2009 is the year of the criterium as the domestic calendar in Britain is once again bursting at the seems with town-centre circuit racing.

British Cycling?s popular National Circuit Race Series remains, as do the expanding Nocturne events, but are joined by the all-new televised Tour Series criteriums.

From the months of May to September, bike racing fans will be treated to a grand total of 25 elite criterium events.

Without doubt, the domestic criterium scene is looking healthier now than it has done for many years with the size and scale of the events approaching the glory years of the 1980s.

The city centre criteriums of the 1980s attracted millions of viewers on prime time television as well as some of the stars of the era, with the likes of Jan Raas, Sean Kelly, Malcolm Elliott and Sid Barras making regular appearances.

Shown live on prime-time television on channel 4, the criteriums proved to be overwhelmingly popular, with average viewing figures around the 1.5 million mark and peaking at 2.5 million in 1987. During that time, the viewing figures surpassed those for the Tour de France coverage, and for a brief period, cycling became the fifth most popular (in terms of viewers) sport in the UK, ahead of Formula 1 and even rugby.

They’re fast, exciting and unpredictable and 2009 marks a turning point in what is the year of the criterium.


ELITE CIRCUIT RACE SERIES

Dean DowningDean Downing (left) is the reigning National Circuit Race champion and will be at Hillingdon this Sunday, the first race in a tightly-packed series of 11 races.

After taking fourth place at last weekend’s Lincoln GP, Downing is enjoying a fine run of form.

“I’ve just had a rest week, my first for a while because I was feeling really tired after the Lincoln GP,” said Downing.

“It’s a big, strong field at Hillingdon. I’ve put pressure on myself to get back to form [after injury] but I’m coming up to speed quickly. I’m going to be doing all of the criteriums this year and focus on June and July in particular, there are a lot of races up for grabs.

“Hillingdon is a strange circuit, it’s flowing and fast. It depends on the weather, if it turns and gets windy anything can happen. We’ll see how it pans out on the day, though”.

A star-studded line-up will race at the tight and twisting West London circuit, including the likes of Rob Hayles, Malcolm Elliott and last year?s winner, Graham Briggs.

Briggs (CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta), a former team-mate of Downing’s at Rapha Condor took the Hillingdon GP last year before going on to take the Series overall and is sure to be one of the favourites come Sunday.

Overall, the Series remains an integral part of the domestic calendar, with 11 rounds from May to September.

Events:

May 17, Hillingdon Grand Prix

June 17, Stone Criterium

June 24, Otley Criterium

July 1, Rochdale Grand Prix

July 3, Blackpool Grand Prix

July 7, Brighouse Criterium

July 14, Colne Grand Prix

July 22, Blackburn Grand Prix

September 5, Newport Nocturne

September 6, Warwick Grand Prix

September 20, Preston Grand Prix


NOCTURNE SERIES

Smithfield NocturneThe Nocturne Series is ?re-inventing? inner-city bike racing according to its website and the burgeoning popularity of the series has seen it expand from one event to three this year.

The Series has developed a strong support race line-up that includes fold-up racing, roller racing and for the first time this year, an elite women?s criterium.

The Nocturne Series was first established in 2007 with a crowd of 5,000 packing the historic market of Smithfield in London. Now in its third year, the Series has venues in Edinburgh and Blackpool as well as London and it can boast having attracted some of sport’s top stars, including Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy.

Events:

May 30, Edinburgh

June 6, Smithfiled

August 1, Blackpool


TOUR SERIES

Tour SeriesTaking its inspiration from the overwhelmingly popular Kellogg?s city centre criteriums of the 1980s, comes the all-new Tour Series races from Tour of Britain organisers, Sweetspot.

The Tour Series provides a unique twist on traditional criterium racing, with points awarded to the winning team rather than the rider.

Ten teams of five riders will compete to place their top three riders as highly as possible after one-hour of eyeballs-out racing. The organisers have also taken the somewhat unique step of banning race radios to ensure that the tactical onus falls upon the rides themselves, rather than their directeurs sportifs.

As with the Kellogg?s events, the Tour Series will be televised with a one-hour highlights programme shown the night after each race.

Some of the UK?s top domestic-based teams have committed to riding the Series, with wildcard opportunities available for continental squads.

Events:

May 21, Milton Keynes

May 28, Exeter

June 2, Woking

June 4, Peterborough

June 9, Blackpool

June 11, Southport

June 16, Stoke-on-Trent

June 18, Colchester

June 23, Chester

June 25, Southend-on-Sea


NEWPORT NOCTURNE

Malcolm ElliottThe original nocturne event, the Shropshire Star Newport Nocturne can trace its roots back to 1970.

It was not until 1989 that the race was first held under floodlights, a format that it has stuck with since.

As with its more modern counter-part, the Nocturne Series, the Newport event has attracted some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas.

The race was cancelled in 1992 thanks to the recession, but returned in 2001 and now holds a biennial spot on the calendar, where it is a part of the National Circuit Race Series. Malcolm Elliott, a perennial criterium contender, won the last running of the event in 2007 and is sure to be targetting it again this year.

2009 edition:

September 5, Newport

RELATED LINK

British race calendar 2009