Scratch & Sniff

If you follow any posts on Braveheart, there’s currently one where Martin Harris (one of Scotland’s champions in promotion of cycle racing & facilities) has stated that he will be running the Scottish Scratch Championships at Caird Park track in Dundee. It’s provoked some comments & there have been some tweets recently on same subject, some suggesting that with a world-class facility available, holding a Scottish Track Championship outdoors is about as welcome as a UKIP leader in an Edinburgh pub. So its probably best to provide a balanced view on this and try to deduce the reasons, benefits & disadvantages of holding championship events outside of the new indoor velodrome.

What’s happening..

From the onlookers point of view, last years Scottish track championships were in a bit of chaos, it was unknown whether the velodrome would be fully operational by the end of the season to run any events. As it turned out, most of the track championships were rained off & Glasgow hosted a large number of championship events indoors towards the end of the year once the track was functioning, alongside a Braveheart funding event.

This year we expected better, but the dates for national championships only appear to be getting allocated now, which is a little confusing, especially in the year before a Commonwealth Games, which is where the disorganisation & communication issues most people associate with Scottish Cycling rear their head for yet another year. Surely it’s not too hard to let riders know at the beginning of the year when they need to peak for events, there’s a lot of young riders out there who are training properly, they need to know when these events are on the calendar. Maybe next year eh?

So this leads us to the Scratch race, for those who don’t know, it’s a bunch race on the track, 15km long and the first rider over the line from the group on the leading lap is the winner. It’s a simple as it gets for track events, don’t lose a lap & win the sprint or ride away solo. But the good old internal politics of cycle racing in Scotland stop this being quite as simple as it should be. Caird Park has hosted this event for the past few years, right back to the late 80’s (I think, open to being corrected). Caird Park has recently been upgraded, with Martin Harris & his team raising a huge £320,000 to revive the track to better than its former glory, even removing the hedge & replacing it with a barrier, which removes some historical hedge tactics, it’s a vast improvement overall. Caird Park deserves support.

What about the ‘other’ facilities?

This leads us to the current situation, with an indoor velodrome & two outdoor facilities, the revamped 400m Caird Park & the outdoor wooden 250m track at Meadowbank. Track cycling in Scotland could go one of two ways:

Scenario 1: The Chris Hoy Velodrome gets all the events, all the support & the outdoor tracks become redundant.

Scenario 2: The outdoor tracks become ‘feeder’ facilities, developing talent & skills, promoting events & then filtering that developed talent towards major events at the indoor facility.

The latter scenario is how things should be working, but it’s hard to see that the support exists outside some very hard-working groups & individuals at both the outdoor facilities. They’ve been fighting for years to keep their facilities & talent development alive, essentially taking Scottish track racing to its current level before the glitzy showcase stadium we’ve all been dreaming about arrived. These people’s work shouldn’t be forgotten, or their input overlooked, Scottish Cycling could learn a lot by taking these groups & individuals opinions seriously.

Multiple tracks?

More needs to be done to utilise the outdoor facilities, these facilities need to generate some income & get used by the public, if they don’t we’ll lose them. With the popularity of cycling in the UK at an all time high, with track cycling having provided so many medals over so many recent Olympic Games, now shouldn’t be a hard time to devote some resources to making sure we keep these facilities running, they can benefit the indoor facility massively by providing talented riders to race on a bigger stage. They can also provide a much cheaper alternative for clubs to run track days & beginner sessions, they both have very different benefits. With Caird Park’s shallow banking, it can provide an ideal environment for new track riders who are afraid of steep banking & very young riders who can’t ride quick enough to stay up on the 250m tracks. Meadowbank has virtually the same dimensions as Glasgow, so everything you learn there is relevant to Glasgow (apart from the back straight head wind obviously). Both are ideal places to learn important skills & racecraft, both need to remain in operation & importantly, they can both still support events.

