On the eve of the general election, there was an exceptional turn-out of 78 riders despite the cold conditions, and each race in another action-packed meet had several candidates for victory. In the search for an outright winner tonight, my vote was definitely going to the joint league leader Felix English. The in-form junior had put in a barn-storming performance last week when he won every race in which he took part, and he had clinched the final stage of the Isle of Man International Junior Tour the previous weekend.
And still they keep coming, as another two new seniors turned up to race tonight. Ben King and Nick Jepson were welcome additions to the Preston Park bunch, and they both regularly showed well at the head of affairs. First to make a move in the 8-lap opener was rapid Rupert Rivett, the well-known cycling photographer who is always well-focused on the bike. Rivett succeeded in getting a gap on the bunch, while King, Richard Bailey, Anthony Rogers, Alan Cooper and Elliot Tabraham-Dowers all drove the peloton forward. With five to go and Rivett back in the pack, English made one of his trademark accelerations in an attempt at freedom, but efforts by Tabraham-Dowers, Brock Duncumb-Rogers, Drew Holmes, Stuart Bettis, Mark Burgess and others put paid to the junior champion’s aspirations – for the moment at least. As the lap-board showed 4, English was again on his way, this time with Duncumb-Rogers and Bettis for company, and for a while it looked as if this trio would stay away. Ashley Dennis, Matt Davies, Jack Oliver-Blaney and Ben Miller then showed their hand and suddenly there were seven away, with the hard-pressed bunch stretched out like a long elastic behind them. With half-a-lap to go, English stormed forward to secure his first win on the night, and he was followed home by Dennis, Oliver-Blaney, Bettis, Miller and Duncumb-Rogers.
With daylight in short supply, there was to be no minor sprint final, so all eyes were solely on the winners of each of the six sprint heats. English, Burgess, Holmes, Oliver Pepper, Dennis and under-14 Jack Hoyle duly qualified for the final. Reigning Preston Park league champion Burgess dominated this race, allowing himself the luxury of making his jump at half-distance and sprinting home with a respectable gap on his nearest chasers who were, in order, English, Holmes, Dennis, Pepper and Hoyle.
Two devil-take-the-hindmost races were run, firstly the odds then the evens. This race is as much about tactical nous as it is about speed, and the top riders can always be seen at or near the front throughout – away from trouble at the back. Two riders were eliminated each lap and after the usual skirmishes and tight decisions on the line it was Lee Povey who came home for a fine win ahead of Tabraham-Dowers, Bailey, Jepson, Pepper and Holmes. In the even-numbers race, strong rider Bettis made a bid for freedom on lap 1, and he was still ahead four laps later. However, the pace by now had been seriously cranked up, notably under the impetus of English, and with two laps to go all the survivors were together. This led to a group gallop, led home predictably by English, followed by Duncumb-Rogers, Oliver-Blaney, Bettis, Andy Parle and Miller.
By this time, chief commissaire Vern McClelland had one eye on his watch and the other on the darkening skies, and he made the decision to cancel the scheduled 3-lappers in order to leave time for a decent final unknown distance race. First to attack was young James McCarron, who in an impressive move manufactured a 100-metre advantage while the bunch bided its time. As the whistle blew to announce a £5 prime next lap, McCarron’s lead was dwindling, but could he hold on to claim the cash? Yes, he could, just staying ahead of fast-moving Bailey, with the bunch being policed by newcomers Jepson and King, and Matthew Earnshaw also in attendance at the front. Danny Clark was next to have a go, but it was Dennis who proved a menace to the others by bagging the next fiver. Night-time was beginning to invade and more and more riders were struggling with the increasing tempo. Povey just beat Miller to claim the final prime, then Jepson tried his luck with an opportunistic break which unfortunately failed. Povey and Earnshaw had a slight advantage at the bell, but there was no stopping English as he romped home for his third win of the meet, beating Duncumb-Rogers, Povey, Davies, Holmes and Earnshaw in that order.
Felix moves into a lone league lead overall, but his commitments representing the Irish national team mean that he will miss several Preston Park meets. The senior title is therefore very much in the balance, with Duncumb-Rogers, Povey, Burgess, Dennis and others all ready to take over the top spot if given the chance.
Nothing will prevent Preston Park’s regular youths from attending their weekly meet – not even the bitter cold of a cloudy evening by the sea. A total of 43 youngsters signed on tonight, and they not only had the £5 cash prize on offer for the best youth, but also a book about Sir Chris Hoy kindly donated by League President Frank Blake. And as it turned out, it was a difficult evening for the commissaires to decide who should win the two prizes, with several youths rising to the challenge and getting stuck in with attacks in all age-groups. After much deliberation, Under 10 Noah Ridgway-Brown and Under 12 Isaac Wright were rewarded for their combative riding, Noah winning the money and Isaac taking the book.
This was the first week when individual handicap races have taken place, and both riders and parents did not disappoint, being ready at the correct mark for the start of each race.
Under 16 / Under 14
With 16 riders lined up for the joint 4-lap scratch, this was to be a humdinger of a race. Amy Jacobs, Sarah Cooper and Matthew Hill had a small gap after one lap, but one circuit later it was just Amy and Matthew with a slender lead. At the finish, Michael Dixon treated us to a great sprint to take the win, followed home by Matthew, Jack Priddle, Gabriel Parle, Spencer Thomas and Jake Marley.
Laura Cheesman came first in the handicap race with Gabriel and Megan Lewis next over the line.
Many of the Under 16/Under 14 category rode the devil-take-the-hindmost like seasoned
pros, taking frontline positions to avoid the turmoil at the back of the bunch. After several close calls for elimination, Amy won the final sprint, followed by Michael, Jack, Matthew, Jake and Gabriel.
The 2-lap race was run at a high speed, with little or no chance of riders breaking away. At the end, Amy Smith stormed home for a great win, ahead of Douglas McCauley, Thomas Burnett, Ben O’Brien, Isaac Wright and Ted O’Brien. The handicap race was won by Isaac in front of Lois Parle and Sam Booth. Isaac was well to the fore in the block handicap race, making an attack and romping home for a fine win ahead of Amy and Ben, followed by Douglas, Thomas and Ted.
Under 10 / Under 8
Rahul Fortescue-Talwar came home alone at the end of the Under 8 1-lapper, followed by Rory Burke, Oliver Brooker, Freddie Davies and new rider George Abbott-Stacey. A dozen riders participated in the Under 10 event, which was won by Noah Ridgway-Brown ahead of Bethany Lewis, who had together created a good gap by the finish. Next in line were Cory Anderson, Stan Abbott-Stacey, Richard Hoyle and Dominic Kazlauskas.
Louie Berey came first in the joint handicap race well ahead of the others, Richard was next and Noah came third.
Oliver Brooker dominated the Under 8 block handicap event with Rahul second and Rory Burke third. The equivalent Under 10 event saw Thomas Andrews triumph in front of Dominic and Stan, with next-placed Michael Wickens, Charlie Brooker and Evelyn Parle also scoring league points.