2017 - it's relentless
February. The new year started late (early March before we could get on the track after a few indoor sessions at Walker Activity Dome, which strangely enough I thought were excellent) but extremely well for me. I'd spent the post-Christmas period scavenging the world for a second Specialized Rockhopper to match my perfect Euro-Vets bike and eBay finally came up trumps. It was listed as "collection in person only" but from bl@@dy Gloucestershire so it cost me plenty when I offered as much for the frame only as the bloke wanted for the whole bike, just to make it easier for him to parcel up and post to me. Anyway, it arrived and was indeed excatly the same size, same fittings, same colour and original stickers - everything perfect. I then set about the major frame alterations necessary to match my Number One bike which involved cutting off, shortening and re-welding the seat stays and putting a gentle curve in the chainstays. This was all to lift the bottom bracket to the perfect height while also pulling the front axle position back to get the right fork angle. Job done in a week. I was so chuffed with it that I then shelled out on a pretty nice powder coated paint job from a local firm that offers my mountain bike club some discount and used it for the first time at our second indoor session. Spot on, happiness.
March. While for the last few off-seasons I've just played about during practice/training sessions to encourage the younger lads, I set about this year in a completely opposite fashion and rode as fast as the bike would take me early on. We staged the Cramlington Crown individual meeting as our "proper" season opener on Sunday 19th March and won my first four races, intending to keep up the good work. That left me in a great position to catch an unexpected rostrum with Jason Keith copping an exclusion and Dan Redshaw's leg giving him trouble. I was the only one to take a point off a very lively John Wilson, making his 63rd return to the Sport and claiming the title, but lost out in a fabulous race off for seciond place, passing and re-passing lap after lap with our young superstar Lee Redshaw who just pipped me to the line on the run-in. Very happy with this form so early, my continued twice-a-week mountain bike rides no doubt keeping my old bones in half decent shape. I'm also experimenting with gearing just now, all three bikes set up differently. Mainly using my green Rockhopper as used in the Euro-Vets but now relegated to Northern League machine ahead of my rarely ridden Mielec (used mainly by Samantha just now).
Sunday 26th March saw our (dreaded) Northern League season kick off with the visit of Champions Edinburgh Falcons. As expected they did a demolition job on us but again, apart from one ride where I slowed losing a certain 2 extra points, I was riding as well as anyone and somehow ended up top scoring. Not easy when paired with our new Captain Jason (Gavin Parr isn't expected to complete many fixtures as he's into "junior" speedway at 46!) so I'm not likely to beat my partner as easily as some others for the odd extra point! In fact this is exactly what kept my average below lesser riders last year, a little bit annoying when my team scoring history is inspected but it's down to the Team Manager and he must have his reasons. Anyway, somehow the Northern League's Lancashire Mafia had decided to spice things up for 2017 and had introduced a Match Race Championship with the holder winning a hundred pounds at the end of the season. Edinburgh's Mikey Hewitson, as the League's top scorer last year became the first "holder" so it was down to our top scorer to take up the challenge - little OLD me! Obviously I had no hope of victory and knew that well enough, but I was determined to at least make a race of it and I think I diod that judging from comments afterwards, so pretty proud of today's whole performance in comparison to most of last year.
Our visit to Sheffield for the second NL match proved again I can still mix it a little with some of the fast teenagers, if not beat them. Enjoyed it and again managed to bag a few points I didn't expect while others were gifted them.
April came and went with my next NL match against Bury at Crammy. Another hard one and another crushing defeat for the Vikings but again I had some decent races after Jason and I won heat one, but still disappointing really, these young kids just pedal forever!
May 6th gave us the opening Euro-Vets round at Cramlington and it was really enjoyable, as ever. I managed to get to the Over 50s "B" Final beating John Wilson and finishing second to new Over 60 entrant and good friend Phil Hemming of Wednesfield. I am now happy that I chose to lower the gearing on the Green Meanie as it really has boosted not only my gating but pickup also.
Next up a visit to Scary Stockport and their devilishly fast riders of all ages, but with that same low gearing on Stockport's wide, sweeping bends I surprised myself with a couple of great races beating Jake Read and almost holding off Terry Norman in seperate races after decent gates. Straight after the Stockport match Neil Magee, Keith Dyer, Jim Smith, Keith Oldham, Daniel Wharrier and myself staged a vital and probably overdue Extraordinary General Meeting in the Sporting Club to discuss our hopes and plans for the future. We all had something to say but for my part I want out of the Northern League as we simply can't compete.
Astley & Tyldesley away came next, and we were expecting another wipeout which we duly got. However, once again I had a few smashing rides including getting away ahead of Damien Zareba and Kyle Holland in the same race from grid one! My lead only lasted under 2 laps but I think mI still have something to offer when conditions are right. Very proud of that ride and it is added to my somehow growing list of outstanding performances.
After the Astley match where for the second away meeting in a row there were only 8 or 9 of us travelling, we got into discussion in the van about our future. Only Jason and I were competitive in this one and it's a bit disheartening watching the other lads struggling. I've already had my say in as much as I KNOW we are not Division One standard and I think everyone agrees, but the consensus seems to be we've come too far, done too much graft and have excellent facilities which are just too good to allow us to drop out. That really forces us (or me, at least) to put up and shut up. I may find that hard!
2017 Euro-Vets Update - A light bout of pneumonia picked up on return from holiday late May really knocked the stuffing out of me and I found it extremely hard to do 3 laps flat out, let alone a full race distance. This saw me missing a few training sessions and struggling in the NL and Euro-Vets matches I rode in, managing just a few decent rides in each over June, July and August. Although the bug was gone by the end of July I still get short of breath now (writing this after the Stockport home match on August 5th) so I'm preparing to relinquish my Over 60s title to my great Midlands pals Paul Timms or Phil Hemming, both just a couple of points adrift of me now. The sad thing is there's still only a couple of Vikings who can get the better of me, even in this state. Sorry to harp on about the low esteem I hold club-wise.
Following our final Northern League meeting of the year against Hull where we suffered anmother massive, humiliating defeat I stated my preference very loudly for pulling out of the league. I finally got my wish this time and informed the league of our decision a week later on 11th September.
Oh, no, not again! - August arrives and with it a flippin' kidney infection accompanied by the nastiest set of side effects you could imagine. Knocked me completely for six, even worse than May's episode. It kicked off on Tuesday night, the 8th, when I got home from training and I've hardly been out of the house yet (24th) after a night ride in an ambulance to Cramlington Hospital. Not a great year,
September 17th was the date for the annual Northumbrian Riders Final/TK Trophy meeting and this time I couldn't quite manage the podium, losing out to Jason Keith, Lee Redshaw and Daniel Wharrier in another great match with plenty of close action.
September 24th arrived and so did Round One of the Three Rivers League at Cramlington. Edinburgh won with Glasgow second, Northumbria third and my team Cramlington fourth. It was more memorable for me by what happened afterwards, when all the riders were gathered on the centre green for what I thought was a photo session. Following the odd camera flash I was about to head back to the pits when Keith Dyer announced there was a special presentation to be made. I didn't have a clue what this was about so stood there trying to make sense of it when Daniel Wharroier approached me with a beautiful inscribed sliver salver marking my 50th year in Short Track (or more accurately the 50th year since my inception). I was staggered, completely unaware of anything to do with this - they'd managed to keep it a secret somehow! How many other things are they not telling me? It seems me old pal Ashie Patterson was the driving force behind the idea, but I felt a bit of a fraud as there are a few others still hanging around the track who've been at it a few years more than me with no such recognition.
