Bristol Grand Prix

The last time bike racing came to the centre of Bristol, Bradley Wiggins was riding round in short trousers and electric gear systems were the stuff of science fiction.

Despite being the famed ‘cycling city’, we’ve had to watch jealously as stage finishes and Tour Series races grazed the edge of Avon. There seems to be have been a subtle shift lately and the arrival of the Tour of Britain last summer was a high point, with both men’s world champions honking up Bridge Valley Road. I chose the picturesque views of Southmead to watch the technicolour blur.


Yesterday, Le Sportif held the inaugural Bristol Grand Prix using much of the inner city course from the 1980s. It was a short and savage 1.2km circuit with some judiciously place hay bales as a nod to the area’s agricultural and pastoral sensibilities. And to stop riders from being sliced into separate components by the right-angled corners. The event was crowfunded, with some match-funding from Bristol Council and a lot of support from local business. I’d venture to suggest it’s the crowdfunding aspect that got things rolling. they managed to raise over £16k. It’s a significant sum and in an era of local government under-funding, hints at the way forwards for costly events like this. There are always knock-on benefits, and the most obvious ones don’t come with direct revenue gains attached; namely generating a sense of bonhomie and goodwill, getting people cycling, consolidating Bristol’s social identity as a place where people can make things happen with not much more than a will and a way. It might need more corporate and council support in future to establish its place in the calendar, but for now, it is refreshingly ‘local’.

The races were fantastic; running across the range of abilities. Criterium racing is nice and spectator-friendly; you get to see the racers every few minutes and if you’re canny, you can see them twice on the course. It means you can grasp the narrative of the race, although the narrative is often as simple as ‘it looks really hard, these guys are hurting a lot, those guys aren’t hurting as much’. It was great to see so many red and gold jerseys in the pack, outnumbering the other clubs considerably and taking up podium and top ten places. There can’t be many better feelings than getting a result in your home event.

It was a fantastic afternoon of bike racing, made all the more spectacular by the fact that it took place in the centre of Bristol. Things like this happen because there are people like Pip Adkins who make it happen. Chapeau.

Rob Borek hammers it out of the Hatchet at closing time, anxious to avoid another lock-in…

On being published

I’ve been a bit busy of late. It’s quite tricky to juggle the race to publication with a full-time job and the imminent arrival of a new family member.

Last week saw the launch event for the book. It took place at Roll For The Soul. There was standing room only and the talk was warmly received. Several people now have a copy of the book in their possession. The only thing that remains is seeing what people think of it. This is the tricky bit; up until now it’s been my book exclusively. I’ve written and rewritten it and shaped it over the past few years. Now it’s done and sealed and bound, it’s no longer my book. It belongs to each person who reads it to make of it what they will. It’s a nervewracking time.

I had some worries – I think that this is inevitable given the realities of writing about people. It’s a subjective process, no matter how objective you aspire to be, and there is an inherent risk that some of those represented will question some of the assertions. Thus far, it’s been OK. I’ve had some incredibly kind words form some people.

“To tell you the truth, I was a bit overwhelmed. It’s beautifully put together and I had tears in my eyes when I read it”. Peter Graham, National Hill Climb Champion, 1958, 1961 and 1962. Commentator on the National most years.

“You’ve encapsulated everything and it really struck a chord. It’s an emotional read, you have a unique writing style and should be very proud of this aptly named book”. Gareth Armitage, Champion in 1975 and 1978.

“The book is amazing, I loved your description in the presentation of your encounter with Peter Graham who commentates on the Rake, he’s a legend & I always think how perfectly the Rake has been designed for hill climbs, with the driveway on the right of the steep part for the commentator to park in! Also the graveyard at the top on the left in case anyone dies! Its also nice that you mention Terry Smith, the Horseshoe Pass HC founder, I’m sure that his Fibrax Wrexham friends will be very proud of that, Its nice that he too will be remembered in history. I think that I’m more proud of the National HC than anything else I’ve achieved in my life & its really great that you’ve captured it all, I will treasure that book until I’m an old man!” James Dobbin, Champion in 2006 and 2007.

“Very pleased to receive a copy this morning – thanks very much. An excellent read, especially looking back over the years that I rode the Championship. Lots of comments and views of riders who specialised in the anti-gravity game as well as thoughts on the various climbs. Includes chats with riders such as Gareth Armitage, Darryl Webster from the eigthies and more recently Tejvan Pettinger. All hill-climbers should buy a copy, rather than borrow one!”. Phil Hurt, aptly named hillclimber and organiser of this year’s championship on Jackson Bridge.

So far, so good. It’s available on Amazon or other more law-abiding retailers, from tomorrow. Feel free to add comments to this page.


A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship

It’s taken a while, but I have a book coming out on June 10. It’s called “A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship”. It’s published by Mousehold Press. There is a talk and preview at Roll for the Soul in Bristol on June 10. You can find out a bit more here.

As cycling books go, it’s vaguely literary and reflective. It focuses on people, places and the esoteric nature of the Hill Climb championship. I have been lucky enough to interview Vic Clark, Eric Wilson, Peter Graham, Daryl Webster, Graham Sydney, Jim Henderson, Lynn Hamel, Chris Boardman, Tejvan Pettinger and Gareth Armitage, amongst others.

If you like Tim Krabbe, Kuklos, Roger Deakin, Nick Hand and Philip Larkin, then with any luck you’ll like this. If you don’t know these people, then you’ll hopefully like it anyway. If you like obsession and the madness of riding really fast, then it should do the trick. And if you like reading about strange people doing strange things in strange places, then you’re also in luck.

“You are so beyond the limit, way beyond your ordinary experience. It’s torture physically, but you get some kind of joy from it, and you look back and think, ‘I really lived in those three minutes. I don’t quite know what went on, but I was on the edge and experiencing something different’.”