In a scene akin to Martin Sheen’s ‘Saigon…still only in Saigon’ in Apocalypse Now, I woke up on Sunday morning cooking in my sauna of a room with a vicious hangover. I check the train times to from London to Chichester (the slowest train in UK?) and realise that Ive lost my press pass. I thought this meant I could go back to bed, but the kindly people at the Brompton World Championships messaged me back saying to come anyway. Damn their helpfulness.
Within 5 minutes I’m out of my flat and tearing down towards Victoria on my squeaky Brompton, ‘Brutus’, in a desperate attempt to make this antediluvian train. This is probably the fastest I will ride all day.
Having failed to persuade any friends to join me I was making this schlep on my own and this bothered me in my delicate state. I was pondering this whilst folding up Brutus on the platform, as I hear someone shout ‘I know where you’re going!’ and I look up to see the broadest of grins waving me into the carriage. Inside I meet Tiva and her friend Cam, both with very fresh looking Bromptons. The journey didn’t seem too bad whilst we extolled the virtues of Brompton to the mantra of the PA system telling us the “train splits at Worthing…”
Goodwood Motor Circuit in the sun is a truly glorious site. Nearly all the buildings are the originals, and some maintain their original advertising and this art deco feel is at least as-perfect a venue as Blenheim palace which has hosted the last few Brompton World Championships for the past few years. We arrived at about 11.30 and were hurried along as the race started at midday. After folding up the bikes on the ‘starting grid’ we listened to a charmingly disorganised reading of the race rules (including a vote of whether or not jackets should be allowed – I assume this was raised as a potential issue as a result of the sun beating down and people dehydrating etc. – but of course common sense prevailed in the vote and people were allowed to keep their jackets which often formed a crucial part of some of the amazing outfits on display).
As the horn went the first of 4 waves charged across the grid, in a flurry of ties and well cuffed arms, to unfold their bikes and start the race. 4 laps totalling 10 miles ensued. Though there was a great difference in how serious riders were taking it there was a strict dress code which insisted on shirts being worn (with men requiring ties) and absolutely no lycra! There were some great outfits: Lots of gentlemanly and lady-like attire, a lot of equine gear, a Westernised Oriental Gentleman, who won the men’s best dressed competition, and a bee (!). Though everyone had to be quite smart you can spot the serious racers from the cycle computers and cleated pedals…
I have to admit I went tearing off and felt a little bit of a hypocrite as real racing definitely isn’t the idea of the Brompton World Champoinships but as my outfit couldn’t compete with some of the mighty offerings available I decided to get my head down and pedal on. The wind on the open site of Goodwood was intense and it was surreal seeing lines of racers on fold up bikes closely tucked in, but Bromptons were not designed to be particularly aerodynamic and so the advantage was significant!
After the race the lovely at people at Brompton sorted you out with a free gin and tonic which was followed by afternoon tea. This is where Brompton really buy into image of the eccentric English gentleman/woman and I approve whole-heartedly. On the note of gender this is first cycle event I have been to that isn’t dominated by men.
I finished 119th out of 621 riders with a time of 28:42. Even without a hangover or a slightly more race ready Brompton (get those excuses in) I don’t think I’d have challenged the three times winner mighty Michael Hutchinson, who managed the 10 mile wind fest in 23 minutes and 44 seconds (I am a little shocked to work out that’s an average of over 25mph).
The BWC awards ceremony was charmingly amateur (with PA being so quiet it was dispensed with and the advertising boards being held up around the back of the tent) but this was all acknowledged and somehow added to the charm. The highlight of the ceremony were the Italians who won the team event going pretty crazy (most unEnglish!) and Susan Todzy dominated the sprints eliminator (which take place the day before) and misjudging her quaff of winning champagne and spitting it out on the crowd below!
After the awards the BWC Brompton folding competition takes place. There are some pretty impressive times with all the competitive ones being <10 seconds. Your author was psyched up this and ready to set the leader board alight…only to forget a crucial step and make a total mess of it. Shame prevents me from reporting my official time…
The Brompton events are part of, although they dominate, the Orbital Cycling Festival. You have to buy a ticket to the festival (£12 adults) and then buy entry into the races; there are plenty of other non-Brompton races going on though certainly on the Sunday it felt like the Brompton World Championship was the main event. There is a lot of fancy bike stuff on display, a very impressive trials/bmx/freerunning display team (complete with cringe-worthy MC), some novelty bikes to ride and some stands keen to tell you about their charity, shop or business.
After a while my new friends and I made our way back to Chichester station and I found myself reflecting on a fine day, a sense of Brompton-belonging and feeling strangely patriotic.
Did my boy ride his first bike into the sunset? No bit.ly/IUGyAQ