It had all the essential elements of a super cyclo-cross Saturday - including free cowbells and a selection of complimentary craft beers. The trouble was, the event kicked off four hours late and was abandoned not long after, which left some riders super cross!
Organisers had the very best intentions - Rapha had planned a unique urban course in the Kings Cross area of London, winding around the fountains of Granary Square and running inside world-famous art school; Central Saint Martins, UAL. However, problems started when they asked newbie architecture students to design the course. The circuit was to include obstacles and features reinterpreting the rural aspects of a cyclo-cross race - like sand, mud, trees, hills and streams - in central London, inside a building and around the courtyard paved with a totally flat and slippery granite surface. In hindsight, at the end of November, that was definitely asking for trouble.
Given just three weeks to design and complete the project, none of the students had any previous experience of cyclo-cross. "They were assigned a provocation to produce an elevation using finesse and texture; from a field to an urban environment they had to evoke the same challenges as found outside in an aesthetic and historical context," explained Stage One leader Ruth Lang. Ride Velo was not exactly sure what that meant, but admired the resulting black plywood pyramids which were supposed to reflect its vernacular and military origins.
Student Alece said, 'I'd never really heard of cyclo-cross, but seeing the finished course makes me want to ride a bike and have a go on it. It's definitely been my favourite project." Her friend Dalia told me, "It's been stressful but rewarding. We were dragged out of here at 10pm last night when we were still hard at work. I've never had to work to a deadline like this before - and then there's the pressure of the technicians looking at our work - if it doesn't meet health and safety criteria then it won't be used which is disappointing." Quite a few designs were rejected by Rapha during the two week long consultation phase as some angles on the planned ramps were too steep. The only student with previous construction experience created an obstacle involving cut scaffolding poles on a two-tier ramp which was also thrown out, although it sounded quite fun. On the plus side, they were allowed to test out some of the creations in their studios prior to the race.
Despite the delayed start and the heavily edited course, the kids had a wonderful day out. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike shook their Rapha-branded cowbells to sounds from the great live DJ. Gourmet burgers and craft ales were on offer to soften the 4 hour wait. Unusually for a cyclo-cross event, the races included an Under 8s category. They were very well represented with scores of young riders, some representing Team Wiggo, Team Sky, and others looking like they were riding their cousin's hand-me-down BMX bikes, wearing attire more suited to a pony club rally. But none of that seemed to matter in the hotly-contested scramble to the finish line.
Geraint Thomas can empathise with this boy - G waited almost two minutes to have a wheel changed during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year. First place slipped through this youngster's fingerless gloves due to technical problems.
The ladies competition was abandoned after several bad falls, and the racing finished for the day due to heavy rain on the slippery outdoor track, so the highlight was watching the Under 16 future stars compete in the Round 3 Junior Race.
Ben Tullet (younger brother of one-to-watch Dan) suffered a fractured wrist racing in the Nationals last weekend, but removed his support to compete in this race. Rival Titouan Barthelemy won the London league race at Penshurst last weekend with Ben out of the way, and was ready to repeat his victory at Rapha. Meanwhile Eddie Davies, frustrated at consistently coming 5th, was eager to win himself a place on the podium. There was everything to play for.
After the race, no-one seemed to know the final positions, but there was an air of expectation and excitement which made all the waiting around worthwhile. Titouan said, "it was a slow race and all about skills. My wheel slipped out around one corner but I unclipped, stuck my leg out and managed to recover. It must've looked epic!"
Eddie Davies' Dad, Brian, said, "They sensed how risky it was, rode to the conditions, and ended up enjoying themselves. I think it was the most stressful thing I've ever seen."
Sadly Ben Tullet did a Chris Froome on the Pavé, slipped off round the final corner and hurt his already fractured wrist, pushing him into second place overall. His Dad had to take him to hospital. Not the greatest end to a day plagued with problems. On the facebook page, dedicated to the event, scores of riders and spectators posted negative comments yesterday. But plenty of us did actually have a good day out - and here are some of our images to prove it: