CYCLE SPEEDWAY STIG
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HORSPATH PROVED ME WRONG – posted 3 January 2013
Well I was wrong. Horspath are done, I said. They’ve been at the top for so long, that at some point they just had to be beaten - and, with the league looking as strong as it had for many a year, I thought this season past would be the one.
It wasn’t. There are a few unwritten rules in cycle speedway. Lee Aris always has a chance to win a British final, form or no form; despite the rules saying so, if you hit a competitor onto the centre green in the first run through of a race, you won’t be excluded; never write off Horspath.
I’ve learnt my lesson.
Horspath stalwarts Steve Harris and Mark Boaler celebrate another Horspath victory
It looks like they finally will be dethroned next year, but that’s because of rider departures rather than a loss of spirit or commitment. And what spirit and commitment they have. The best team riders in the sport, undeniably, allied with an unbreakable will to win is a fierce combination - a combination too fierce for the opposition.
Early on, after their defeat at Poole, there was hope for the rest. Perhaps they were fallible after all? Nope. That was one of only two defeats – ironically, both to the south coast side.
Ah yes, Poole. If you said at the start of the season to anyone, about any Elite League team, that they will go unbeaten at home all season and win at Horspath, surely you think they’d win the league? But no. Quite heavy defeats at Sheffield, Birmingham and Wednesfield extinguished any title ambitions they may have had, perhaps due to their failure to replicate the strength of side they could put out at home as they could on the road. If they can rectify that next season, they’ll surely start as favourites, especially after securing the surprise signing of Steve Harris and the resigning of Gavin Wheeler.
Returning to Poole - Gavin Wheeler
Wednesfield and Sheffield finished on the same amount of points and can be pleased with their year, although perhaps a little more was expected of Wednesfield who had one of the best top three in the league, with Lee Aris, Ben Mould and Gavin Wheeler leading their charge. They didn’t quite have the strength in depth though, a problem that Sheffield also struggled with, unable to field their best riders in every match.
Birmingham will perhaps be most disappointed of all the sides in the league with their final position – especially after starting with four wins in a row. They then lost their next seven and with the disappointment of losing arguably the best rider in the country right now - Paul Heard - over the winter break, Birmingham could be in for a battle not to collect the wooden spoon next season.
Leicester always looked likely to struggle this year, with an ageing squad based all around the country and so it proved, winning only three matches. They were never beaten by an embarrassing margin, but they’d lost their tag as a top team and now they’ve lost a lot of their riders to the point where they won’t even be in the league next season – a fairly hefty fall from grace (see pic below).
Finding it tough at Leicester
Ipswich again battled on and earned lots of praise, but again struggled to win all that many matches – indeed, they only got the one victory. Perhaps the better way of looking at the Ipswich club would be to see just how well they did in the Combination league – an impressive second place, from a squad which was made up of a lot of young riders, all of whom will soon be ready to step up to the first team. And with some impressive signings already made in the shape of the Osborne brothers and Adam Peck (pictured below), 2012 could well be the last time Ipswich finish bottom of the Elite League for a while.
Adam Peck (right) will be joining forces with Richard Williamson (left) at Ipswich next season
BRITS ON THE WAY BACK – posted 22 August 2012
In the 2010 European individual final, Steve Harris and Andy Angell were the only British riders to qualify. They both scored single figures and barely troubled the podium. The night before, Poland had steamrolled England in the Nations Cup, winning by several points at a comfortable canter. Even the most ardent of British cycle speedway supporters had to admit - the Poles were the kings.
Two years on and seven Brits qualified for the final, three of them featuring in the top five. England, with a young side, wrestled the Nations Cup back from the Poles with a couple of heats to spare. Paul Heard, Chris Timms, Andy Angell, Mark Boaler and Steve Harris showed the world that England weren’t ready to lie down and hand Poland the cycle speedway mantle just yet.
As a rule, British riders are a little more creative than their Polish counterparts, more industrious - willing to take more risks. But the metronomic Poles seem to fare far better in finals, holding their nerve, calculating their moves, executing all their actions with supreme precision.
The grace and style of the Poles. Nowacki and Szymanski in full flow.
To see that distinctive Polish cornering style in full flow, executed by a Szymanski or Nowacki (both pictured above), is a sight to behold; akin to an artist at work, sweeping their paintbrush across the easel in one fluid, calm movement, never slipping or sliding, able to tighten their line at will and pick up whenever they wish. Us Brits like to attack a bend far more aggressively, switching our line and bulldozing whoever we find in our way, elegant if you like that sort of thing, ugly if you don’t.
But the Poles hold another, more important skill. The ability to produce their best when they need it, the ability to react and explode under pressure - a cold, hard nosed ability which comes to the fore in those important matches like those European finals.
And yet that gap in class and psyche is closing. A new breed of British rider has emerged, a breed that has found a way of matching the British aggression with the Polish work ethic and consistency. Anyone who has seen Chris Timms, Mark Boaler or Mark Carmichael with the bit between their teeth and an opponent to pass can’t help but feel the hairs on their back of their neck stand up.
Anyone who watches Paul Heard (pictured below) wander out to gate four, wonders how on earth he’s going to get across gate three - let alone anyone else - and then promptly storms round the lot time after time can’t help but stare open mouthed at the young man’s awesome ability.
Withstanding the pressure of international competition. Paul Heard holds his nerve and his inside gate.
In any sport where the level is raised to a point which at the time seems all but insurmountable, it never is. Two years ago nobody thought anyone would get anywhere near Barcelona for a very long time. Last year, Real Madrid beat them to the league title and Chelsea beat them in the Champions League. Three years ago nobody saw Rafa Nadal being seriously troubled on a tennis court anytime soon. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and a resurgent Roger Federer had something to say about that.
Two years ago nobody thought a Brit would be winning a European Championship any time soon. The Polish had come, they’d seen, and they’d conquered, then kept their foot solidly on the gas. Their training regimes became legendary, they’re natural talent obvious, their commitment never questioned. And a Brit didn’t win the European championship but Paul Heard came very close, Ben Mould and Chris Timms ruffled a lot of feathers on their way to sixteen points apiece and my money is on a British winner next time around.
Embracing the Polish style. Europe's number one and two, Marcin Szymanski and Paul Heard, congratulate each other after their exciting tie-break race.
Ten years ago it would have been very easy to write an article titled ‘The Poles are coming.’ But they’ve come. And now the Brits are coming back.