Last weekend saw the 10th London Nocturne take place. Not at the regular site of Smithfields but an all new course around the City and St. Paul’s. If you’re unfamiliar with The Nocturne, then it’s billed as a festival of cycling and it prides itself on having a variety of events leading up to the main course and desert of the Elite Men’s and Women’s road races.
There had been a track bike criterium a couple of times but it was removed from the schedule a couple of years ago. Thankfully, this year it was back. It wasn’t perfect, but it was back. I couldn’t ride due to my broken collar bone so my perspective is from a spectator and (now I’m sort of qualified to comment on this) an organisation point of view.
The Nocturne is obviously a popular event, they estimated about 15,000 spectators had turned up at various points throughout the day to have a look at what was going on. I have had the feeling that it’s becoming a bit behind the times and this was definitely evident this year. My biggest gripe was the lack of respect for the support races and in particular for women’s cycling. Yes, there was a Women’s Elite race with equal prize offerings to the Men’s Elite race, but if you were a woman wanting to enter any of the other races, then you’d just have to race with the men and many don’t feel comfortable with this.
It’s a fantastic environment to race in and a rare opportunity to do so in front of a big crowd. Which makes is even worse for the women that want to race but aren’t confident or fast enough to mix with the men. There were 4 women on the starting grid for the Track Bike crit, there would have been a lot more but I know many who were put off entering by a lack of support from the event. Was there even a prize given to the top placed woman (Stefania Baldi) in the race? There was definitely no podium presentation for her.
Actually, while I’m on the subject of podium presentations. There was very little information given out to riders about this and you only got to take the step if you got first place, possibly due to the short amount of time, but also maybe to the lack of fucks seemingly given by the organisers for anything but the Elite races. It would be nice if the organisers saw the potential in some of the support races instead of treat them like a school sports day.
There was some serious completion in the Leigh Day Road Criterium and Mango Bikes Track Criterium which was appreciated by large parts of the crowd and the Brompton race was so keenly contested it nearly ended up in a fight on the start/finish straight. Maybe more can be done in the future to support grassroots racing. How about next year we have an amateur women’s road crit and a separate women’s track crit too? Or at least organise it in such a way that there is some more respect shown for these guys and girls that are working and training hard to race and be competitive at events like this. Is there really any need for a Santander Hire Bike race when no one enters it and they end up giving tickets away to TfL employees? Or how about the “Concours d’elegance” in which nothing actually happens.
This year saw some new sponsors for the Nocturne. Mr Porter was the title sponsor which isn’t a bad partner to have, they sell some good quality cycling gear now and they’re very much targeted towards your average City worker/weekend cyclist type. That’s fine. They’ve done a nice little journal piece on the event too and obviously thought the Track Bike crit was interesting enough to feature in it’s main photos instead of the Elite Men’s race.
The Track Bike crit was sponsored by Mango Bikes so the prize for first place was a fixed gear Mango Bike, a dusty pink one with internal cabling holes. I’m pretty sure the winner won’t be using it anytime soon athough I’d quite like to be proven wrong with some pics of him riding it!
My point is, was this the most suitable sponsor for a race of this caliber? The top riders were racing custom carbon, handmade steel or race proven alloy frames. The commentator mentioned something about the riders were likely to be mostly couriers and he was surprised to see people wearing skinsuits. I’m sure it was just a little bit of comedy for the crowd but I know these guys spend a lot of time and money to race at such a high level. Surely there could’ve been a more impressive prize fund or a sponsor with more ties to fixed gear racing involved.
One saving grace for the track bike crit was the presence of David Trimble of Red Hook Crit fame. He appeared on the start line before the race and offered £100 of his own money for a prime on the first lap. Finally something to race for other than bragging rights. Thanks David, that made the race a lot more interesting and our man Dimi went for it but was taken on the finishing straight by a determined Alec Briggs.
So, I’ve got my main gripes off my chest. The Nocturne is still great, but I just wish it supported some of the amateur athletes a little more. The people that look to the event as a highlight in their racing calendar, the ones that have been inspired by watching races at The Nocturne over the years and those that really help create the festival of cycling atmosphere.