Demand for time at Glasgow is also huge, so without other facilities available there is a big danger of under supplying the enormous demand for track time, the amount of riders accredited is getting very large now, people want track riding. There’s also a danger in relying & focussing one discipline at one facility in Scotland, what if it was unusable for a few months or weeks, we’d have no Scottish track cycling, not supporting existing facilities is suicide. Remember that Manchester was shut for some time after some guy rode a mountain bike over its roof, hence the barbed wire on the concrete structure leading up to the roof now.

Where should championships be held?

We live in Scotland, it rains quite a bit, so holding major or prestigious events outdoors is going to be problematic, you can’t ride these tracks in the wet. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat an outdoor track meeting on a sunny day, there’s something magical about those rare days. So how do we allocate the events fairly?

We have the facility, so the important events need to be indoors, purely for reliability. If we’re to progress more riders onto the Olympic Development Programme, then we need reliable events on the calendar, our reality is that the weather dictates things on outdoor tracks. A situation like last year where multiple outdoor Scottish championship meetings are cancelled will make our sport look like a farce at such a critical time. Imagine sports reporters who have an interest in following cycling seeing championships cancelled due to weather when we have an indoor facility, it makes it look like we don’t care, so why should they be bothered reporting on our sport. Elite championship events need to be held on indoor tracks, but there are other options for the outdoor tracks. We can start developing very young riders on Caird Park, riders of 6 years old are racing on outdoor 400m tracks down south, perhaps we need to encourage championships from a very young age, or at least recognition, we can use Caird Park for this. It’s very hard for young youth riders to perform at all on a 250m track, they spend most of their effort just staying up if they are Youth C category, so a shallower track will allow them to develop race skills before they move onto steeper tracks once they move into Youth A & B age categories.

Meadowbank is still capable of holding great events, the Edinburgh Meadowbank GP is a good example, it even seems to get decent weather most years & attracts plenty of riders from outside Scotland. It can’t really be considered a development event though, it’s a well established stand alone event, it has its own prestige & that’s why it works. It’s very different to a Scottish championship, which requires to be held on a specific date so that riders can time their peak correctly & everybody can plan their season. Last year we had championship events cancelled in the summer and then held indoors very late in the year, what kind of message does that send to aspiring riders & sponsors, if we want rider aspiration & sponsors in our sport we need to put across the message that we can manage championship events in a logical manner. That involves allowing press to turn up without getting disappointed & sponsors to visit events without sitting in their car hoping the rain will go off. The sport has gone mainstream & we as a sport, need to start thinking about it mainstream, we’re no longer a minority sport that nobody is watching, it’s the UK’s most successful Olympic sport, we have a Tour de France winner & we even have multiple BBC Sports Personality victors, it’s in the public eye big time.

Conclusion

There’s plenty of scope to develop the existing outdoor tracks with a bit of support from the governing body, it looks like everything is currently being focussed on Glasgow. This approach is understandable, it’s the flagship facility, something we never thought we’d get, but the outdoor tracks can compliment that facility, they can feed riders from different parts of Scotland into track racing. There’s already great coaching at both Caird Park & Meadowbank, so it’s really important that some resources are also routed to those venues, otherwise there’s a danger of serious lack of vision on track racing overall in Scotland being cultivated. Those with knowledge need to be listened to by those without. Sometimes volunteers know a lot more about some things than those in paid positions, a smart employee would listen to those who are involved in the sport because they love the sport.

So there’s probably nothing untoward going on, but there could be a bit of disorganisation & hesitation in allocating these events, so it smells a little bit, but no worse than expected. We don’t need to run championship events outdoors, but we can all see why the Scratch is important to Caird Park, its suffering from a lack of resources and a championship event gives it prestige, we just need to make sure it gets it’s prestige in other ways after this year, in ways of support, there’s still plenty of time to get that all put in place for 2014.

If you want to book Caird Park or Meadowbank, follow the links below:

Meadowbank Velodrome, follow the link on the right of link page for booking forms.

Discovery Junior Cycling Club, use the contact button to get in touch with Martin.

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