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National cyclo-cross championship (photo)

From a young age I was an enthusiastic cyclist hammering down gravel paths on my rickerty first bicycle exploring the local park in Sutton Coldfield. When our family moved to Daventry, 50 miles away, I took up cycle racing at the age of 15. I cycled everywhere, near and far, exploring, training and racing. I joined the local Rugby Velo RCC with several other lads and raced in time-trial, circuit and cyclo-cross events. I was pretty average with a typical 10 mile TT time of 27 minutes. In the late 60s I joined my fellow Rugby Velo racer, Alex Hook, on a trip to London as support, he was competing in the national cyclo-cross championship. It was a to be a memorable moment. I could hardly belief it as I watched him slowly take the lead and cross the finish line to win the national championship. Returning home on the train, Alex modestly showed off his newly acquired trophy. Boy was I impressed, I was almost speechless all the way home.

This event certainly inspired me to achieve greater success. I began to creep up the field in cyclo-cross events often finishing in the first 10 from a field of 50 riders or more. When the national cyclo-cross championship returned the following year in London (Chingford) I entered without hesitation. I had been having some success in the last few cyclo-cross events before the upcoming national, often finishing with the top five riders and began dreaming of winning the national like Alex. I knew I had a chance.

On the day of the event 180 riders had entered the national, too many to safely run the race, so it was split into three heats of 60 riders. The first 20 riders finishing each heat would be entered into the final. I came in sixth in my heat, safely guarenteeing my place. Then we all lined up for the nerve racking final. Riders for 100 yds to the left and right of me waited behind the start line and ahead a muddy grass field as wide as a football ground.

Then the start signal was given and we were off, a mass of schoolboy racers headed in the general direction of what was deemed to be the course. I felt confident and pushed ahead, not wishing to get caught up in the inevitable bottleneck once the course narrowed. After 100 yds I was leading the field and knew I had every chance of winning short of a catastrophy. I had a small lead as I reached the narrow part of the course, here there was hardly enough room for two riders abreast. Then I descended a short but steep muddy slope with a sharp U-turn at the bottom where the course turned back up the hill. I hit the bottom of the slope and turned sharply to climb back up the hill but as I did so my rear tyre rolled off the rim and I was stopped in my tracks. The race had abruptly ended for me. Sixty riders jostled past, most carrying their bikes, slipping and sliding back up the muddy track. Soon they had all disappeared from view and I was left alone with all the spectators. One spectator kindly offered me his bike but I knew I had no chance of catching up, nor did I wish to put his bike through this gruelling morass. I was shattered. The previous heats had loosen the glue holding the tyre to the rim and nothing more could be done. My dream was over. I was devastated, mostly because I did not finish but also because I genuinely felt I had a chance of winning. Not long afterwards I started art school, took up smoking again and gave up cycle racing forever.