Showdown on Frog Island
Yes indeed, this one had the frogs jumping. After a fairly hectic and long season for most clubs and riders we finally arrived at the Grand Finale for the 2017 Euro-Vets Grand Prix series. A very good turnout saw the usual array of Over 40s talent with all the Leicester regulars present including the return to action of early season co-favourite Mark Whitehead and another appearance by Dave Hemsley. Unfortunately Leicester stalwart Dave Frith was unable to race following his nasty spill at the Norwich round but Dave dutifully stepped forward to referee this one, potentially a minefield due to the incredible fight for the top four overall positions.
Can I just say how good it was to see British Cycling's biggest supporter Jostling Joe McLaughlin in the pits. A fearsome competitor on the track, Coventry CSC's Joe has been ravaged by all manner of health problems over the last few years but was looking lively on his walkabout today. Let's hope he can fully recover and bring some of his renowned "resident evil" back to the Over 60s in the future.
Huge thanks to meeting sponsor, ex-Cycle Speedway superstar and double World Champion Mark Newey, just as many to Oz Tour Team Manager and E-V tee shirt sponsor Geoff Gamage and the same again to Steve Mullinder's Dash Trophies for his continuing support of the whole thing. To everyone who responded to the call for raffle prizes, well done indeed, you helped lift our charity sum to £900 for presentation to the Orchid Fighting Male Cancer charity. And I almost forgot about the ladies who provided us with a superb after-meeting feast to cap a great day for the Euro-Vets travelling circus, thank you all. (photo Steve Hodgkinson)
Incidentally, where did the get to?
Coming into this one World and current Euro-Vets Champion Craig Marchant and his fellow Monarch and great pal Kev Burns were literally joined at the hip, just a single point separating the pair with their lowest scores taken away; Craig on 138, Kev with 137. All to play for today then!
If these two were joined at the hip, podium chasers Birmingham’s Mark Winwood and Northumbrian Jason Keith were sharing the same heart, tied together on 148 points! Even more to play for!!!
And as if that wasn’t enough, Mick Knowles of Astley & Tyldesley and Eddie Ridley of Hellingly were also just one point apart coming into this round and fighting for 6th position overall. What a season this has turned out to be.
Just to throw a few potential spanners in the works, Dave Hemsley brought his home track advantage to Slater Street for the Finale while British Champion Steve Harris of Horspath joined in as an ever-present threat to all of the top lads. Although neither could land a series podium due to missing too many rounds they sure could spoil the party for the other youngsters. The watching crowd wasn’t a large one but it was in for a real treat here.
Incredibly over in the middle-aged Over 50 category there was another showdown looming for second place between another of Leicester’s superstars Norman Venson and winner of the previous two rounds Paddy Wenn, folk hero of Norwich CSC. These two were locked on 157 points apiece behind season-long leader, Wednesfield legend Mark Griffiths. However Mark’s 10 point advantage was certainly still at risk from these two should anything untoward happen to the Aces star.
So far that’s FOUR pairs of riders vying for single-point supremacy but wait, there was more! Yes, even the Grand Old Men of the series were at it too, with Wednesfield’s Phil Hemming bringing a 1 point lead with him over Northumbria’s defending champion Terry Kirkup. And there was yet another “spanner” ready to ruin someone’s day here with Birmingham’s brilliant starter Paul Timms making his (threatened) final appearance on track having decided to retire after this one. We sure hope he changes his mind by next Spring. What an extraordinary set of circumstances to be left with at the final round of the 2017 series, incredible.
Now I have to hold my hand up here and admit I didn’t take in as much of the action as I’d normally try to do with a slight amount of unusual pressure to perform well causing me a few distractions in the pits, so my recollections here are based mainly on reviewing the programmes.
I did, however, just catch the crash that left Dave with a broken ankle after clashing with Steve, or vice-versa. A nasty looking incident and back in the pits I think we all shared Dave’s pain as we could hear it quite clearly. Let’s hope he can make a quick and full recovery and maybe pray for a miracle that will allow him to race in Australia after such a crushing and untimely blow.
First out was Craig who with an exceptional gate got across Eddie on 2 and Martyn on 1 to take the first of his four wins. Fellow front runner Kev maximised his two insides with wins while Mark Winwood emerged as the other 19 point man after a first defeat by Kev, he losing out to Craig in an exciting heat 19. Behind them, Jason squeezed past the stricken Dave and Steve after that awful crash in heat 8 to get the nod over the Horspath flyer on countback, both finishing next best on 16. Most disappointed of the series' front runners was probably Martyn Hollebon after his terrific win at Hellingly but he looked a little sluggish out of the gate today.
