The most famous track meeting in Britain was first held in 1903 — the same year as a certain road race around France — and every Good Friday since (except during World War Two) world champions and Olympians have brought the glitz and glamour of professional racing to South London.
Down the decades every top British rider has wanted to come to Herne Hill at Easter and take on the exotic foreign pros, and this remains the Good Friday meeting’s keynote to this day.
In 1948 — the year that Herne Hill hosted the Olympics — organiser Jim Wallace struck a deal with the News of the World that enabled him to continue to pay top internationals to contest the Champion of Champions sprint. Decades later, under the stewardship of current organiser Graham Bristow, these events are still fiercely fought and the same trophies awarded.
Bristow remembers 1993 as the year when he assembled his most impressive cast of sprinters. East German Michael Hübner, who was reigning pro world champion, lined up against the reigning Olympic champion Jens Fiedler, reigning Commonwealth Games champion Gary Neiwand, and Stewart Brydon, who was British national champion.
“That was a really good coup,” he enthuses.
Dr Hutch investigates aerodynamics at Herne Hill
Another big crowd pleaser was the Ten Minutes Pursuit or ‘roadman’s’ pursuit, which could star a top roadman not normally seen in action on a velodrome. This event has as its previous winners such luminaries of road and track as Alf Engers, Tony Doyle, Sean Yates, Colin Sturgess, Graeme Obree and Rob Hayles. Bradley Wiggins made it his own from 2000, winning it five times out of six until it was run for the last time in 2007.
For the centenary edition in 2003, Australian former Tour yellow jerseys Stuart O’Grady and Bradley McGee starred. That year Bristow was helped by Fran Millar, sister of David, who had just set up a PR company. Face Partnership went away and set up the enormously successful Revolution Series at Manchester velodrome.
The Good Friday meeting itself has also moved away from Herne Hill and this year, for the second time, will be held at London’s newest Olympic velodrome, Lee Valley.
“Herne Hill became more decrepit and derelict,” says Bristow.
“Plus it had been rained off for the last few years, and snowed on the last time. So when Lee Valley came on stream, we thought we could take it to a modern velodrome, revitalise the meeting and make it relevant again.”
In its hi-tech new indoor home, you won’t feel the rare Easter sunshine on your face or hear the roar of the big motors, but the racing is every bit as high octane, with the unique heritage of the Good Friday meeting still framing it.
As one of its loyal spectators might say, you can take the Good Friday meeting out of Herne Hill, but you can’t take Herne Hill out of the Good Friday meeting.