 600 spaces across five locations. 

At Paddington there is a compound for 400 bikes on Platform nine/10.  

Marylebone has just over 400, all on Platform four.

Victoria has cycle parking by a taxi rank and the bus station, also in nearby Hudson Place. 

At Liverpool Street, there are maybe spaces for between 100 and 200 bikes near the taxi road between One Bishopsgate and the station.  

London Bridge is being rebuilt and is chaotic at present

Fenchurch Street has minimal provision.

St Pancras has between 200 – 300 spaces in the car park, considered to be the wrong place!

Kings Cross has perhaps a couple of hundred on platforms one and eight.

There is also Brompton cycle hire. 

Santander provides 500 plus hire bikes at Kings Cross, as they do also at Waterloo, in addition to many locations across the West End and, I think, a few outside the central area.


According to figures provided by Cycling UK, a European Commission survey found

 only 4 per cent of UK respondents cycled daily, the lowest percentage of all EU 28 countries – with the exception of Cyprus, 2 per cent, and Malta, 1 per cent.

The figure is 43 per cent in the Netherlands; 30 per cent in Denmark and 28 per cent in Finland.

Some UK cities buck the trend. London has seen big increases in the numbers cycling. In 2015, there were 610,000 cycle journeys a day, or 23 million per year.

Other cities recording substantial increases in numbers of people cycling include Cambridge where 29 per cent of working residents cycled. Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield have also showed substantial increases.

Typically, the increase in cycling is more often than not due to personal reasons, such as avoiding costly public transport and/or disruption to services, rather than to any notion of improvements to infrastructure. 

AND FINALLY… funny quip of the week from Eurosport TV:

Scene: Tour of Spain. As one of Alberto Contador’s many valiant escape bids comes to a premature end, he looks back down the road to see the Team Sky express once again bearing down on him. Cue for Eurosport TV commentator Carlton Kirby to remark:  “The Sky train is now approaching….stand well back from the platform edge.”