If you haven’t heard of this event, get searching and book it in the diary for next year, because it’s a cracker.
The Nocturne is a criterium race around Smithfield market in Central London, which has been running for about 5 years. The day is made up of numerous races; penny farthing, folding bike (hilarious), a category 1 and 2 rider crit, a corporate crit and last but not least- the pro race.
Wiggle fielded a team made up of Wiggle and Bridgepoint employees. Selection included a “doughnut run” for race captain for the event Derek Bouchard-Hall, so was all organised with a “we will turn up and have some fun” attitude… until we got there!
I travelled up with my Wiggle team mates Rich and Nikki well in advance of the start time so we could survey the course and soak up the atmosphere 12,000 people(!) bring to a closed circuit. We had a good wander around, saw Rob Hayles doing some TV work and I ogled like a youth at the team cars of Sky and the rest of the pro field- just being close to pro riders and that setup is pretty inspiring, for me anyway.
One thing I enjoy in any sport is examining the pitch, playing area or course. Every sport I’ve participated in has had an element of this and it gives me an instant feeling of calm knowing what lays ahead. The Wiggle team (made up of Rich Pearman, Derek Bouchard-Hall, Humphrey Cobbold, Andy Bond and I) first walked the course then kitted up and rode some laps to get a feel for it and riding as a team. This would be key as the format for the city criterium meant that the winner of the race would not be an individual but the first team with 3 riders to finish. The course at the Nocturne had a couple of reasonably technical corners (the route map can be found below) which unless we had ridden before, could have caused some mischief! But it also looked like a lot of fun at high speed.
Then the waiting began! We had about an hour until our race whilst some of the other support races went on. My mixture of excitement and nerves were simmering away just below boiling point. The time came for our race brief of 20minutes (Is that it? I was thinking. That’s half the time of the races I have done so far!), plus 5 laps and a gentleman’s agreement that the first 5 laps would be rode as a pack to get a feel for the course.
We lined up and waited for the announcer to call us to the start and we were off. Those 5 laps of genial racing went out the window straight away and a team went haring from the off. The pace initially shocked me for long enough to see Andy, Derek and Rich to get up the road and hold a position at the sharp end of the race. Humphrey and I were trying to weave our way through when I found a gap and got on a middle group- this is where I would stay for the rest of the race!
I buried myself to try and pass but the straights weren’t long enough and the corners were too technical to gamble anything. I noticed my two friends who had come to watch and their faces told me a tale… the expression I had etched on my face was not one of comfort! I held on and moved up to move back again all the time hearing that Andy, Rich and Derek were still up the road. Good, I thought, I will ride my own race.
We got to 5 laps left and they were still in position. I was riding a personal battle with a IG Sigma rider who had been having a bit of banter with me all afternoon, he turned to me and asked
“Haven’t you got 3 men up the road?”
“I have yeah”
“Ah, let’s make this interesting then!”
Then on the finishing straight with 2 laps to go, I make a move to pass him and he swerves to stop me. This continued for the bottom two corners, then I finally passed him. We had our fun and it was all over! Rich, Andy and Derek had ridden Wiggle into 2nd and worked exceptionally hard to do it.
I was thoroughly pleased for them but in my own selfish way I felt guilty to take a place on the podium as I hadn’t directly contributed to the win. I sat down and began speaking to Derek – he’s raced as a pro and has a lot of races like this under his belt. He explained to me that until you get a solid number of criterium races under your belt weaving through the field and being able to dictate, the pace can be difficult. I took something from that, after all this was only race number 3!
After the race I met my two friends who had nothing but good things to say about the event, and that was before they had seen the pro race! We got a good position by the finishing gantry and waited for the riders to line up. Banging the boards like a goodun! Chance would have it that Ian Stannard, Kristian House, Magnus Backstedt and Matt Goss were all close enough for us to get pictures of. We had a little chat with Ian “The Bear” Stannard, I’ve never seen someone look so cool and calm prior to a race.
I love watching as the riders (with a palmarès as big as a weekly shopping list) were called forward prior to the other riders. Stannard was amongst them and that’s where he stayed for the entire race- at the front!
The pace at which they were riding the circuit was incredible. The front group with two sky riders in it made up considerable ground on the field and eventually lapped them.
I’ve just summed up a 30 minute race in 3 paragraphs, which doesn’t really give it justice… but trust me when I say this- it would be worth a visit just for the elite race alone. Everything else just made it even better, including the incredible atmosphere! It surprised my companions no end – it was their first experience of a cycling event of any kind and definitely not their last.
Next up- the FTI Corporate Cycling Challenge.
My top tips:
• Race, race, race- This is the best way to get the fitness and race craft needed to compete
• Peanut butter and chocolate spread definitely work together in a sandwich
• If you don’t know a course check out the route- blasting through a tight corner whilst other riders try to hit the apex could end badly.