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Competitors race towards their bikes at the start of the Brompton World Championships in London.
Competitors race towards their bikes at the start of the Brompton World Championships in London.

Brompton World Championships – again

Another year, another Brompton World Championship but unfortunately, this year I didn’t manage to win a place in the lottery to get an entry to the race.

Fortunately, only a week before the event, I managed to ‘acquire’ an entry and made arrangements to ship both myself and my Brompton folding bike over to London.

Last year, I competed with a bulging disc in my spine and the rain was incessant. I had high hopes that this year’s race would be better on all counts.

On the day before the race, I met up with friends from the London Brompton Club near Buckingham Palace and we cycled through St James’ Park and Hyde Park to end up at the Brompton Junction shop in Long Acre, near Covent Garden for champagne and nibbles. It was an enjoyable run, despite the heavy rain that fell for most of the hour. I got talking to an Australian who had come over specifically with her partner and friend to take part in the race the following day. Brompton owners are a dedicated lot. Read her story here.

The World Championships are now part of a larger event, Ride London, which takes over London city for the weekend. After picking up my race numbers on the day of the race, I joined the mass of cyclists of all ages and abilities taking advantage of the many closed streets around the city.

To be honest, the cycle was hair-raising and I abandoned it quickly. There were so many bikes and such a breadth of abilities (or lack thereof) that it was impossible to make progress safely. I abandoned the closed streets and joined the cars on trafficked streets, ironically feeling a lot safer.

My bike was easily prepared simply by slapping on a set of racing pedals and I returned to St James’ Park ready for the start of the race.

After the rain of last year, it was encouraging that despite some clouds, any rainfall seemed to be miles off. Unfortunately, what we had in abundance was wind, which would prove troublesome during the race.

I wandered about before the race and met up with a fellow Irish competitor, Keith Evans, from Cork. Keith had brought along a full titanium Brompton that he built himself although he was forbidden from racing it as it wasn’t a genuine Brompton bike.

The rules are strict – the bike must be a Brompton and the rider must be properly dressed for the city with jacket and tie specified for male racers. I brought my hand-painted Brompton tie out for the occasion and felt suitable well prepared as I lined up for the start.

It’s a Le Mans style start at the BWC, with riders lining up on one side of the road and their folded bikes waiting at the other. At the signal, we have to tear across, unfold our bikes and take off like the clappers.

I got away cleanly this time and was tearing down towards the first corner when I saw chaos ahead of me. There were still some spectators on the track and as the stewards tried frantically to clear them, the whole field came to a complete standstill. As we finally got going again we heard shouted apologies that we weren’t expected so soon. They must have been asleep.

It could have been a very serious incident but thankfully, everyone seemed to get through safely although throughout the eight lap race, two other accidents occurred, albeit with no serious injuries.

Keith Evans, from Cork, cycling hard towards the end of the race.

I got into a rhythm fairly quickly and my legs felt strong while my back gave me no trouble whatsoever. The wind was a real issue though. It always seemed to be in our faces no matter what direction we were going and it also swept up loads of dust from the ground. By the end of the race, my throat felt like sandpaper and I could hardly swallow.

I kept up a steady pace as best I could and although there was nothing I could do about the leading group, which passed me twice, my final time was faster than last year and I finished almost 30 places ahead. Given my lack of training, I was reasonably pleased with that.

Next year, if I get a race entry, I’ll be in the veteran category, having had a significant birthday just days after the race. I’ve already been offered a place on a team of Irish veteran racers so I’d better get cracking on the training.

Next time, the leaders might only lap me once.

Read about the 2017 Brompton World Championship race here.

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