words & images: Ben Ryder
The rain is falling now, hard. The Bike Channel Canyon boss shelters under his umbrella. There’s a few minutes until the start and the tension mounts as teams make last minute preparations. The experienced John Herety cuts a relaxed figure amongst the chaos and the downpour. He intently watches his JLT Condor team which includes three time Olympic Gold Medallist Ed Clancy. Ned Boulting is filming his TV intro. The excitement builds. I’m in the pits watching on and the race is about to start.
I emerged from Croydon train station into the rain. I’d been invited to watch my friend Barney Purbrook of Nuun Sigma Sport London RT at round five of the Tour Series Croydon. The Tour Series is an annual series of cycling criterium races. The series takes place at cities around the country and includes the top domestic teams. As an amateur team Nuun Sigma Sport London RT had been invited to the southern leg of the series, an exciting opportunity to race against professionals. As I struggled through the urban maze of Croydon I caught glimpses of the women’s race. With the ever present drizzle this race couldn’t be further from the images of sunny Italian landscapes cycling fans are familiar with at this time of year.
I found the team sheltering under an apartment building next to the circuit. Some of the riders had fallen in the previous round and as the team warmed up on their rollers a tension they tried not to dwell to hard on these spills. I was told the team were currently a man short as Chris Snook was stuck in an over-running work meeting.
The rain continued to pour after the team presentations and the guys went through their final preparations; tyres were checked, helmets put on, shoes adjusted. Chris Snook finally arrived and hurriedly changed into his Castelli skin suit in the front seat of the team car. There was no time for him to warm up, the race was starting.
The neutralised lap finished, the race started to fly. The professional teams were setting a blistering pace and flying through the damp corners. It wasn’t long before Chris pulled into the pits. The lack of a warm up combined with the agressive pace meant he couldn’t keep up. An understandable problem with the double life of an amateur racer. Mike Smith was keeping the pace with some of the professionals. Incredible! Shortly after he pulled into the pits retiring. The pain and exhaustion carved into his face. The pro teams flew past each lap, JLT effortlessly controlling the race, others struggling to keep the pace. The remaining riders kept going. The grit visible in every pedal stroke. They knew they couldn’t win but they kept fighting regardless. Piercing through the biblical rain, determined to make it to the end.
With three laps to go riders were pulled out to clear way for the final sprint finishes. The exhaustion of an hour of hard racing in abysmal conditions visible on their faces. Sure, they were nowhere near the winning moves but I was filled with admiration. These guys don’t race for money, they race because they love the sport. Whilst professionals can sleep for an extra few hours before training during the day, the Nuun Sigma Sport team have to get up early to squeeze in training before a full time job. Whilst the professionals had spent all day relaxing in their team buses in preparation for the race the Nuun Sigma Sport team had to work extra hard just to make it to the start on time.
The race was won by Graham Briggs of JLT Condor but for me Nuun Sigma Sport London RT and the other teams like them are the real heroes of the night. Fuelled simply by a desire to compete they had gone head to head with some of the best bike racers in the country; amateurs v professionals, David v Goliath, pushing themselves, pedalling hard, hoping one day it may be their turn to drop an Olympian.
Nuun Sigma Sport London RT are powered by Nuun, Sigma Sport, Rockstar Games, Chiro.London, Castelli, Cannondale, Mavic, Stages Cycling, Oakley, Fabric, TrainSharp, Clif Bar, Muc Off and Big Yellow.