Round Three - The Soft Shoe Shuffle
A breezy, dry afternoon greeted the Euro-Vets Travelling Circus as it began to arrive at Hearsall Common, Coventry for the third round of the 2017 series. The track surface looked much like every one I've seen this year - bone dry and unswept - which is definitely the best way to have them in the current dry weather conditions. Any club lucky enough to have a plentiful water supply will laugh at that suggestion but those without will, like us at Northumbria, rather preserve their track for future years than risk continual brushing which ultimately sees the wind stealing the top dressing and leaving you with a huge problem. You'd expect any capable rider over 40 to have enough experience and skill to handle any conditions, although as with everything in life there are exceptions.Here's another exception:
There was a blustery wind hitting the track from the starting gate side but not causing any discomfort for the riders. Turnout for the Over 40s was a wee bit lower than expected at 10, meaning some two-rider heats in their 12-man formula, while the 50s & 60s combination managed a full 12-man field providing 3-man races after the first three set of 4s. We were still a little surprised at the turnout overall considering the Midlands seems to be THE hotbed of the Sport with easy travel between tracks, but hey, that’s the way it is sometimes. Once again 2017 Ozzie Tour Manager, Geoff Gammage was present to keep tabs on the form of his riders.
The bulk of the Over 40s top runners seem pretty determined to see out as much of the series as they can which means we get a top class field every time we run, with some cracking encounters assured. Today was no exception as the younger generation blasted into action with some great scraps.
Northumbrian Jason Keith was a good winner of heat 1, uncharacteristically hanging on to the inside line to thwart the challenges of the two Marks, Winwood around the out and Whitehead on the line after a sluggish getaway, while the effervescent Jim Collier again looked much quicker than last year out back.
Heat 2 saw Martyn Hollebon copy that, staying ahead of the ever-pressing World Champion Craig Marchant until he and Kev Burns tangled coming out of turn four, both riders then slowly completing the race after Kev picked himself up, already suffering and taking pain killers for his back (no testing done today :)
Andy Johnson and Eddie Ridley continued the theme in heat 3 with a very close battle. Ed, like Jim Collier, again showing extra speed this year which seems to have increased since his bike change in 2016 although again like JC he looks a good bit fitter too. And he almost scuppered Jason’s chances of reaching the “A” Final when cleverly keeping him at the back in heat 9. Wayne Tipton turned out for his second crack at the Euro-Vets following his very welcome inclusion at Stoke.
Geordie Jason kept up his improved form to collect another two wins, while Craig then went unbeaten as did Kev. Martyn also picked up two more wins and ditto Winny, and that left our other top-ender Mark Whitehead trailing the others a little, but something has to give at this level. Today there was a countback required when Winny and Jay ended on 17 points, the Geordie’s previous defeat of Brummie and ex-Champion Mark getting the verdict. It was still so tight behind these five with Leicester’s Mark on 15, just 1 point ahead of Andy and Eddie.
As seems the norm, the first bend of the “A” Final was a very cagey affair, everyone easing to the right just a little to create a bit more space and reduce the pace of their outside opponent, current Euro-Vet Champion Craig maximising his hard-won grid one slot to grab an early lead and make his escape. Kev managed to find a gap under Martyn across the starting grid to start lap two and squeeze into second place and it was Martyn who held onto third.
The “B” Final saw a virtually identical first bend, tactically, with Mark Winwood getting the edge over Mark Whitehead, Andy chasing hard while defending against Eddie whose challenge ran out after two laps with no changes up front.
FIVE riders were sat on 7 points after 2 rides each in the Over 50s with Dave Frith winning both of his, and amazingly after their next outings Dave, Paul Timms, Steve Hodgkinson and Stoke victor Mark Griffith were all on 11 with Norman Venson just 1 point behind. Paddy Wenn was a single point adrift after a great win over Mark, the Wednesfield man’s only defeat, but then finding himself trapped behind Phil Hemming and Norman in his third ride. 15,14,14,14,13 and 13 scored by the top six but just behind them and still in touch were debutant Graham Kemp and Phil on 11. As with the Over 40s there were some cracking races in this section and it was impossible to predict the actual final lineups.
That made the last four heats crucial for deciding the “A” Finalists, Mark making no mistakes to finish on top with 19 and joined in the final by Dave, Norman and Paddy on countback over Paul.
The “A” Final first turn followed the usual, tentative pattern with Mark having a clear run around the kerb to ease away to another victory, while Norman in third place slipped a pedal leaving the pits bend allowing Paddy through to clinch third behind Dave. He was offered a new pair of shoes by Terry Kirkup, but more of that in a mo…
Paul had earned grid one for the “B” Final and took full advantage of it for an easy cruise to victory. However there was plenty of action behind him after Graham had missed the gate and set about chasing down Steve with Phil taking it easy at the back. It took Graham the rest of the race and a lunge around the outside heading for the flag to make his move, and he just missed it by a whisker on the line, which may have surprised Stevie a little!
Paul, Phil, Terry and Fred lined up for the Over 60 “A” Final in that order and the race went the way of gate positions, fairly processional again.
Normally we’d have had Chic Mackie awarded his 20 points as being the only bod available for the Over 60 “B” Final, but today we ran it as a “Consolation" final, Chic still getting his Grand Prix points but being joined for the extra race by Wayne Tipton, Jimbo and Glyn Morgan who’d missed out on their respective finals. Glyn was off like a shot with Jim in close pursuit, chasing very hard for the first two and a half laps before giving way. Wayne finished third while once again the amazing Mr Mackie, a surprise entrant today, managed to keep his pedals turning for the full distance, and all credit to him.
Don't read this bit - skip to last paragraph.
Ah now then, the mystery of that title. It so transpired that after four hard seasons of racing, TK's shoes, pretty decent and not too cheap Five Ten Spitfires, had lost their grippy bobbles. These shoes are renowned in the MTB world as the grippiest little bu@@ers you can get and I would back that up, in wet or dry conditions (by the way I only use SPDs for mopuntain biking!). The night before this meeting a long overdue new pair turned up from Chainreaction Cycles so naturally "he" reckons he'll give them their first blast at Hearsall Common. These were a step up - no pun intended - a pair of Five Ten VXi's, plenty of quidsworth with their new improved, magical "Stealth Rubber" soles. Well, losing the pedals and a corresponding number of points to go with them in at least three races here had me wondering just how much "improved" these things were, but after much mulling over what happened and studying the shape and size of the things, I've concluded they are TOO grippy and although I wasn't planting my foot properly on the pedals I'm sure they were gripping the edges or corners instead, causing me to become undone. They are considerably stiffer than the cloth-topped Spitfires as these ones are waterproof, so that could also be the cause, lack of feel. I'll tell you better after East London and a good old thrashing between times.
Our thanks go to the Coventry club and meeting sponsor D & F Kirrane Construction Ltd. The very nice hot food buffet we were invited to after the match was held in a pub just around the corner and indeed the Maudslay Hotel itself sponsored the feast, many thanks to the proprietors and of course our host Joe McLaughlin who arranged it all. Good to see Joe up and about, pretty much mobile now but needing to be very careful about what he stresses, so no bikes for a while yet. We all wish you well Joe.