We’ve been back to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park quite a few times since it reopened after London 2012 – but always to the velodrome. This weekend, though, we’re at the athletics stadium, for an event that has a couple of links to track cycling – but absolutely none to running, jumping or throwing.
Back in 2008, the Race of Champions decsended on Wembley. Motorsport’s end of season celebration included a planned race between newly crowned multi-Oylmpic Champion Chris (as he was then) Hoy and newly crowned Forumla One Champion Lewis Hamilton. The handicap event was supposed to see Hoy on a track bike line up against Hamilton in an F1 car – but it didn’t happen. Rapidly falling temperatures meant an icy track and the race was called off. Disappointed though trackcycling was, we sucked it up and found a way to enjoy the rest of the event.
For the next six years the Race of Champions made its way around the world until, 10 days ago, the caravan rocked up at the Former Olympic Stadium – as the IOC insists it is called. Hot on the heels of the Rugby World Cup, the next 10 days saw the rugby-ravaged turf covered over with plywood and tarmac as a race circuit was created inside – a circuit that must be gone, without a trace, within 36 hours of the event finishing to allow the conversion to a football stadium to continue.
When the event was announced, part of the programme was a re-match, of sorts – with Sir Chris Hoy (now an established sportscar racing driver) facing Sir Ben Ainslie in ‘Friday Knight Fever’ as part of the Celebrity skills challenge, which also featured paracycling track star Jon-Allen Butterworth. And the format of the event was changed to one based on the individual pursuit, with cars starting halfway round a single lap and chasing each other down. We had to be there.
What we couldn’t have known then, though, was that an injury to Jorge Lorenzo would see Sir Chris promoted from the one-off celebrity race to the Nations Cup alongside Romain Gosjean, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Petter Solberg, Jason Plato, Andy Priaulx and Mick Doohan (among others!).
Again, mirroring track cycling, the matches are a best of three format with Hoy facing Lotus F1 test driver Pascal Wehrlein in his first round match. Palmer was up by two seconds at the end of the first hal lap but the ga closed to six tenths at the end of the first full lap and edged back out a little at three quarters distance. Hoy clawed a little back but couldn’t get back on terms. With his team-mate Grosjean taking a win against Jolyon Palmer, but losing out to Wehrlein in the decider, Hoy had to wait to see whether the leading time he set in the first round of the celebrity skills would fall in the later heats. With many of the other competitors just as competitive – and almost as succesful, in their own fields – the outcome was far from inevitable and – although Sebastian Vetterl did manage to complete the course in 46 seconds – Hoy’s one minute mark eluded Greg Rutherford, Denise Lewis and Ainslie, among others and he hung on to take the title.