In the early hours of Saturday morning I was unable to sleep and as a result rose earlier than I had expected. My poor Titanium Orange Brompton has not really been used a great deal since last years Brompton World Championships and as such had a thin layer of dust! I spend about 20 minutes prepping my racing/summer steed but in truth there was little to be done.
Loading the bike into the car I was wearing my full Nocturne attire which was shall we say...orange themed. I said, 'morning' to my neighbours who didn't bat an eyelid and carried on as if I were wearing a boring Monday morning business suit. (I suspect they remember me doing this before). I said goodbye to Mrs Orange and my Orangettes and asked them what they thought I looked like. Mrs Orange simply tutted with eyes travelling towards the sky and a shaking of the head. My Orangettes made it very clear that on no account was I to let it be known that I was their dad.
The journey to the Smithfield circuit was quite quick and I parked my car in the space of a friend who lives nearby. Getting myself ready I took what I thought I'd need and headed off to meet John - who was about to take part in his first Nocturne.
Meeting John at a nearby coffee shop we were soon joined by Andrew and then Mark. After the boost of a full grain coffee and chocolate brownie we headed off for signing in. Soon other members of the club assembled. David, Anne, Chris, Graham, Milan, Roger and Paul, readied themselves for action while Sam, Miranda and Brian offered support.
Most of us were in Heat 1 and there were some seriously quick riders. Before we knew it the call came and we assembled ourselves. The man in charge of doing this has done so for all other Nocturne races and competing with PA systems he gave us the time honoured instructions.
Placing our bikes 50 metres from the start line fully folded we would have to run on the drop of a Union Jack flag, unfold and go. I slid the record button on my Garmin Verb so that it could record my race.
Walking back to where we had to run from I did think that it looked a great deal longer than 50 metres!
Safety is paramount on events like this and we waited until the course was clear and ready for us to race. Looking out at my bike in the distance it may have been a mile away let alone 50 metres.
Some riders took the opportunity to find their own pre-race prep. One chap (a seriously quick Brompton employee) found his own happy place and lay prostrate on the ground.
Nervous smiles and small talk occupied the rest of us. I even resorted to doing some stretches in the hope that this might aid my race!
The Brompton employee continued his quest for inner peace and seemed quite oblivious to the goings on around him.
With word that the course was clear we were told that we could go on the drop of the flag. This was shear terror! I cannot put into words my feelings at this realisation that I...we...were about to go over the top!
The flag went down and I ran as fast as I dared wearing SDP shoes. Unfolding my beloved Brompton I seemed to actually get a fairly good start, seeming to be ready and off long before many of the others. Negotiating other competitors in the process of unfolding and racing off themselves was in itself nerve racking. By bobbing and weaving I made it through and found myself in the top three or four riders. My goodness!
Peddling for dear life and knowing that this would not last I came to the first sharp corner. My racing line was next to useless and I had to brake hard to avoid the metal barriers. Composing myself I peddled again and was soon overtaken my a speedy peloton of those who would easily make their way into the final.
Pressing on I completed my first lap. Then my second. I wasn't doing too bad and saw David overtake me. Trying to keep on his rear wheel I was for a brief moment reminded of adventures where David had been the leader of many a ride.
At one point in proceedings a very tall chap on a Brompton (think he was another Brompton employee) had to stop as I think his chain came off. I thought what bad luck and pressed on. Amazingly he was to pass me later in the race and power on into the distance.
With the home straight in the distance I saw the checkered flag which meant my three laps were up. I was breathing hard and could not have given any more. There would be 19 people who would make the final. Some knew they were through. I would have to wait.
Returning to the pits we exchanged snippets of our race. I, along with lots of others started coughing? It was as if we were transported back to Victorian times where pollution was terrible. After a few minutes of this I wondered whether somehow we had either all contracted TB or miners lung? Even as I type this my voice is still slightly hoarse.
As we waited for the results Gavin, another Brompton employee and ridiculously fast rider (they really do have quite a lot of these) came over for a brief chat. At the last two Brompton World Championships my bike has been placed very close to his. I cannot quite fathom why as he is a serious contender and I could be likened to a junior Minister on a fact finding mission? Anyway, since then we always say hello if the opportunity arises.
