Axle to grind for Oxford

On the first true day of Oxford’s summer, the Halford Tour Series, the UK’s premier domestic cycling competition, came to town. Before the pros began Oxford and Cambridge’s cycling clubs took the opportunity to stage a Varsity road race through Oxford’s central streets.

You’d be hard-pressed to call it a close-run thing, unfortunately. As the sun beat down, the large and curious crowd, brought to St Giles by the commentators’ PA belting out around the North Oxford area and the enormous fences blocking the road, saw only Light Blue domination. In the final reckoning the top 5 racers were all Tabs.

From the fourth lap the Cambridge strength emerged. Three of their cyclists broke away at that point, led by the hugely impressive Wojciech Szlachta. As the laps went on this intrepid three never looked like being caught.

Behind them there was far more of a contest, the chasing pack’s composition fluctuating throughout the race. As the race-side PA honked out DJ Tiesto’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ cover, for no apparent reason, Sean Ledger of the Dark Blues was working incredibly hard to break out of the pack; at each attempt, however, he was stymied by a Cambridge jersey, having been comprehensively marked by the Cambridge cyclists throughout the race.

The 1.5km course was by now more than familiar to the crowd, bending around in front of St Mary Magdalen church and going up to the fork in St Giles just opposite Taylor’s. This span gave the commentary team plenty of scope for local plugs – they shamelessly pushed both Green’s Café and Najar’s in the hope of freebies – Najar, presumably delighted to hear he was the purveyor of the finest falafel in the world, complied.

With only three laps remaining, the leading trio’s had extended their lead to over thirty seconds. As their impregnable margin became obvious they started chatting to each other and playing about, now each going for the individual win.

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In the end it was Szlachta who came first, besting Edmund Bradbury and Toby Weatherall. Oxford had been well beaten, but the character of the team was on display as they kept jostling for position until the brink.

Henry Stapley, a stalwart of OUCC kept out of this race by his economics finals, but still loyally watching on, summed up the day as, ‘a shame, that we couldn’t live up to the fantastic event we’ve hosted. My feelings are disappointment cut with pride.’ They’ll be hoping for better next year