National champs: jolly good show

The weekend in Abergavenny had it all; gorgeous weather, great racing, more big top stars than ever, and more than a little controversy. Here’s my rundown on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Hats off several times over to Bill Owen and crew for putting on a faultless weekend of racing. It started with the unpromising criterium on Friday night with a grand total of 15 riders (where were you, riders? Saving it for Sunday? Fools!) and ended with a gripping men’s race on Sunday. The junior race was a cracking good show: plenty of attacking and some smart moves from the young lads. The women’s race was, frankly, less than enthralling, but until there are more capable of taking on Cooke and Pooley – Armitstead being the exception – it will always struggle to catch fire.

The combination of NEG and police motorbikes enforced a perfect rolling road closure. With a bunch of 190 to contend with and a sprawling race caravan to escort through the often narrow and twisting roads to Monmouth and back to Abergavenny, it had to be spot on. And it was.

A serious number of people turned out to watch at the weekend. Saturday’s women’s race was well attended in town, with local hero Nicole Cooke doing the business for the Welsh, but Sunday’s race was packed all over. The canny could catch the action 12 times; once on the opening circuit, up the Tumble to see some real suffering, then back to Abergavenny for ten laps of the finishing circuit. The Tumble was rammed and the High Street was packed, which is just what you want to see for a National Championships.

Ladeeeez and Gentlemen. Introducing, in the red corner, Mr Colin Clews; UCI commissaire, organiser of the CiCLE Classic, tall, tanned, athletic. And in the blue corner, Mr Brian Cookson; British Cycling president, master of all he surveys, ‘something of the night about him’ as Ann Widdecombe might say.

But hold on. Cookson is not the villain of the piece. ‘El Presidente’ has weighed in and rescued the damsel in distress from the clutches of the big, bad commissaire.

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All joking aside, the whole Armitstead medal-giving fiasco was an almighty balls-up that could – and should, with a little foresight – have been avoided. There seems to be bad blood between the two protagonists here that has not helped an already inflammatory situation.

The only good thing to come out of it was an admittance of wrong-doing on both sides; Clews expressing “lingering regret” that Armitstead was not awarded the silver medal on the podium, and was not given a choice of senior of under-23 medals, and Cookson apologising for the lack of clarity and guidance from BC that led to Clews’ disagreeing with both Armitstead and Peter Kennaugh receiving medals for two separate championships (although Clews is actually sticking to the letter of the law for UCI regs, which is another matter entirely).

So maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from this, shake hands, move on, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Maybe.

The man was mobbed from start to finish. The minute he arrived in the car park, well-wishers, autograph hunters, media and the downright curious were all over him.

Little wonder, then, that Mark Cavendish looked so vexed after the race; standing in a car park, surrounded by well-meaning onlookers as he explained his frustration at pulling everyone else along in the closing laps, doing too much work and getting little help. And all the time, he would break away to have his picture taken with a youngster or sign yet another autograph. Then he grabbed his case and headed for the changing rooms, still looking stressed.

And as he passed me, a broad grin was clearly visible from the side. Cav, stressed? Not enjoying all the attention? Don’t believe a word of it.

For a man taking his first tilt at the British title (on account of not being British for very long) Chris Froome was given an almighty big cheer from the crowd in Abergavenny for his aggressive riding over the whole of the race and especially his refusal to lie down and be beaten in the finishing circuit.

Will the Kenyan-born Barloworld rider be part of the Sky team next year? He wouldn’t tell me, of course, but now knows that he will get a big welcome from the Brits, and was genuinely touched by the reception in Wales. A classy rider. Sign that man.

Big thanks to Julian Winn of CandiTV-Marshalls Pasta for providing a seat in the team car and for answering my banal questions. There was one mention of sheep, but I think I got away with it…


British Eurosport

Sat July 4 8pm Women, 8.30pm Men

Sun July 5 1.15am Men

Mon July 6 6pm Men

Mon July 6 6.30pm Women

Tu July 7 12.30pm Men

Wed July 8 11pm Men

Thu July 9 1am Women

Thurs July 9 10.30pm Women

Check all timings on the day. Schedule is subject to change.