The final round of the 2017 Euro-Vets Grand Prix series at Leicester on 14th October saw me needing to beat rival Phil Hemming of Wednesfield to have any chance of retaining my 2016 title. Feeling good and having settled on my now customary high geared Specialized Rockhopper (can't gate for peanuts but can wind it up later sometimes) I did what needed to be done (with plenty of vocal encouragement from my good friend Mick Knowles in the pits) when we clashed in the "A" Final. That was won by Birmingham's Paul Timms. My second place pulled me level with Phil on overall points, but just days earlier Fred Rothwell and myself had discussed how to separate riders with the same points tally and had decided to use their number of 1st, 2nd and 3rd places if necessary on countback. As Phil had won three rounds to my two he got the verdict, so fair play. If Paul hadn't turned up today and the final had gone the same way I would have retained the Championship by one point, but all three of us have had some great scraps since the other two "came of age" this year so I've still enjoyed the whole series immensely, again.
Just to round off a great season the crazy, wonderful Leicester lads took me completely by surprise (above) with a gift in recognition of what I do (or what they THINK I do!) for the Euro-Vets organisation, presenting it to me straight after the meeting before any trophies were awarded. My second major embarrassment in a month or so after getting that silver salver from my Northumbria teammates! Anyway, I'm deeply grateful to these happy chappies (Craig Marchant, Norman Venson, Kev Burns, Mark Whitehead and Dave Frith) from one of the greatest CS clubs ever, and here's what was in the parcel:
It's mid October and we seem to be deluged by meetings, phone calls or e-mail exchanges with various bodies but all going towards cementing our future as a local facility for anyone on two wheels. Richie Smith and I have established a great rapport with Cycling UK who's local Rep has sorted us a small grant which we are using to drive our expansion plans. While all this is going on I am trying to polish up the web site a bit, shifting old news to our History page and keeping the front up to date which is harder than you might think.
We were due at Glasgow on Sunday 22nd October to complete this year's Three Rivers League but their track was flooded so we reverted to our local league, 10:30 am on Sunday's proving very popular with the lads. After our initial test with four 2/3-man teams we decided to switch to bigger teams to allow for some movement and extra bodies, just in case. The first run of this format on Sunday 22nd October was great for me personally as I was only beaten by Jason after another close scrap with him for three laps before I tired. Although I had inside gates against Lee Redshaw and Dan Wharrier I didn't expect to beat them as they've already shown how quick they are off the start but somehow I got a couple of good gates and although they still made me work hard I held on for the wins. So 15 from four rides while my skipper Josh Herring was unbeaten on 16 almost got our East End Robins team the win, and what a thrill that would have been for my great friend and Robins teammate Ashie Patterson, both of us able to recall past honours from way, way back. I'm extremely happy with my form over the last month or so, it's been good in the Euro-Vets as well as local stuff so I'm thrilled about that as I start my 68th year feeling pretty good and with my new GP taking care of longstanding health problems. I think my general fitness, regular cycling activities since childhood and clean living have helped me stay half decent on the track where others have suffered in later life.
Here's my 2017 collection of trophies.
And here's my 50 year's worth; the whole collection from1967: (not much in national CS terms but maybe not too bad for a Geordie CS rider!).
No rest for wicked old me! Tuesday 24th October and a half decent morning saw me put in a two and a half hour shift at the track altering the aim of our DIY floodlights to give a bit more coverage. I've been meaning to do this since we put the two extra lamps up on the straights but couldn't find the right time. One day free of babysitting with nothing else planned gave me the opportunity.
The lights will be tested tonight, Wed 25th Oct when we have the second visit of the Cramlingtton Youth Project. They brought 8 girls and 4 lads the previous Wednesday evening, 5:45-6:45 and this time they will fetch their disabled group. [edit - yes indeeed my changes made a huge difference, much better coverage now!].
While this is going on negotiations continue with Cycling UK to organise a leaflet drop in the area to try and pull some more youngsters into the club. Dunno how many samples I've created in the last three weeks!
