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pursuit tangent

December 11th, 2009 Comments off

Finding out about the decision to drop the individual pursuit from the Olympics sent me into a heady remembrance of my track days.

My first encounter with the track was probably in 1972, maybe ’73. In South London, our only option was the track at Herne Hill, a (then) black cement track with a long, long history. There was a track in Paddington, North London, but that was a world away for us. Or so it felt.

At the time, I had just joined Kingston Wheelers CC, a club based in my home town of Chessington (I still can’t figure out how I even discovered such a thing as a team). We used to meet at Gil Jessup’s house, but as membership expanded, that soon became too small, and they figured out using a Kingston School (Latchmere?) for our Monday night club meetings. Tea and biscuits to the fore, I was always full of anticipation for getting to work out on the rollers the club owned.

I digress. My first taste of the track (man, it was bumpy!) was mostly notable for not crashing. My friend Andy forgot that you couldn’t just stop pedaling and was hauled out of his saddle down on to the top tube. Ouch doesn’t even come close. I fell in love with the track – not because of Andy’s mishap. I don’t recall any great success – though I did win schoolboy runner-up in 1974 – but I longed to ride fixed at any opportunity.

Kingston Wheelers, 1975

Kingston Wheelers CC, 28 Sept 1975 (I’m on the left). (Paul Fulcher is at the back, 5th from the left)

The first track ‘iron’ I ever owned was the most beautiful frame I ever bought – a 23.5″ lugless Condor Barrachi in a ruby flam color, Reynolds 531 tubing – sold to me for some ludicrous sum by fellow club member Paul Fulcher. I wish I could remember what I did with that frame. The color was so deep, so lustrous.

There were other clubs in the area, but our biggest rival (or so it felt) were the Clarence Wheelers, who had quite a profile and garnered a lot of attention because of a kid named Tony Doyle. I saw him on the track at Herne Hill a whole lot of times and was absolutely and totally in awe of his fluid pedaling style. It was at one of these track meets that I met Alf Whiteway, one of the founders of Clarence Wheelers who liked the way I rode (he told me that the way I rode reminded him of Tony’s style) and kind of extended an invitation to join CWCC…

Tony Doyle
Vintage track photos at the London FGSS

I went back and forward on the decision for a while, but finally decided to go for it. I wanted to ride the track, inspired by Tony and Alf, and the fact Alf pushed fixed gear riding, fixed gear events, and that high cadence, smooth pedaling style made the decision a little easier. I ended up being selected to ride the points and the team pursuit at the SWLC track meet in ’77 (or ’78). It was a huge thrill and honor to be picked for the team, but I was a disaster in the pursuit, where I got blown out with about 3 laps to go (I think my teammates were Barry Smallworth, Mark McLaughlin and Robert Corcoran).

It was a portent to the end of my racing career.