Saturday, 7 May 2011

A new place to race.

It’s a Wednesday evening and I’m almost back on my home turf. I’m usually in the far off reaches of the western tip of Cornwall but tonight I’m off on a new venture. I’m setting off to a new location for cycle racing; a go kart track near a village in mid Cornwall called St Eval. We have set up a series consisting of thirteen races to boost road racing in the region and this includes using different venues around the county. It seems to be going well as the number of riders in the previous races has all but doubled.

 I thought I already knew where the place was but fortunately had a quick look at a map before leaving and discovered I was completely wrong. I now had a rough idea and when I saw a signpost which said, ‘St Eval 5 miles’ turned off the main road into a narrow country lane. A very short distance later another signpost said ‘St Eval 1 mile’. This could appear as odd but Cornish miles can sometimes be very short and at other times very long. The next mile was a very long one. We kept driving seeing nothing for many English miles, any signs or village, just narrow, high banked lanes leading or forking off to unknown places. We eventually passed what looked like a totally deserted army camp that had been blown in on a tornado and then in the far distance I spied a church tower. Churches mean villages I thought, so drove towards it, but in this case a church meant just that, a church and nothing else, one lonesome, solitary church, amongst miles of green scenery, but it was St Eval church and a short distance later we found our destination. I later heard that numerous cars with bikes attached had been driving around the lanes. One lot on spying a car with bikes going in the opposite direction quickly turned round only to see that the other car has done the same on seeing them and passed them once again, both lost.

The St Eval circuit is on a disused second world war aerodrome, therefore positioned high on a rounded hill, a few miles from the sea, so exposed to every breath of wind that blows, a strong and cool southeasterly tonight, and every drop of rain that falls. I’ve heard that some riders are dubious about this new venue as it’s rumoured to be small, the surface rough and covered in oil as it’s used as a go cart track. As I walk around it’s evident that the rumours are totally unfounded; it’s a tight, smooth, 1.2km circuit, better than the battered tarmac they usually race across at Portreath, and which would encourage good bike handing, in particular cornering. I couldn’t see a single drop of oil anywhere.

Forty plus riders arrived, a fair number coming down from the Plymouth area. A few local west Cornwall riders are noticeable by their absence, which makes me wonder if they are afflicted with that Cornish travelling problem. South Africa, Mexico, Australia, no problem we’ll dig a hole anywhere but go past Truro? Why? What’s on up there? No thank you boy.

 I’m chief judge. I’ve been doing this and organizing all the events for the last fifteen years down the road at RAF Portreath. I choose a good spot just outside the changing rooms and café and chalk on a finish line. The racing is fast and furious, there’s little time for my mind to wander as a bunch of a dozen or so riders fly pass every couple of minutes battling it out, half desperately hanging on while the others are trying to drop them, a number are out the back toiling away not willing to give up and hell bent on beating the riders they are with. A few of the riders have found the cornering difficult and have been dropped but if they keep coming back they’ll learn. The shapes of some of the riders intrigue me as do hairy legs but this is the essence of grass roots. These are people with everyday jobs who love cycling, training in the evenings and weekends, juggling family commitments with racing, who somehow all have discovered a love of physical pain and suffering which this sport above all demands and are all experiencing by the bucket load right now.
The owner of the track is impressed. He stands next to me as the 2nd’s and 3rd’s charge past, with an odd 4th cat, who’s in the wrong race, tenaciously hanging on the back, and mentions that ‘these guys are fit, I wasn’t expecting these speeds.’ I often hear these sentiments; Joe Public has no idea that racing is quite different to piddling along a road. I was at the finish of a stage in the Tour of Britain in Barnstable when a rotund family beside me remarked that they didn’t realize it was a ‘motorbike’ race they were watching when the riders came into view across the estuary. They were genuinely stunned when they realized it was ‘pushbikes’. How are they going so fast?

I’m pleased, it’s been a good night’s racing and I can tell from the informal conversations that I earwig on that the riders have found it enjoyable. Now that we all know where it is and what it’s like it will make a very suitable venue.

Out of curiosity I looked up St Eval on the internet. The village of St Eval was demolished in 1938 for the construction of the airbase; only the church was left standing. It’s now an ‘area’ rather than a place, no wonder the sat navs had their drivers confused.

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