As is almost always the case there was plenty of fast action down the order, Andy Johnson so unlucky in a couple of heats and Mick Knowles gating better than ever without his fatbelly belt! For those of you who haven't seen it, it looks like this:
Home man Mark Whitehead was expected to provide more stern opposition at the top end but suffered a gate exclusion in his first ride so that ruined his chances of chasing the "A" Final. Good to see Wednesfield's Wayne Tipton and Craig Burt joining in again and Matthew Wilcockson from Coventry made hopefully the first of many Euro-Vets appearances. Eddie Ridley had a good, solid run through the programme while gentleman Jim Collier looked a bit jaded after recent performances, but with a cunning plan hatching for an experimental bike next year let's wait and see what 2018 brings our shy, retiring Horspathian.
I'll let the Over 40s "A" Final video tell the tale now, better than I could in mere words. With Mark and Jason finishing dead level it was down to whatever countback system had been agreed before tapes-up, and that was to give the honours to whoever had the most top step podiums, then 2nd step etc. The result of that handed the advantage to a very surprised Jason who couldn't believe he'd grabbed third place overall from Mark. And Mark sure didn't want to believe he'd lost it, making no bones about his disapproval of the deciding factor!
The "B" Final saw Steve rocket away from Martyn while Eddie got the better of Mick in a good scrap for third place.
The Over 50 races saw home track specialist and reigning Champion Norman Venson rack up a superb unbeaten 20 pointer after a good win over Mark Griffiths in heat 1, Hethersett's Glyn Morgan excluded at the gate to hand Stevie Hodgkinson the third place unchallenged. Mark didn't lose again in an impressive display of powerful gating. Norwich maestro Paddy Wenn was in good form again and ended up tied with Over 60's Brummie Paul, dazzling from the gate as always, these four automatic "A" Finalists. Nearest challengers were returnee Stevie, super consistent Phil and surprise Terry Kirkup with Dashing Ace (sorry!) Steve Mullinder next up. Steve and Paddy had one of the best races of the day in this section but their clash allowed Stevie to cut through for the win, the Birmingham man riding better than he expected after missing a few rounds.
When Norman slipped at the pits turn in the "A" Final, Mark found his path suddenly blocked and as in the previous two rounds, it was time for Paddy Power to move in and scoop his late trio of "A" Final victories with Paul also easing past the fallen and so unlucky Leicester man to claim second spot.
The "B" Final had a very tired Terry romping away to lead for three laps before completely dying, Stevie taking over for the win from Steve and a relaxing Phil, who actually tied up fourth spot in this year's championship after some great performances.
The other "crunch" clash would be that between Phil and Terry, the Northumbrian needing to beat Phil to stand any chance of winning the Over 60s Champion Trophy for the second year on the bounce. Their duel in heat 9 gave the Geordie a comfy win and some hope as it provided a chance to get a Final grid slot inside the Wednesfield man, always strong from the tapes. Behind these three Fred Rothwell maintained his lead over the chasing Ashie Patterson and the Incredible Shrinking Man Chic Mackie.
The "A" Final then saw Paul easily away from grid one while there was a bit of a hugging contest between Phil and Terry going into turn one, somehow the Geordie staying upright and on the right side of the kerb to gradually get the better of the Hairy Biker and give chase to Paul with Fred trying to catch Phil at the back. That left the two protagonists on level points, and as with the Over 40s, Phil got the nod due to having three top steps over Terry's two. As the French say, "C'est la vie". Loosely translated into Brummie, "that is the toilet"!
There followed three fabulous and completely unexpected presentations by the Magnificent Monarchs. First one went to Paddy Wenn's mum and dad who've followed our series everywhere for the last two years. What a lovely gesture, hugely appreciated by all in attendance and I'm sure by all who now know about it.
Second one was extremely embarrassing for me as the crackpots had got me a gift in recognition of something they think I do for the E-Vs, bu@@ered if I know what that might be, but I did go out there and accept it after Craig and the boys had done some serious investigating into my eating and drinking habits and was in stitches when I saw the contents. Seriously gents, I don't deserve it but it sure made me feel part of the Family, thank you all so much.
Third and most importantly, Fred was handed a nice little memento for all he's done to keep the show on the road for the last umpteen years, a lovely shield, inscribed and named in his honour to be raced for over in Australia when this bunch of dafties trot downwards for the World Finals next month. Another fantastic gesture from the Leicester Massive, a fine example of organisational brilliance to everyone engaged in our super little sport of SHORT TRACK RACING (teehee!).