Cycling Weekly reader Simon Warren was at the Rollapaluza event in London last night, but got a surprise spectator who spurred him on.

A wet Wednesday night in Herne Hill, south London. Round three of the Rollapaluza ‘Brass monkey’ winter league. For those of you unfamiliar with Rollapaluza, they are behind the rebirth of roller racing.

To set the scene, two bikes, fixed on rollers are positioned on a stage infront of a huge dial with moving arrows, you pedal, the arrow turns, the first to cover the distance wins.

A form of bike racing almost as old as the bike itself, it’s recently been repackaged and dragged into the 21st century and its popularity is growing exponentially. And rightly so, the events are slickly run and deliver excitement and pain by the bucket load.

The bar was packed, competitors ranging from full time track sprinters to passing office workers all up for the challenge. The events attract a lot of cyclists, many just to spectate, so there’s always a lot of familiar faces.

Having spent the evening bumping into old friends we’d not seen for a while, clocking another face wasn’t strange, but who was this?!

Cue the ultimate double take.

Walking through the door and just past my nose, it’s…… I don’t believe it. I impulsively yell;

“Christ! It’s Mark Cavendish!” Then look around sheepishly. “I said that out loud didn’t I?”

Mark Cavendish, calm down, it is Mark Cavendish. In all the bars in the world, the fastest man on two wheels, the Boy Racer himself, is here in South London.

A hum fills the air as he’s guided almost invisibly through the crowd to find a quiet, yet prime spot to watch the action. Those with the balls and self-confidence to match Cav’s explosive sprint go and say hello, some even sit down and chat.

The majority either giggle with excitement, like 30-something women waiting back stage at a Take That concert, or worse still try and act cool, saying to themselves; ‘it’s only Mark Cavendish’.

There’s now a new edge to the competition, we’ve all got to perform now, the best sprinter in the world has come to watch us sprint, it’s like Simon Cowell turning up to your local amateur dramatics night. No pressure then.

Soon enough I’m up on stage, safely through qualifying and now I’m in the first knockout round. Head to head, in the spot lights, winner makes the Quarter finals and the loser goes home and I take it, by a fraction of a second.

Was Mark watching? Maybe? Maybe not, anyway he was there. I rekon he would have looked up at some point. As the night approaches its climax and the semi finals finish he slips away.

A tactical move, if he’d waited until the end, with no other distractions, the crowd would surely have shrugged off their inhibitions and mobbed him for autographs and photos. Some couldn’t resist and got that precious picture, for which he was happy to oblige. The rest of us just watched him disappear.

Wednesday the 3rd of February, the night Mark Cavendish came to see me win a bike race, oh and lose one as I was knocked out in the quarter final.

Alex Dowsett Rollapaluza

Alex Dowsett revs up in Round 2 of the winter league

NO ROLLERS FOR CAV

Cavendish kept a low profile and passed on the opportunity to take on Team Terminator’s Miles Stovold as he set a record time on the new rigs of 20.51 seconds in the semi-final.
  
“We knew he was coming in advance but were asked not to publicise it,” said Paul Churchill of Rollapaluza. “We were told he really enjoyed the evening. He was there for over two hours and was watching the racing intently for most of that.”

Cavendish starts his new season at the Ruta dal Sol on February 21 having delayed racing due to the after affects of an infected tooth. The Tour of Qatar, starting Sunday [February 7], had originally been lined up for the Manx sprinter. The 24 year old won two stages of the six-day race in 2009.

mark cavendish, cavendish, cav, rollapaluza

Cav in a Rollapaluza sandwich – photo courtesy Steve Jackson