As Poland basks in the summer sun, I sit here and miss all the good people back in the UK.
Another tour is gone, new champion is crowned, Polska is still holding the World Cup! This was one hell of a tour, with an amazing final to top it all off. Loads of controversies, drama, thrill and some breathtaking racing. What is more important we have seen the biggest crowds at a cycle speedway meeting for some years. I don’t know if there was ever a bigger crowd at a match before my days, but certainly World Cup at Poole and the Individual Final have been packed houses. Good media exposure, very professional displays, tracks were very fast and well prepared. Hours, days, months of hard graft were put into getting the places ready for the big day.
I have had a good lead out to the tour, with 3 months of training on the track and at the gym. I felt reasonably fit, very happy with my gating which have been consistent and probably as good as ever. A couple of Elite League matches prior to the Worlds have shown I was on the right path. I knew what I needed to improve on since the last Finals. I got lost in the training and went mad on diet and weight loss. I was 10 kg lighter than normally and simply had no power. This time around I have actually put on muscle weight with a steady but honest gym work. There was one thing I wasn’t just yet happy with… my stamina, for four laps was a bit off. It is difficult to train it on Wroclaw track, as it is so short and rough. Even with my “running track” sprints, I still thought that needed work on.
My goals were very low key. I would have been happy with making my 7th consecutive final, which would have put me at the top of the table just ahead of Daniel Pudney on 6. I know it’s sad, such a lame goal for an ex Champ, but I honestly feel complete. I know what I have achieved and how much hard work went behind my 12-year romance with the World Championships. I am not blind, I see that there is a new generation that is just as hungry as I was when I was their age. Riders train more nowadays, equipment is by far better and more accessible. Making the final is a task that some awesome riders failed at, so I was over the moon I have managed to get it. It was not easy. It could easily have been a different story after the first round at Poole. I was very close to be knocked out on the first day! I needed at least a second place from my last race to get in, and somebody had shut a car boot under orders and I went… Luckily referee had heard it too and I was able to progress. Close shave. Next day I had a next round at Exeter, track I love to race on. Always fast, always smooth. A much better day and an easy 18 points. I felt fast, but it cost me a lot of energy. I think it was due to high temperatures which combined with spending most time around the tracks exposed to the sun, gave me a bit of a sun stroke. Saturday was behind me and I was now looking forward to a week without racing for me, but the World Cup to watch on Sunday. A treat I was looking forward to even more than if I would have been racing in it. It was sweet to hear some complements from so many people. In many eyes I was still good enough to make the Polish squad and if I look back it might be true. I have made my decision back at Findon that it was going to be my last World Cup and I did not back down. The team looked very strong anyway and I was delighted with it. There is future in young riders, even if they were not selected this time, I can peacefully take the place in the crowds or even a place in the pits…
We have won the Cup relatively easily, with some small mistakes which could have been prevented with a bit of tactical advice, but a strong performance from all gave Poland another lease on the trophy. Great and appreciative crowd gave the boys a good ovation. Happy days for Greg especially. He and his wife had a few turbulent weeks.
Couple of days in Oxfordshire, visit to Leisure Lakes at Cheltenham, good to see the shop looking amazing. Training with the Ostrow boys round Horspath on Tuesday, twiddling with my bike, as usual.Thursday was the last Test Match at Coventry. The club always does a great job on putting a big event. Great crowds were eager to see some exciting racing. That was the only thing that was missing… Racing was really boring. First half was very nervous and I was really disappointed. Coventry’s track loves fast paced, all action racing. I understand there was high stakes, the series were drawn, but I was expecting more. Second half was better but only due to Australia running out of options. After the pairs have changed, Aussies got exposed and GB have taken total control. A few beers down the Village Hotel with the Swietochlowice boys and girls and we were off to Birmingham for the last leg of the tour. Semi final is always more difficult to the final, in my eyes. Riders don’t go for things, they sit for points and it is difficult to get round. Remain calm is the only option as things always happen. People falling off yards before the line in comfortable positions, like Nicky Evans, very unlucky not to make the final. I was lucky enough to pick up good points off my grid 4. Missed the start off the 2 but still was good after two seconds. Then made a mistake and went for a gate off grid 3. Bad move and a last place. Win off the line had put me back in the mix, so only needed 3 points to get through, and it was the last race so people knew what points they needed. Not the best day, but the job was done and I knew the final will be a different matter.
First time I rode in a big event was back in Rawicz at the European Championships in 2000. I made the final but was very nervous and stressed out. I had no expectations at all, as I was kind of handicapped with my 20 inched wheeled bike. I was the only one on the old polish bike. I still managed 9th place and one race win.
Big events is what I race for. I love the pressure now. I can handle it very well, I think and I always tend to ride a bit better in the final. Having said that, this time round I think I should have done better. Getting beat on the last straight is something I hate the most. It is preventable and it shouldn’t happen. My draw was not all that bad. With two grid 3’s I needed to be at my very best to get anything out of it. These days riders are so much better than 10 years ago, it’s a task to get heat wins. It’s good to get a win in your first one though. Grid one and an expected first place. Track was good, fast, but not a motorway, a bit of shale on the top made it perfect. Second race was up and down. I managed to gate over Bob and was on the course for 3 points. I have been racing 20 years and I always say to riders to get away and not look for riders behind them. Well, my head did not work that moment and on the last lap I started to look back and slowed down. My legs were not even that bad I just wanted to save them for next races! Mc Millan executed a brilliant pass and went on to win as if I was standing still. A win of my grid two had made me really pissed off even more, as I would have been leading on 11 after 3 rides! Nevertheless I was happy enough with my efforts. I was getting in the mix and collecting points. I had unbelievably hard races to come, with my last race being a bit of a cherry. Kowalczyk gated from four, pictures show he was half a bike in front while we were still on the concrete… I got to third and sat there. Could not do anything, Cody was going at the same pace as I was, in front of me. Last race seen me off four with Marcin, Bartek and Andy inside of me. This a good grid four to have as you can guarantee that those riders will go for it and you can get something out of it. Timms was out of reach for me already on 18, I could manage 16 with a win and a possibility of getting on the rostrum, depending on how the others finished. Marcin could only get 15 with his win, Andy was on 13 and a win or second would have seen him on the rostrum, last but not least, Bartek was on 15 and a win would mean a shirt for him, second would give him a run off for it.
I said to a fellow rider in the pits, who was rather surprised by Andy’s gates on the day, that he will not hold me. I felt very sharp from the start on the day and was confident I could gate round. I knew that Bartek would have a go at Marcin so there was a lot to gain from a powerful gate. I went round Andy and Bartek, Marcin held his line and… next 30 seconds is a bit of a blur.
I got to the lead for a bit while Marcin and Bartek both landed on the grass. Then I got passed by Marcin and then Bartek, then I have seen Andy on the floor, and then it was all over. 14 points. 5th place. Considering I was the oldest competitor at 35, not bad. There is always a bit of bad taste though. If I could hold on to that second place in front of Bobby, I would have been in the run off. What a race for him though, to grab that place on the line which meant so much for him. I would still say a good day out there and I was happy with all my efforts. We all know how the event ended so I wont comment on that. Most know my opinion and it is gone and forgotten. Well done to all. Next stop Australia 2017?
photo: Pete Payne, Matt Davis.