November saw us move our new local league indoors at Blyth Sports Centre and what a tremendously grippy surface we were presented with, truly amazing! And just like outside I can get around it completely feet-up which is astonishing. With Ashie and me on the same team we decided to invest in some team shirts to confirm our committment to the league and our team, East End Robins, a name I came up with for the original side in the early 1970s. Unfortunately the same spirit of willingness is sadly missing from about half the current membership so we get very low turnout for these, but we're determined to keep it going now, and yes, we Robins are leading the league and deservedly so, even winning the fourth match without our Number One Josh Herring (pic below).
Well we wrapped up the league title some fifty years after my first one on 9th December 2017 at Blyth again, this time Ashie and I accompanied by JeanPaul Colback who had a great first indoor meeting for us. Like the previous week's sixth round I passed Jason from behind on his outside, the only one to do this to him and also beat him from my grid one. Extremely satisfying that I still have a bit of pace, and all the more surprising considering my anti-indoor stance all these years. However the surface here has been very kind to us and what a difference being inside on a small track has made to great friends Norman Carson and Ashie, they're both really flying in there!
Unfortunately the Club is in one of those almost predictable and so bitterly disappointing downward spirals which I now have to spend the winter trying to stop. Our future survival is probably in the hands of the excellent Richie Smith, our little ray of sunshine in all the gloom, although I can't see Jason or myself throwing in the towel for a long time yet. I've now got my polish Mielec, two home built Specialized Rockhoppers and a home brewed Trek Series 3 raring to go with new or updated parts so they have to be used, and they're absolutely no good for anything else but this!
2018 - All Change
Apart from moping about like a wounded bear bemoaning the demise of my Club for what, the FOURTH time, I spend almost the whole of January and February sourcing parts to build another three vintage Cycle Speedway bikes with standard road-going frames and "cowhorn" handlebars to enable us to take part in a big weekend event at Beamish Museum in County Durham called Pedal Power over the weekend 24/25 March. I was contacted by a member of the local veteran/vintage bicyle enthusiasts club on Facebook who asked if I'd like to take part in this and although my Club is looking pretty sad at the moment I couldn't refuse this opportunity to possibly drum up some interest.
February also saw Secretary Keith Dyer and I get the transfers sorted out for Keith Oldham and Shane Gray (to 2nd Division Glasgow), Daniel Wharrier and Jason Keith (to Edinburgh) and the Stansfield brothers (to Hull). Because of my firm stance against racing kiddies in Division Two and the folly of us Oldies trying to race teenage and Under-40 missiles in Division One I ignored whatever opportunities there may have been to join our 2018 exports so that doesn't leave anything regular for me to keep in shape with. I'm a bit sad about this (understatement).
Richie Smith and I continued to host sessions indoors at Blyth Sports Centre for youngsters during February and March with somewhat disappointing turn-outs while the post-junior sessions from 4-5pm had trouble attracting any but us few half dozen diehards for a resumption of the winter league which we were forced to forget about. This was especially disheartening for me as it requires so much effort on my part to get the bikes from Crammy, ram them in the van and then do the reverse after each session. Our new boy from Norwich, Josh Herring, continued to turn up when he had the time, way better than half of our locals could manage and I commend him for that. He's also shown an interest in becoming our second Level 2 BC Coach.
Richie and Josh both attended BC's Northern Go-Ride Conference in Durham City on Sunday 25th February while I continued after Christmas having meetings with Cycling UK's local rep Andrew Thorp and a networking presentation at The Journey bike hub in Newcastle on Tuesday 6th March for his other affilliated groups in the area.
With just one single Chellenge match arranged (home and away) with the ever-accommodating Hull CSC there is very little for me personally to look forward to other than the splendid Euro-Vets Grand Prix series which kicks off at Astley & Tyldesley on March 31st. Can't wait for that although I'm not expecting to be race ready by then. Time will tell if Glasgow and Edinburgh will be supporting the Three Rivers League this year and at the moment I'm too scared to ask!
