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Blast from the past: the World Cycling Revival in pictures

In-depth
7 Dec 2018
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This article first appeared in Issue 77 of Cyclist Magazine

Words Jack Elton-Walters Photography Rob Milton

It seems many of us yearn for a bygone era. We hark back to a time that was simpler, when Britain was Great and we were all more positive about the future.

No, we’re not talking about Brexit – our rose-tinted spectacles are instead trained on the world of cycling, which has found its nostalgic champion in the form of World Cycling Revival, a three-day festival of racing, music, dancing, eating and vintage costumes.

The inaugural event took place in June at south London’s famous Herne Hill Velodrome. The venue was recently revamped after an injection of cash helped save it from closure, and Herne Hill is itself historically significant for hosting the 1948 Olympic Games.

And it’s this post-War period that provided inspiration for the World Cycling Revival.

‘We needed an era that made sense, so we used the 1948 Olympics, which was the last major event to be hosted at Herne Hill,’ says Revival founder John Postlethwaite.

‘We felt we could bring a bit more music to the event, garden party style rather than music festival style.’

Throughout the three days, a packed racing schedule delivered an eclectic mix of two-wheeled competition, from derny-paced races to agonising feats of endurance such as Mark Beaumont’s penny-farthing Hour record attempt. (In the event, Beaumont broke the British record with a distance of 35.3km, but failed to beat the world record.)

To get the spectators more involved, many races could be gambled on. ‘I wanted to bring betting into the whole concept,’ says Postlethwaite.

‘I realised I couldn’t do that on British Cycling club races but I could create some special events, whether it was Mark going for the penny-farthing record, Oxford versus Cambridge or the Japanese keirin championships. Certainly for non-cycling fans, they loved that.’

Folding chairs and folding bikes

It may seem odd that a cycling event would attract non-cycling fans, but the World Cycling Revival was only partly about the racing.

There was a lot of space devoted to food stalls; an old London Routemaster bus was repurposed into a pub with top deck seating; there was a helterskelter and a Revival Museum.

In fact, many visitors seemed happy to ignore the cyclists going round and round altogether, instead spending the days lounging in deckchairs, sipping on Fuller’s ales or glasses of Pimms, dancing to the band and showing off their period-perfect attire.

In a marquee named the Officers’ Mess, visitors could listen to cycling commentator Ned Boulting in conversation with various luminaries of the cycling world.

Shane Sutton, the former British Cycling and Team Sky coach, proved to be as abrasive and unapologetic as ever, while ex-pro David Millar popped up to discuss the Brompton folding bike race, which was to be ridden on his own line of Chpt3-themed Brompton bikes.

Will Butler-Adams, the CEO of Brompton, was also there to announce that the winner’s prize for the Brompton race would be a staggering £10,048 – more than for most pro races, including the World Championships.

When Cyclist quizzed Butler-Adams about the money, he replied, ‘The more we researched UK racing, the more we couldn’t believe how low the prize money is in British cycling.

‘We decided to go all out and put a huge part of the marketing budget into the race and to offer the largest prize money in the UK.’

It was little wonder, then, that a number of big names stepped up to enter the race, including Millar himself, Alec Briggs (he of Nocturne fame), elite riders such as Germain Burton, Justin Hoy and Marc de Maar, and a host of others hoping to scoop the cheque.

The race was run in ‘elimination’ format – the last rider (or riders) in the bunch being eliminated each lap – with two qualifying events and one final.

Places on the grid were determined by how quickly each rider could fold a Brompton, and the start of each race was done Le Mans-style, with riders having to run to their bikes and unfold them before they could get going.

An early casualty was Burton, who struggled to unfold his Brompton and couldn’t make up the gap.

The win eventually went to local boy Alec Briggs thanks to a timely attack with half a lap to go.

After scooping the prize money, Briggs told Cyclist he was unsure how the race would play out. ‘With something so new, with so many factors – ones you possibly can’t even think of – you have to go in humble.

‘I wanted to win. I thought I could win, but the moment you don’t give the respect to any of your other competitors is probably the day you’re going to lose.’

What next?

With the inaugural event complete, organiser Postlethwaite spoke to us about his plans to develop it in the coming years. ‘I was taking a little bit from Goodwood, a little bit from Ascot, a little bit from a music festival and trying to roll it together,’ he says.

‘But I would like to up the level of the racing; I’d like to up the club programme; I’d like to bring more women to participate in the event; I would like to raise the number of pro athletes racing in it; I’d also like to bring more specialist activities in.

‘Next year will be bigger,’ he promises. ‘That’s my objective: bigger prizes, bigger names, more spectacular racing.’