600 metres long, cobblestones and brick paviours, and not a flat section of road in sight – the circuit used for the annual Guildford Town Centre Races is tough.
Hosted every July by the Charlotteville Cycling Club this short town centre evening criterium set against the stunning backdrop of the Surrey Hills is a key fixture on the cycle racing circuit. What can be so hard about 30 minutes of racing? Well, you are on the limit from the start, and you need great skills for the fast and technical corners. Once the elastic snaps, there is no way back to the front. Riders not used to the circuit quickly find themselves distanced and being lapped – race over!
The event successfully showcases youth racing for boys and girls alike. Elite men and women’s races finish the evening as dusk falls and the streetlights come on.
I was persuaded to help with organising the race in 2019 with the potential of taking responsibility for it from 2020 onwards. Then we had a global pandemic, so the next opportunity was in 2021.
This felt like a vertical learning curve alongside complete uncertainty over whether the event could even go ahead. It was the 2nd road race to be held on the UK calendar and in the first week after lockdown ended – Covid rates were being checked every day to see if we could race. Would riders turn up, could we keep everybody safe, would we become a super spreading event?
Being the Race Organiser wasn’t hard but there was a lot to do. Whether its organising road closures and liaising with local authorities and British Cycling or getting sponsors on board – without whom the race just can’t run. It all has to be complete and on time.
The event went live on the British Cycling system five weeks before race night – and the entries started to pour in.
Then within 24 hours of entries being open I had approaches from three riders asking if the women’s race could be upgraded to the same categorisation as the men’s Elite race. Another week of frantic changes and liaison and we made the change and upgraded the race. Net result? We had the best women’s field ever and were oversubscribed for the first time.
Paradoxically race night was almost relaxing, once the event starts the British Cycling commissaires (the referees) take over – the race organiser can stand back and enjoy the spectacle. The evening can’t happen without a large team of club volunteers who marshal the race and manage the signing on of riders.
Reflecting on the evening I realised it really played to my strengths, organising a complex event against a fixed deadline. And I realised I really enjoyed doing it, I was working within a sport I love, and it gave me as much energy as it took out of me to organise.
2022 brought another very successful event which accidentally turned into a nocturne (racing in the dark). Numerous riders had on board cameras for the first time capturing thrilling footage of the racing and we welcomed a new sponsor to the fold. Lessons learned have been gathered and the thinking has already started to make it even better for 2023.