Pageantry among the puddings


IT WAS a bad move. Late and lost, looking for the Rochester Cycling Grand Prix and frustratedly circling the city's gyratory system, we latched on to the tail of an estate car covered in stickers saying "Greg Lemond Cycles", "Mind out for cyclists" and, best of all, "Cycle race in progress". Had to be a good sign, we thought, as we followed the vehicle through a couple of road blocks. The estate car pulled off the road, we carried on, and it was only when we came around a corner to see a marching band bearing down on us that we realised we had found the race. We were on the course.

Some friendly but forthright officials told us where to put our car and we settled in the dinky little grandstand to take in the scene. The organisers had chosen an exceedingly picturesque spot for the Start/Finish straight. The riders lined up beneath the towering ramparts of Rochester Castle, on the Esplanade that runs along the bank of the River Medway.

The line-up was mighty impressive: some of the longest and silliest team names in British sport were represented. Among the 66 starters were Rob Hayles of Computer Personnel-Futurama-Sports-Tours-International, and Glenn Longland of Radford Accountants-Sirius-Impsport-Reynolds, preparing for battle with the tough Ambrosia Desserts foursome and Chris Lillywhite of Karrimor International- Mongoose. We felt sorry for the commentator.

A quick burst of Carmina Burana (you know, the Old Spice music), and the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Rochester on Medway, a jovial figure with an optimistic hairstyle, stepped up with a Union Jack to start the riders off. Only he was caught unawares by the starting cannon, jumped a foot in the air and just remembered to wave his flag when the midfield was filing past.

The multi-coloured field, looking like a swarm of demented jellybeans, zoomed down to the first corner, a narrow hairpin. With much squealing of brakes and a fair bit of "After you" "No, after you", they got around it and set off up the steep hill towards the Castle for the first time, with an hour of racing ahead of them. The soundtrack blared "Run away, run away if you want to survive." We stayed put, declining the free rice puddings being touted by the Ambrosia girls, and the blandishments of the five-foot pink fluffy Duracell rabbit.

Our only gripe with the Rochester Grand Prix concerned the stuff coming over the loudspeakers. Disco music, the William Tell overture, air raid sirens and a commentator who said "Believe me" so often that we started not to. He also did the sponsors' plugs, going in for rhetorical questions in a big way. "Have you tasted one? You should. Ambrosia Desserts." "Read all about it. I do. Where do I read it? Cycling News." The best was: "Canon. For all that photocopying. If you want some of that, go to Canon."

Meanwhile the cyclists whistled past, reeling off the laps. "Believe me," the commentator said, "this is chess on wheels." That would have been impressive. Adrian Timmis, riding for the almost-sensibly-named Team Orange, broke away from the field and established a 20-second lead, cheered on by the crowd on the ramparts.

There was a nasty smash at the hairpin: one of the riders leant over a little too far for the corner and in an instant brought down five others with much pinging of spokes and scraping of knees. But they were all soon up and off again.

Timmis hung on to win by five seconds, to tumultuous acclaim. As "Fanfare For The Common Man" played over the speakers, Timmis, Chris Walker and Mark Walsham climbed on to the grand prix-style podium and sprayed champagne- style wine over the photographers. Then Tina Turner started singing "Simply the Best", and we left.

There's no doubt that the Rochester Grand Prix had all the trappings of a top-flight sporting event: it was well organised and well attended, the racing was close and Tina Turner was played. But somehow it was difficult to take the whole thing seriously. It might have been the yoking of "Rochester" and "Grand Prix". It might have been the cries of the rice pudding vendors. On reflection, though, the finger of guilt points to the giant pink fluffy rabbit.

WHEN Neil Warnock quit as manager of First Division Huddersfield Town recently, Adam Farmer was one of the first applicants for the job. "Can I please be manager of Huddersfield Town?" he wrote to the club. "I think I can do it." He has not been successful. Alan Sykes, the club secretary, said: "I am sure he will understand we are looking for someone with a little more experience." Adam is five years old.

A FREUDIAN slip from Sara Andrew, Mrs Rob, in a Daily Mail interview last week: "I'm not going to start buying designer clothes. There just isn't that sort of money in rugby league."

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