I’ve just watched Chris Hoy win the World Championship Sprint title at the Manchester Velodrome. It was a wonderful race. The first leg he won by a rim, the second he came from high off the banking, powered round the last bend and clinched it only yards from the line. He is such a strong rider, so talented at several disciplines and such a nice guy
It’s 54 years since GB won this title; last time it was Reg Harris. And here’s a poem from Christopher Wiseman collection ‘Crossing the Salt Flats‘ which coincidentally I was reading again just a two nights ago. It’s one of the few poems I know of that celebrate cycling, and particularly track cycling.
Memories like heroes they never grow old
Eric Bogle, ‘Front Row Cowboy’
In the old black-and-white on my wall he’s posing,
looking right at the lens, front wheel turned, facing down the concrete
banking of the track. That in itself is special.
Just the two of us that day, and he was good
to pose like that, world sprint champion, for a shy kid
in school uniform. 1950. He even said that he liked
my bike, and let me lift his famous red Raleigh
with one young finger.
1993. Back there. The grandstand’s gone where I used
to sit, near the finish line, and the track’s crumbled
but is still there, the banking sheer and amazing.
Remnants of painted advertisements for Reynolds Tubing.
I scramble down and walk around the ruined place
like some old actor in a condemned theatre listening
to the dead air. Five thousand for big meets.
A trace of white paint at the finish line. Once
a friend and I sneaked onto the track and rode a lap
but didn’t dare attempt that fierce banking. Every week
I was there, met the touring pros, the world’s best –
Van Vliet, Derksen, Paterson, Heid, the Frenchman.
Reg was the best by a tire’s width. Faster than a car
his last two hundred, leg’s pumping, bike whipping side to side.
1995. Back again, stupidly sentimental, deciding I’d get
a piece of that pink concrete for my desk. Gone. Gone.
The whole track gone. A university residence where it was.
So what do I do now? Reg would stall and fake, then
swoop off the banking and power past to the finish.
Stand still on the pedals until the other broke.
The muscles on his legs. A quiet smile. The fluent
power of what he was, of what I wanted to be like, what
all those people roared for. It was a place of wonder.
A place for the fastest in the world. Now it’s dug under.
Now it’s for students who’ve never heard of Reg Harris
(or the track, the crowds) who’ll never know that a man
came here from Canada for a piece of concrete and went
home with nothing but heavy memory come alive.
What I was. What I am. The old dilemma. Trying to balance it.
In the photo he’s wearing his World Championship jersey.
He and I, nothing can change us now.