At last we got back into outdoor mode with the track decently grippy. Still just a few fingers were enough to tot up the turnout, but at least we could start getting into shape, really looking forward to the first Euro-Vets which apart from the scheduled challenge with Hull would be my only route to racing this year.
That initial event of the 2018 series was at a very cold and windy Astley & Tyldesley on 31st March. Ashie and Jason accompanied me to begin the year the way we finished the previous one, a merry little band are we. Although I'd had real trouble trying to get past 3 serious laps in the few training sessions we'd had somehow it all dropped into place here and I was particularly pleased with two of my six rides. The first gave me a from-the-back win over Kevin Greaves who's just moved up to the Over 60s Club but my last heat in the qualifier was another to add to my greatest memories. My glory only lasted a lap and a quarter but that included gating ahead and staying ahead of the one and only Steve Harris, surely one of the most accomplished and decorated riders ever and just turned 50. In fact Steve dropped just one point in bhoth the 40s and 50s today! A great thrill that, and maybe validation of my decision to make a significant change to my gating stance, having the front pedal quite a bit lower than ever before. That may not have given me the edge here, it could have been shear determination which is what usually gets me a 1 in 5 or 6 good getaway. Anyway finishing third to youngsters Colin Simmons and Paul Timms in the A Final was way more than I expected, so very happy with the first outing.
Poor turnouts for pre-season training have kept things very low-key while Shane Gray and Keith Oldham made theeir debuts for Glasgow in Division Two at Stockport, and Jason Keith and Dan Wharrier likewise for Edinburgh in Division One to at least keep us in the picture somewhere. The first Euro-Vets at Astley & Tyldesley was long awaited and excellent. I managed third place behind Colin Simmons and a returning Paul Timms who'd threatened to quit at the end of last year but mercifully changed his mind! I'd happily ride against Paul seven days a week and gladly lose them all, he's that kind of "good rider" on and off the track.
SPLAT! More hand damage!
I rode in the inaugural "Wally Grant Memorial Trophy" at Horspath on 21st April following the British Lions v Euro-Vets return match amongst a wonderful gathering of old and new veteran racers. I duly led away in my first race, heat 2, off the inside ahead of eventual meeting winner Rob Haywood. Hitting the third bend way too fast on this daft gearing I use the bike was determined to keep going straight so I just had to get off. I let go of the Mielec and clenched my fists for an attack on the fence but it still got the better of me. Ouch, two broken metacarpels on the right hand slowed me down and the resulting exclusion put me out of the picture so I just enjoyed the rest of the match at a somewhat slower pace. I ended up limping for the next few days with both shins, elbows and that right hip again giving trouble after it seemed to have magically mended. The following day I couldn't get off the line in training at Crammy so couldn't help my team much in that one which saw the biggest turnout since last Autumn, nine of us. Great to meet Les Gustafson again and he travelled back up to the North East with us after the hot Horspath meeting. And of course my favourite bunch of regular loony travellers were there again; Mick Knowles, Fred Rothwell and my skipper and chauffeur Jason Keith.
Oh dear, I've hardly stoppped whinging before being struck down again! A chest infection this time, the day after our solitary away meeting at great friends Hull CSC on Sunday 29th April. This one stopped me riding on Tuesday 1st May and my scheduled, rarely-missed MTB ride on Thursday 5th. I write this on Saturday evening determined to make it out tomorrow in glorious weather when I've promised to show Shane Gray what I get up to on a mounting bike. At least the wife has been ill with me, as she was last year so I'm getting support!
Saturday 12th saw Ashie, Jason and I collecting Fred Rothwell on the way to Newport for Round 2 of the Euro-Vets GP. With the chest still bothering me I wasn't too hopeful but had a couple of decent rides, the only issue being the air rushing down my throat on the straights! While I did just enough (without knowing how I'd scored) to scrape into the 60s "A" Final where I finished last (Kev Greaves giving up his own chance of second place or better by taking me to the fence!) the highlight was once again my meeting with Steve Harris. As in the opening match at Astley I managed to lead Steve around the first lap and afterwards he admitted he'd rather be next to me on the grid than one removed. I think just being in the same race as this superstar lifts me quite a bit, and I also enjoy chasing him once he's blown me away!
