Lincoln Grand Prix 2012
For a sports and indeed a cycling enthusiast as I am it may come as a surprise to some that I have never been to a live cycling race. Once I noted the date of the Lincoln Grand Prix and realised the day was clear the decision had been made – we were going. So up early we were, packed lunch made, camera charged and off we went.
The plan for the day was to roll up to Castle Square, secure a good spot and stand it out for the next five hours. Most plans never work out how you want them but amazingly this one did. We were worried it might be difficult driving into Lincoln with the road closures and potential traffic problems – it wasn’t. Once in the city centre we headed to our usual Lincoln parking spot, again worried it would be packed out – it wasn’t. In fact there was only two other cars in the car park.
A short stroll in the welcome May sunshine and we were at Castle Square by the finish line! Once here we made sure we wasn’t going to lose it. This is why a dedicated team of four is required for times of ‘comfort breaks’, cookie buying and just to get some photos from a different angle. The brilliant thing about the Lincoln Grand Prix is that even if you don’t get a spot on the finish line or around Castle Square there are so many spots you can watch it from and since the riders do 13 laps of the circuit you have the opportunity of seeing them again and again in a short space of time.
The race set off from Yarborough Sports Centre just a little later than the advertised 10am start. No worries there though as better safe and late. Throughout the race we were kept informed of matters by the excellent announcer, Roger Hobby. How somebody can keep up a constant commentary for the duration of the race with only a radio ear piece and snippets of information given by the officials I’ll never know.
After the race had begun it was only about 20 minutes before the first riders came up the torturous climb of the cobbled Michaelgate. The first person over the line was Rapha Condor Sharp’s Kristian House, to claim 3 points in the King of the Mountains (KOM) competition. His experience as a past winner in 2006 obviously proved invaluable as was able to keep the pace up for the entire race.
In between the laps through Castle Gate we were treated to some junior races to spot the stars of the future. While nobody was going through a number of other cyclists gave the cobbles a go. A very swift sighting of one of Team Sky’s current stars, Ben Swift, was also noted. No doubt he was out supporting his Rotherham buddy Russ Downing.
For the first couple of laps the group came through pretty much together but the strength of the main contenders soon began to show. The crosswinds coming round Burton started to splinter the peloton and coupled with the repeating Michaelgate climb many began to suffer. A number came cropper. I saw Rapha Condor Sharp’s Felix English, ride past with a bloodied elbow and ripped shirt. His team mates Mike Cuming and Luke Mellor both ended up in Lincoln Hospital. Last year’s Tour of Britain KOM champion Endura’s Jon Tiernan-Locke was left, ‘Badly battered and bruised,’ as he tweeted later. I guess that’s why I leave the racing to others while I just watch.
As the pace was rammed up many came up Michaelgate only to be black flagged. After a while if you complete a lap five minutes after the leader has gone through the black flag is waved and you are no longer allowed to continue. While out on the course any other stragglers and strugglers can be swept up in the ‘Broom Waggon’; Lincoln’s version sported a Hallowe’en style witches garden broom.
As the laps went by it was clear that Endura’s Russ Downing was determined to add to his trio of Lincoln Grand Prix titles. The breakaway group comprised of five – Downing and House, Marcin Bialoblocki of NODE4 Giordana, IG Sigma Sport’s Simon Richardson and Russell Hampton of Team Raleigh-GAC. By this stage the area around us in Castle Square was beginning to fill up as spectators began to make their way into Lincoln from the surrounding route. The photographers took their positions to capture that vital finish shot.
News came through that on the penultimate circuit Russ Downing had made a break for it so it looked as if he would be riding a final solo lap of victory. However, the Polish rider Bialoblocki made an attempt to spoil the party for the Russ Downing Appreciation Society that had now formed at the finish. The power of Downing though proved too much for Bialoblocki as Downing was able to soak up the applause of the crowd as he came up Michaelgate for one final time. The significant gap he had created allowed him to raise his hand with four fingers up, indicating his win total, long before he crossed the line. A fine effort from Bialoblocki for second place and Kristian House came in third and with the title of King of Mountains (or Castle) for his earlier endeavours. Three seconds after House came Richardson and just seven seconds later Hampton arrived home. The gap to the sixth finisher was 1 minute 10 seconds.
After the presentations and interviews Russ Downing and Kristian House came to say thank you to the crowd and both were kind enough to sign my programme. I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask House for his Rapha cap as the chap next to me did. A good lesson in how to use your kids for begging purposes. On the subject of my mini Jibber Jabbers the wonderful thing was that despite the crowds (up to 10,000 I have seen quoted) never did I feel they were in danger of being squashed or pushed about.
So thank you people of Lincoln, organisers, battle bruised racers and fellow spectators for making the 57th Lincoln Grand Prix a wonderful day out and fabulous introduction to live cycle racing. I had the best spot on the course and it cost me nothing. Take note Locog and your charges for Box Hill, The Mall and the Time Trial finish at Hampton Court for the Olympic Games.