Forgetting about finals for the moment, Heat 2 was underway and we cheered on Anne, John and Chris who all looked terribly serious.
With both heats completed we waited to see about who was in the final. The news came and I could not quite believe it. David and I were through as was Mark. (I should point out that Mark knew this as he had a good heat). Yes, I had scraped through by the skin of my teeth. I have to say I had mixed feelings. I strayed between terrified to quite chuffed and then back to terrified.
Trying to take my mind off the prospect of being in the final I watched some of the other races and on route spied some rather fine vintage bicycles that would be being used in the Retro race.
The road bike races started and the speed was incredible. The Elite riders would be quicker still but with them zooming past I wondered how they would make the turns?
The Nocturne course had been reversed this year and I most certainly wasn't used to it. For me I found that you went into the bends quicker and as such found it more demanding than previous years. At one of these bends there was a crash and medics ran to see if the unknown rider was okay. Soon the race resumed and again I was struck by the immense speed road bikes can travel at.
Mark, John and I retired to a nearby pub overlooking the course and had a pretty good pulled pork burger and chips. Feeling refreshed and fuelled up I went up to the first floor for a look out at the racing below.
Seeing that the Penny Farthing race had started, I made my way back to the good view that was afforded from the pits.
These riders really did go round at pace and I thought I recognised a few faces from the Tweed Run.
David was unable to make the final as it was starting at a scheduled 19:30. Letting the Officials know we said our goodbyes. Sadly I also had to say goodbye to my riding partner Andrew who was taking part in the 60 mile NightRider later that evening along with Sam. Having also done this for the past three years I know how important it is to get off in good time for.
The Hire Bike race was great fun and despite the bikes being quite heavy many of the riders where able to knock along quite quickly. The lady at the top of the picture below did really well coming second.
The time came for the final. My terror was still there. Waiting in the pits for a while we then found ourselves on the track to do it all again but this time for 6 x laps! It was supposed to be 10 and I had hoped it might be reduced to 3.
Walking under the start/finish line I saw that the crowds were much larger than before. The time below was the elapsed time of the previous race rather than the time of day.
We waited while the presentations took place for the previous event and clapped at the appropriate moments.
The swift Brompton employee continued his pre-race strategy and looked as if he had found an even happier place. I'll be honest I was about to try this out for myself but the word came we were about to start...
The flag came down and we ran. It was a little like the charge of the Light Brigade. One poor chap fell to the ground. Arms and elbows jostled for position as the crowd used their hands to bang on the advertising hoardings. Shouts of 'go on Tango man!' and 'come on Mr Orange' was just about heard over the din.
Getting to my Brompton I had another wonderful start. This was a wonder as it has not happened before. At a previous incarnation of this even when I used a S2L Raw Lacquer I actually attempted to open an orange Brompton...the wrong bike!
Again I was off and for a few hundred metres I was in the top 5 or so riders. As before a snake-like peloton swathed past and I tried not to let the blood rush to my head and do something stupid like trying to keep up!
As a devoted Brompton user I have been fortunate enough to have visited the factory a few times and been on a few Brompton events. I therefore recognised some Brompton employees in the crowd who every time I passed shouted out 'Orange' or versions to that effect. They competed with another group on the other side of the course who simply shouted out, 'Tango!' It's a fine line between cheerful encouragement and mockery.
On lap five I was lapped and for me the race was over. I was glad that I made it through in one piece and able to tell the tale. Mark has done very well and I didn't come last as there were a few riders behind me. Both needing to get home as our final started later than scheduled Mark and I said our goodbyes.
This year a Brompton rider won and in fact Brompton users do tend to dominate in terms of those participating. Yet again it is strange that a bicycle I bought to commute to and from work and perhaps go on the odd adventure has taken me on so many journeys. When I bought my first Brompton, never did I think that at the age of 45 would I be racing one!
I have to say a big thank you to the people who organise the Nocturne. It is a wonderful event and something I look forward to every year. I fully intend to be there next year, oranged up and terrified!