Sporting Weekend: The Smithfield Nocturne

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Sport is sometimes accused of taking itself too seriously, but Saturday evening will see a historic London landmark welcoming elite athletes, dogged semi-professionals and high-spirited amateurs alike to the second running of the Smithsfield Nocturne cycling event.

Last year’s occasion attracted 5000 spectators to the bars and barriers around the 1km course despite heavy rain and was such a success that further similar events around the UK, including perhaps one in Canary Wharf, are being arranged in order to form a championship circuit in 2009. As with the inaugural event there will be five road racing categories with the folding bicycle challenge having caught the imagination of so many rush hour warriors last year that there now need to be semi-finals, the first of which gets things underway at 5:20. Competitors dressed in business atire, some of whom having even flown in especially from overseas, must sprint ten metres to their folded chariots before assembling them in a flurry of arms, legs and mild profanity and then propelling them around five laps of the track. The winner of the final at just after eight o’clock will claim as their prize, somewhat perplexingly, another folding bike, thought it might be intended as recompense for the thrashing their transport to work has just received.

By the time those folks are barging each other into the hay bales with true commuter ruthlessness a group of schoolchildren will already be pedalling furiously without going anywhere in a series of roller races that continue throughout the first half of the proceedings. While they toil the support race, featuring many entrants from cycling clubs in the capital, will earn its victor a well earned rest in the form of the use of a classic car for a weekend. Rounding off the first session will be the 7:10 running of the City of London Corporate Challenge, which seems to have superseded last year’s relay race for couriers. This time teams of four, possibly featuring an officially sanctioned pro “ringer”, will race round the course twice each to determine lycra-clad business bragging rights for the year ahead.

The second half gets underway with the All Star Race for celebrities and media types at 7:45, the folding bike final follows and, after a brief pause for prizegiving the evening reaches its climax just before nine o’clock with the Elite Criterium race for professional teams. Some riders from last year’s London hosted Tour de France prologue will be taking this opportunity to hurtle round our streets once again, though this time for an hour and a bit of high-speed, eco-friendly action.

Anticipation amongst potential spectators is keener now that the event has established itself so we recommend taking your place early at this free show to get a good view.

Picture of last year’s intrepid folding bicyclists via blech’s Flickr stream.

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