Cycling: Boardman sweeps the new boards: Richard Williams reports on the inaugural competition at a pounds 9m velodrome

IN FRANCE and Italy you see bank managers and architects out on their racing bikes on sunny Sunday mornings, sheathed in Dayglo Lycra and burning up the asphalt, their heads full of boyhood dreams of Anquetil and Coppi. To the British, by contrast, cycle racing is a sport that belongs to frosty dawns on the Doncaster by-pass. In that context, yesterday's inaugural meeting at the pounds 9m Manchester velodrome offered a rare opportunity to invest the sport with a little glamour. A little, but not too much.

While the great names of contemporary cycling - Bortolami, Chiappucci, Fondriest, Millar, Mottet, Hampsten and Ugrumov - were gathering in the royal park of Monza for the start of the 88th Giro di Lombardia, the last classic road race of the European season, drizzly Manchester played host to Ghijselinck, Stirratt, Rozendaal, Whitcombe and De Peuter: a scratch collection of 50- odd riders from eight nations competing in a varied programme of sprints, pursuits, keirins, points races and devil- take-the-hindmosts. Denmark, who replaced Italy at three days' notice, eventually won the competition, with Britain and France in joint-second place.

Conceived as part of Manchester's bid for the 2000 Olympic Games, the velodrome went ahead despite the failure of that venture. Now, operating under the title of the National Cycling Centre and run by the British Cycling Federation on behalf of the Sports Council, it will host the World Track Championships in 1996.

Built on the site of the old Stuart Street power station, the new stadium is quite a thing of beauty. The track, 250 metres of pale blond Baltic pine strips, banked at 12.5 degrees on the straights and 42 degrees on the curves, is encased in a dramatic oyster-shaped shell, with a fine lattice-work aluminium roof. It is Britain's first indoor velodrome, and to help pay the bills its central floor will provide facilities for other sports, including basketball and table tennis.

Unsurprisingly, its ambience is modern and antiseptic, far from the ramshackle pastis- and-Gauloises mood of the old continental indoor tracks which host the winter six-day races. Perhaps it will never acquire such an atmosphere - but the organisers could make a start by providing decent catering facilities. A few curling cheese sandwiches, chocolate bars and cans of Coke offered a poor welcome to families who had paid pounds 10 a head for this inaugural gala.

The big attraction at yesterday's meeting was Chris Boardman, Britain's gold medal winner in the 4,000m pursuit at the 1992 Olympics and at this year's world championships in Palermo. In what was billed as a 'revenge match', Boardman faced Francis Moreau, the French rider who took the silver in Sicily. Still recovering from a virus which forced him out of a time trial on Merseyside last Sunday, the Englishman lost more than two seconds to his Gan team-mate over the first quarter of the race, both of them whirring round on the revolutionary carbon-framed Lotus bicycles. But the world champion's strength told, and with two laps to go, the rainbow jersey took the lead, thrusting his black machine past the finishing gun with an advantage of 2.1sec.

Boardman had been swept along by waves of applause from the stands. The velodrome holds 3,500 spectators, and there were perhaps 300 empty seats yesterday, although the president of the BCF had taken the precaution of selling the stadium's specially constructed press seats to the public - a novel form of public relations.

The velodrome is about five miles from the site of the old Fallowfield stadium, once owned by Reg Harris, whose bronze statue, overlooking the track's south curve, was unveiled by his widow midway through the afternoon. Born in nearby Bury, and a hero to rank with Denis Compton, Stanley Matthews and Stirling Moss in the minds of Eagle- reading schoolboys of the 1950s, Harris had been wounded in a tank battle in the Western Desert before becoming the world amateur sprint champion in 1947. The following year he recovered from a broken neck in a car crash to win two silver medals at the London Olympics, after a row with the British team authorities when he quit their Herne Hill training camp to prepare on his own at Fallowfield. Leaving the amateurs behind for good, he won the world professional sprint champion four times between 1949 and 1954.

A man of legendary independence, Harris later made one of the most extraordinary comebacks in British sporting history, winning the national sprint title in 1974, at the age of 54. He died in Macclesfield two summers ago, a few days after his final bike ride.

The statue, by James Butler RA, is a marvellously evocative piece of work, worth a visit in its own right. No doubt the BCF is hoping that the effigy will bestow good fortune upon a fine facility which is going to need all the luck it can get if it is to prosper in what, for all Harris's and Boardman's medals, remains an alien culture.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice