The world track championships are on at the Manchester velodrome this week. It's so great to have such championship events taking place in the UK. It's a shame that work and London life stops me from being able to make the trip up North to get a ring-side seat.
But thanks to the powers of (and the current interest by) terrestrial TV I have been able to follow the events.
It's all been very exciting watching the heart-stopping, and sometimes hair-raising races unfold, resulting in Great Britain's medal tally steadily creeping up. We still have one day's racing left but the GB team has already amassed more medals than their record haul of 7 last year in Mallorca.
One victory that I was particularly delighted over was that of our women's pursuit team. Wendy Houvenhagel, Rebecca Romero and Joanna Rowsell powered their way to a gold medal in the ride-off against the Ukrainian trio.
These women are all riders that I have ridden against over the last few years. In particular, Jo Rowsell. I remember her when she first came onto the scene in 2004while still at school, riding for Sutton Cycling Club. At that time she was doing cyclo cross - and was quite good at it. She quickly moved on to doing track and road events, and was pretty useful in those disciplines too. We got used to seeing her, accompanied by her dad and her brother (who also races) at the various local races around South London.
The early successes she was having then meant that it wasn't surprising when she was placed on the GB talent team squad. But with these schemes one is never sure who will actually make it big and who will fall through the net. Talent team riders are good, but not all of them win races. Not all of them make it through the ranks.
But Jo (on the right of the picture) has grown from strength to strength and consistently excelled in her races. Many of us watched her in awe last season as she gave the 3rd and 4th category men a run for their money at the weekly Crystal Palace races.
And in the women's races she wasn't afraid to get on the front and do her bit. She certainly isn't a negative rider !
And now that she has come of age I am very pleased to see that she is a World Champion - well done Jo !
Another rider that I am pleased for is Emma Pooley. I met her in 2005 at a women's national team series race - The Sid Standard Memorial, in Nottingham. Our Addiscombe Cycling Club team was short on riders so myself and friend/team-mate Tamar were looking around hoping to find people to guest ride for our team. We bumped into two young women - Bryn and Emma, who'd driven up from Cambridge on spec, in a hope of getting a last minute place in the race. We immediately offered them Addiscombe CC shirts to don and welcomed them onto our team.
I vaguely knew Bryn as she'd raced the previous season. I was confident that she'd hold her own in a road race. I didn't know Emma at all, and had no idea of her form. She told me she was completely off form as she'd hardly done any road racing and would give it a go for a bit of fun in between triathloning. Tamar and I were just happy to have a full team and with riders who were pleasant people.
During the race a breakaway group formed, which included golden girl Wendy Houvenhagel, local heroine Janet Birkmyre, a few of the mighty Team Luciano riders and none other than this young Emma Pooley ! She eventually managed a top 20 place in a race that had almost 70 riders and some of the top riders in the country. Not bad for someone who was just dabbling in road racing for fun on no training ! (The Addiscombe Cycling Club team did well out of her result too. So our day didn't end too badly either !)
Three years on and Emma, having graduated from Cambridge is now a full time road racer in the Specialized Designs for Women team. She has represented Great Britain in a number of races, including the World Championships. Then last week she recorded an amazing achievement when she won the 2nd round of the Women's World Cup race held in Italy (Trofeo Alfredo Binda), having managed to drop her fellow riders (including National Champion, Nicole Cooke). Excellent work.
Seeing the names of people you race against (or even with!) up in lights is such an inspiration. Women's road races in the UK tend to mix all categories together, so we get to see these riders when racing regularly. We also know that for many of them it's not always plain sailing. There are set backs - crashes, injuries, illness, a tough routine to follow, logistics, funding issues, selection/non-selection etc. But they persevere and gain successes such those just described.
Granted, Jo and Emma may well have special talents for cycling that I and my cycling buddies don't have. But just seeing what they achieve makes me want to emulate them a little - it won't get me snapped up in any talent team, but I know it will be a positive step for my cycling. In my book they are definitely an inspiration.