a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 29 September 2019

In memory of Johnny P

My final race of 2019 was going to be the TLI John Parkinson Memorial Road Race held on one of my favourite circuits at Siddington in Cheshire. I say 'was going to be' because unfortunately the weather intervened very quickly and fairly emphatically on the morning of the race causing it be cancelled just an hour or so before it was due to start, which was a bit of a shame.
During the ten minute drive from my hotel to race HQ at Goosetry Village Hall I had to negotiate several sections of flooded road, so even before I got there I wasn't very confident that the race would go ahead.
I was particularly disappointed not to finish my season with the John Parkinson Memorial because it was an event that had really appealed to me after reading about it's history and significance. To their credit Macclesfield Wheelers have been running this memorial event since 1957, although there were a couple of missed years (2003 and 2005) this year was to be the 60th edition. Memorial races are a common feature of the UK cycling calendar often held in memory of a long standing club stalwart in recognition of a significant contribution to the sport, or perhaps a successful and well known local competitor and they are an important tradition in British racing.

What is unusual and significant about the John Parkinson Memorial, aside from the fact that this was to be its 60th running is that it was in memory of a rider and Macclesfield Wheeler who was tragically killed aged just twenty. Here is a short extract from one of the tributes paid to John at the time of his death.
"John was devoted to cycling, especially the bunched game. Although never quite reaching the elusive grade that seems to bless the selective minority of racing men. What he lacked in speed he made up for with enthusiasm. He derived a big kick out of competing alongside any notabilities gracing the various local classics and although as inevitably happened in the majority of cases he came in alone at the tale-end of the event, he would vigorously enthuse upon what had taken place and never appeared despondent or dispirited at his lowly placing."
I am pretty sure that I would have liked John Parkinson and reading about his attitude to the sport all these years later I can definitely relate to his approach to racing and the enjoyment he got from taking part ... it's not the winning it's the taking part that matters, a crucial point that is so easy to forget.
Something else struck me about this extract and it's some of the language and phrases used, such as the 'the bunched game' the 'local classics' and 'any notabilities'. These comments and choice of words have to be read in the context of the sport at the time. In 1957 when this tribute was written massed start road racing on public roads 'the bunched game' was still a relatively new format, having only been re-introduced in the early 1940's after an absence of over fifty years. Despite being written just over a decade after road racing was re-introduced it would seem that that it had become popular enough for star riders to emerge 'notabilities' and for some of the races to be already regarded as 'local classics'.
Racing on the roads had been banned in 1890 by the cycling governing body of the time the National Cyclists Union out of a fear that the unpopularity of road racing due to the perceived inconvenience and disruption it caused would lead to a ban on all forms of cycling. The growing popularity of bicycles had provided the working class with the physical means of escape from the confines of early industrial life and bike races which attracted large crowds had quickly become working class gatherings in the countryside. The NCU fearing that all cycling on public roads could be banned introduced the ban as they regarded cycling as a gentleman's leisure pursuit that had to be protected.
Everyone was trying to remain optimistic and signing on went ahead but the rain was still hammering down so I didn't go as far as actually pinning my number on.
I have probably raced over in the north west a dozen times this season and the Bike Marshalls have been at every event I have done. They are a smashing bunch of fellas who do a superb job and their presence always makes racing on roads that are still open to traffic feel that much safer. The thirty rider strong group was established in 2006 and since then they have assisted at over a 1000 events covering 133K event miles. The primary role of the Bike Marshalls is to be a visible presence on the race course to provide reassurance to participants, spectators and the wider public. The Marshalls are the eyes of the event organiser and are the first responders if any thing unexpected happens. Their strength is in not only what they do but in the capabilities they have and what they can do when needed.
The bike Marshall's reporting back to race organiser David Higham of the promoting club that the race circuit had several areas of standing water across both sides of the road. No race organiser wants to cancel a race less than an hour before it's due to start, particularly when a lot of the riders have travelled long distances to take part. A huge amount of work by a big team of people goes in to preparing for and running these races so it was obviously a tough call but it was absolutely the correct one.
Ironically, a couple of days after the John Parkinson was cancelled due to standing water on the course we got some stark reminders at the U23 time trial at UCI World Championships in Harrogate of what happens when tough decisions on rapidly changing course conditions are not made. Maybe the UCI should have simply asked someone they trusted and could rely on like the Bike Marshall's to drive round the course to check. Although to be fair they did appear to be a bit more organised for the men's road race and shortened the course before the start due to flooding.
If you want to read a bit more on the very early history of the UK cycling scene see my post here Pretending not to race and on the age related racing organised by the TLI and LVRC there are a couple of post here Age is just a letter and here Tour of the Abberleys

Thanks for reading.


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