The 2010 Singlespeed European Championships were held in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. This isn’t too far from where I live and, never having raced at a European Championship before, it would be awfully rude of me not to have a go. The entry criteria fo this event were nice and simple, first come first served until it’s full.
For those of you unfamiliar with the SSEC, or indeed it’s bigger cousin the SSWC, an explanation: Yes, there is a bike race going on, and a fairly big one at that with a couple of hundred competitors from all over the continent, but this is very much a secondary activity to the beer festival which takes place before, during and after the race.
I had a singlespeed but it was really just a hack-bike for pootling to and from work on, so a much better one was hastily cobbled together out of my hardtail with the added addition of some plastic water pipe to space out the freewheel around the lone sprocket.
We all gathered in the field next to the pub which had been brave enough to host us and had our evening meal and a lot of beer there. Probably a little more beer than I really should have done, but I was just trying to enter into the spirit of the event, and I was still some way behind most of the others.
Numbers were slightly down as Eyjafjallajökull had erupted in Iceland and brought most of the flights around Europe to a stop. A number of competitors were already in the UK by the time that happened so they were fine, although getting home again may have been tricky… Those already booked on ferries would also have been OK but anyone forced to change plans at the last minute would have been in trouble. Quite a few didn’t make it all although I did meet a bunch of Italians who had driven for about 20hrs from southern Italy after their flight was cancelled and got the ferry from Blibao to Plymouth, realising there was no point even attempting to get to Calais.
On the Saturday morning, for those who had only drunk too much beer the night before rather than far, far too much, there was a guided ride around the forest, which was a lot of fun, although as I found out later showed us none of the course at all.
We were back at the pub in time for dinner and even more beer. I’m a complete lightweight as far as drinking goes and was already starting to struggle.
There was roller-racing in the pub itself, which I think the crowd enjoyed much more than the competitors. Sprinting as hard as you possibly can, even for 30 seconds, really hurts if you do it properly. There was also an enormous cheeseboard, everyone attending had been told to bring
some cheese so there was a vast selection from right across Europe.
It was of course another late night.
There was beer for breakfast and then we were all taken to where the race would begin, somewhere deep in the forest.
It was a running start, half a mile or so, down to where we had left the bikes. This favoured me as I can run reasonably well and so I was 4th when I found mine and set off on the course proper. This wasn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds as while we had been making our way up to the start line the organisers had been busy moving everyone’s bikes around and no-one had a clue where theirs was.
The course itself was a lot of fun, all rideable even on a singlespeed, although there were a couple of tough hills, but the swoopy singletrack was a hoot to ride.
This was the first time I had raced a singlespeed and I got on fine with it, on a course like that I don’t think there would have been that much of a difference to a geared bike, I found racing a bike without any suspension at the back much odder than riding one without being able to change gear.
There was also something which I had not seen at a race before, a bar on the racetrack. This was located next to the finish line but was serving right from the outset rather than after the race had finished. It was mainly populated by spectators to begin with but every time I came around to start another lap there were more and more competitors there, drinking yet more beer.
I’m not sure how many of us actually made it around the stipulated four laps, and how many succumbed to the temptations of the drinking and merriment as they passed the makeshift pub. I did make to the end before I stopped to join in, taking just over 3 hours. I knew I was 12th, from keeping track of who I had passed and who had passed me. I had only been doing this to monitor my progress as I would in any race but it turns out this was the only way I would get a true result, the organisers only counted the first 3 in and then called everyone else ‘Joint 4th’. Matt Page and Mel Alexander were our new champions
So what did I think? I was joint 4th in first ever European Championship. I’m happy with that. Time for a celebratory beer I think.