The inaugural race at the newly opened Redbridge Cycling Centre took place nearly two years after its predecessor (the one-mile Eastway circuit) was bulldozed to make way for the Olympic complex. The Redbridge Centre was opened a year later than scheduled, but everyone there agreed that it was worth the wait.
Although the small upper circuit had already been used for juvenile races this was the first time that the full 2km had been tested in anger by the big boys in a E/1/2/3 event. The circuit and its facilities got a resounding thumbs up although several riders later joked that, although there is only one climb, the course was ‘too hilly.’
Before the first day of racing began the circuit and its clubhouse facilities were officially opened by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who then did a lap with some of the younger riders after having taken tactical race advice from Olympic gold medallist Jason Queally.
The opening of the Redbridge venue was delayed by almost a year because the resident (and protected) Great Crested Newt needed to be relocated before work could begin. The cost for re-housing our amphibious friends was £1,000 per head and as there were more than 300 of them it but up building costs by over £300,000. After having raved about the new facility the ever waggish Boris stated that, ‘No newts were good newts.’
With his uncontrollable hair blowing in the gusty conditions, Mr Johnson went on to say: "Cycling is a fantastic way to travel – it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the health and it’s good for the wallet."
The £4.5 million centre, which was built by the London Development Agency is indeed, impressive with 6 changing rooms, a gym, function rooms and, of course, a tea room – any lingering affection for the mythical Eastway circuit goes right out of the window when you use the facilities here. In addition to this there is a mountain bike track (that doubles up for BMX) which circumnavigates the tarmac circuit. There are also 100 bikes available for hire.
What is perhaps most striking, however, are the views from its hill top position across open countryside to Docklands. The circuit is wide, sweeping and smooth and very challenging with the 1 in 10 climb to the finish line having a real sting in the tail. This opening race saw the field having to contend with a strong cross headwind to the finish which is not surprising given the elevated and exposed location. Riders were being dropped on the first lap.
The new Centre is billed as the ‘first Olympic legacy venue for 2012 cycling hopefuls,’ and there was a poignant reminder of Britain’s cycling talent as both Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won their Olympic sprint events while the main race was taking place. Although it is part of London’s Olympic Legacy the Redbridge Cycling Centre will play no part in the actual games of 2012.
One downside to the new circuit is that it is seven miles further out of London than Eastway was which will mean more time stuck in traffic for those who travel from the centre of the capital. The good news is that once the Olympics are over there will be a new circuit (Eastway Mark II) built on the Olympic Park site.
So, what do the riders think of their new home? The winner was Elite category racer Dan Patten (PCA-Ciclos Uno) who finished fourth in the recent Premier Calendar Tour of Pendle. Unfortunately, 22-year-old Dan was one of the few people here who never raced at Eastway.
"I definitely like it as a circuit and it’s going to sort the field out," he said. "The hill does the damage and the strong crosswinds."
A good person to ask is Martin Meades (API Resprays) who was Mr Eastway, having won the famous Thursday league six times.
"It’s a tough circuit, a hard-man circuit," he said. "It’s a technical circuit and harder than Eastway because there are no run-ups to the hills."
Third placed rider Andy Davies (Fit-For) continued to praise the new venue: "Great facilities. Great course. No hiding here, so there will be genuine winners."
When Boris Johnson was leaving the Cycling Centre he was asked by a journalist if it would put Redbridge on the map. That is doubtful, but it will become a magnet for cyclists, just like Eastway was.