The broken bones in my right hand continue to hurt a little when gating and pulling gloves on but once I'm underway they're no problem, and finally the chest complaint and awful cough seem to be easing so no excuses for upcoming Hellingly!
I'm currently finalising a leaflet for distribution wherever we can in the hope we can attract some new blood into the Sport and our club so fingers crossed we can get it out there and read by the right people.
Saturday 26th May and the Hellingly round saw me lose to Colin Simmons from his outside in the Over 60s Final but considering my inability to gate (using a very much fattened right hand grip) not too unhappy with that, although he has a fair old lead overall now!
Another scorcher for a Euro-Vets round - this time at Coventry on Saturday 9th June, and this time I missed the "A" Final for the first time! Just had a real bad time getting out of the starts with the hand, really hurts when pulling on the bars away from the tapes. I won the "B" Final comfortably enough though.
Saturday 30th but this time NOT a Short Track meeting but a rare opportunity to get out on my latest mountain bike, a Trek Slash 9 at Guisborough with a handful of the Midaircrisis boys. Just 20 minutes from the end of this five hour ride I buckled it up over a stome ledge and popped another rib - ouch again!
Saturday 14th and Jason, JP, Ashie and I are at Glasgow to celebrate Chic Mackie's 80th birthday and his 67th year as a CS rider! A very dry, extremely dusrty and oh so slippery track meant most people were taking care, more so than usual. So was I with a couple of so-so rides but I put it right in the Final to win the Over 60s although both hand and rib damage made themselves felt at the start of every race.
Tuesday 17th and we have SEVEN bodies for training at Cramlington - as good as it gets this year. I managed a couple of fast race wins to compensate for teammate Josh Herring's lack of fitness!
It's Wednesday 18th July and I'm searching the van for JP Colback's missing headphones when the outside of my right hand just brushes the seatback and OUCH! I yell like a piggy and clutch those same two fingers, as bad as ever after recent "refresher" damage by handshakes! Taking some time for these metacarpels to knit together again, duh.
The finger pain continues through the summer but I just had to bite my lip at the crucial moment! My disappointing form continued through the Exeter and Wednesfield rounds of the Euro-Vets and I was resigned to finishing either second or third this year. The final round at Leicester saw me again underpowered and not that serious in atrocious conditions but with the track drying well and firming up I decided to strip off my outer layers of waterproofing and what a difference wearing just one pair of pants made as I managed to sneak around the outside of turn one in the Over 60s A Final to overhaul leader Phil Hemming down the straight and hang on to win nicely. I felt much better after that, in fact extremely satisfied, but just one round won in 2018 wasn't going to win any championships. Just to emphasize my support for the Euro-Vets I put up a hundred quid prize money for the Over 40s A Final and I'm sure that was appreciated by the four finalists after a hard day at the office for everyone.
Sunday 14th October saw my beloved Northumbria return to the Northern League for a crack at the Northern Fours at Hull. Another very wet day seemed to have the opposite effect on me this time and I was more than happy to collect 13 from four rides as Josh Herring copped a maximum 16 and Jason 15 to win Group B and send us up into Group A for round 2 at Stockport on 21st. Still using my left hand for handshakes and can't see an end to that this year, if ever!
The following Sunday, 21st, we raced in Round 2 at a wet Stockport and although the big track proved hard going for me I was happy enough to finish third top scorer again but I need to improve my general fitness level. I can usually keep up with some of the fast lads but there's rarely enough "oomph" left in my legs to mount a serious challenge!
October also sees me preparing a new bike for next season which should be a bit special. All will be revealed next year!
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