Charlie-Jane Herbert’s interest started when she was seven. Her older brother had persuaded the family to watch him race. When the organisers told spectators that there were enough bikes for them to all have a go she found the sport for her. No plans though to emulate Nicole Cooke who was then making a name for herself in women’s road cycling, the sport that had caught Herbert’s eye was cycle speedway.
“It did used to be a sport that people would turn up and just ride and have a few beers afterwards. Maybe even before and after,” says Great Britain and Ipswich rider Josh Brooke of cycle speedway. “A few years after I started riders took it a little more seriously, gym sessions, structured training etc. etc. You’ve got people now that are in the gym four or five times a week, getting sponsorship, stuff like that so I’d definitely say the sports got a lot faster and a lot more professional since I first started.
“I reckon personally that if you’ve got a club that’s got less than thirty registered riders they’re on the knockings,” says Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission as he discusses the state of the sport in Great Britain.
“I just love purple. I don’t know what it is about the colour I just love it, and I am known for loving chocolate, so I really like Cadbury’s, so I just liked the idea of purple and gold. It just goes so well with me.”
Whilst the paint scheme for bikes is down to the individual, the official rules are very specific about what is permissible when riders are building a bike in order to avoid parts being included that may injure other riders or damage bikes during racing. The result is a very stripped back bike when compared to a modern road or even a track bike.
Like most cycle speedway clubs, Ipswich has faced problems over the years, even folding for several. However since being reformed in 2002 it has slowly grown to now having over a hundred members and sixty plus riders of various ages. Now at the same time as the club is working to bring in more new members it is still struggling to attract the necessary funding to keep its track open.
The energy and dedication of volunteers is crucial in making dreams become a reality for many people in sport; without those volunteers many sports clubs would not exist and the ambitions of competitors would go unfulfilled.
Helen Clancy is the volunteer co-ordinator at Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club
“Sometimes I will turn them around on the track and let them know we are going the wrong way but its very surprising, the best ones at turning left cannot turn right for love nor money, they can’t do cycle speedway backwards” says Ipswich Cycle Speedway coach Les Fellgett.
With so much happening on the track it is not unusual for passions to run high amongst the riders and spectators during a cycle speedway fixture. Officials however are expected to stay uninvolved emotionally which can be difficult in such a small community when they invariably have ties to clubs and riders.
In the words of Bryan Harvey, the Track Manager at Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club : ‘They don’t like it dusty, they don’t like it too dry’. The role of a cycle speedway clubs track manager attempting to give their team the best surface to race on is not an easy one. In the early days of the sport track maintenance was simple; clear a space and race. The modern track requires more work.
With the twisting and turning of their bodies and pedals, and the pulling and pushing on the handlebars from the start of a race, cycle speedway riders need to be in good physical condition to compete at the top level. Though amateurs, like professional sportsmen and women, many still supplement their on track training with gym work.
To the unaccustomed spectator the initial impression of a team or pairs heat in cycle speedway may be of mayhem. Whilst some riders sprint to the first bend, others seem more intent on barging into each other than racing but continue watching and the tactics involved will start to become clear.
There are four cycle speedway clubs clustered in and around Ipswich in Suffolk. Great Britain squad member Adam Peck currently rides for two of these, Ipswich in the Elite League and Great Blakenham in regional league matches.
Selected to ride for Great Britain in cycle speedway’s 2013 World Championships in Australia, but unable to fly as she recovered from an arm injury, Lauren Jacobs call up to the British women’s squad for this years event has been most welcome. “For me its like I’ve been picked to ride in the Olympics so its a massive honour. Its just amazing.”
With riders racing shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, wheel to wheel, on bikes with a single gear and no brakes, and with hardly enough prize money if any at even the top level to cover the entry costs for an event, cycle speedway is a universe apart from the recently raced Tour de France.
So what attracts riders to a sport that most people have never heard of or confuse with motorcycle speedway ?
Sanne Cant of Belgium takes the lead in the UCI World Cup Cyclo-cross series after a photofinish gives her victory in Milton Keynes, Great Britain over Katherine Compton. Kevin Pauwels extends his lead with his first win in the men’s series having taken second place in the two previous rounds.
Twice the bridesmaid but not quite the bride, hosts Ipswich came close to winning both titles but in the end were beaten by rivals with stronger finishes.
A 71-69 defeat at the hands of Iceland dashes any chance of Great Britain’s men’s basketball team reaching the 2015 Eurobasket finals.
Whilst the sport of cycle polo has been around since the late 19th century and even been an Olympic sport the hardcourt version is still to come of age but now played in over thirty countries the sport is quietly growing.
Although long distance and ultra triathlons frequently continue into the night, for most of the time, and even for the majority of the competitors, racing takes part in daylight. The Midnight Wo/Man full distance race is different. Starting at 6pm its competitors know that the only light for most of their time on the course will come from street lights.
On paper, victory for ITU World Triathlon Series leader America’s Gwen Jorgensen seemed like a certainty at the Tri Liverpool elite women’s race. However British junior Sophie Coldwell ensured the race was not so easy for the American.
Alistair Brownlee gets to the top of the podium twice in one weekend as he wins the elite men’s race and is part of the winning Great Britain team in the World Mixed Relay Championships. Gwen Jorgensen claims the points to keep her top of the women’s series rankings.
Gwen Jorgensen of the USA wins her sixth ITU World Triathlon Series race making her the most successful female competitor in the series’ history whilst Javier Gomez of Spain wins the men’s race.
Age group competitors took to a less compact course that included a ride along Lower Wacker Drive, a multilevel road that has been used as a location for films such as The Blues Brothers and Batman Begins.
Mario Mola of Spain springs surprise victory as all three Olympic medalists from the race just under two years before finish outside the podium places. Gwen Jorgensen of the USA wins the women’s race.