APRs: what’s the interest?

A massive “well done!” is due to Walker’s Cycling Club who hosted the Fenwick APR race last weekend. With cyclists coming from all over Scotland, the 33mile race attracted so many entrants that a second race had to be put on specially to cope with the demand.

But the leading question on a lot of people’s lips is what actually is an APR?

First, it is nothing to do with those pesky websites that offer you a loan at a ridiculous interest rate and think because they have three cartoon geriatrics being yoof-ful that we will rush out and take out a receive £500 – pay back £5000 deal.

Our cycling APR stands for Australian Pursuit Race,  and it is a handicap race in which small groups of riders – often three groups bunched together according to ability – are set off at short intervals.

The intention is that each group tries to chase down the group in front, with all riders effectively coming together at the finish. As in all road races, the first rider past the finish line wins.

Many riders cite an APR as the race that started them in road racing, and for some of those it was because an APR allows you to develop road racing skills in a progressive manner without fear of being totally outclassed in your early races.

As a novice you would set off in the first group, and this allows you to race against people of more or less your own ability, then as your skills and fitness develop, you would of course move to the later groups where the pace will be considerably faster and where group skills need to be more honed to keep up with the bunch.

This is, of course, not to imply that APRs are easy. From my observer’s viewpoint last Sunday, I witnessed a fierce level of competitiveness and one could hear the sound of teeth gritting at every pedal turn. This is hardly surprising given that the ride was classed at a Category C+, which meant that the first ten placed riders picked up British Cycling points. Although the winner only picks up 10 points to add to his or her tally for the year, points gaining is another of the reasons why they are so popular.

Also interesting was that the women and men were racing together.  My own one and only foray into the world of the APR – the picturesquely named Lake APR – was probably a form of entrapment.  I was lured in by Anna Walker mostly on the promise of sandwiches and cake at the end, but also because it was a women only event. Funnily enough, I was in the novice group, and as an indication of how the women riders take it as seriously as the men,  a couple of other intrepid souls and I were dropped by our own group after a matter of only a few miles (I think it was probably actually yards rather than miles) and were subsequently unceremoniously overtaken by the second and then the third group long before the half-way point. That it marked the point at which my racing career both started and ended was in no doubt.  But likewise in no doubt was the simple fact that it was thoroughly enjoyable.

And I think that is part of the appeal.  There is a definite thrill-of-the-chase adrenalin rush about an APR and I am sure it appeals to many an uber-competitive bewheeled tar-muncher.  But, almost paradoxically, it also offers a chance to get back in the hunt, as it were, even when the pursued are caught up with and overtaken as they can then try to get back on the wheel of a pursuer in the hope of not having to make such a twally of themselves at the back of the field.  This is, in my opinion, awfully sporting, old chaps, but it does mean that those who have been caught up with don’t automatically have to surrender and there still is an outside chance that it might not all be over until the finish line. Or until the fat lady sang in my case.

Yet despite the perfect blend of competition and enjoyment, there is no series of APRs in the same way as there is for road races.  Essentially, organising an APR is left to individual clubs, although British Cycling do support ones who do step up to the start line. The Fenwick APR was formerly organised by Loudoun CC, but after the event was cancelled, as a result of the dreadful winter weather in 2012, they called it a day.

Walkers CC became involved when club member, Fiona Walker, who is south west regional development officer for Scottish Cycling, suggested to the club’s committee that the event’s demise had left a much mourned hole in the early season schedules, and could Walkers take the reins.  The club jumped at the opportunity, firm in the knowledge that they had already established a good organising pedigree through the Irvine Beach Park cyclocross event.  And this faith turned out to be more than justified with many of the club turning out to marshal, man the sign-on and other duties and with the event running as much like clockwork as it could on the day.

Three of the club’s members were also racing in the event.  Neil Walker came 14th in the A Race having started from the scratch group, while Ian Anderson came in at 32nd having started in the front group.

Ian reflected the point of an APR being a good mix of enjoyment and competition:   “It was very had going. I had only just returned from a cycling trip to Mallorca so legs were pretty worn! However, I enjoyed it and managed to get my best placing in road race to date.”

The third member, Cameron Wilson who is making the transition from running to cycling, was unlucky not to finish in this his first road cycling race.

The event was won by semi-pro Gary Hand who had put in a late request to participate as his team event had been cancelled that day.

Overall, this event was another roaring success for Walkers Cycling club.  Club president James Goldie commented “The event was a huge success and reflects well on our club” before going on to offer his and the club’s thanks to Fiona Walker for being the linchpin in setting the event up.

So, here’s to next year’s race. Hopefully success will breed success and it will be even more popular next time. The club will try to encourage members to participate and who knows, maybe Fiona will consider a women’s event if we can help her to drum up the numbers.

But   you can all rest safely in your beds knowing that I won’t be among the entrants.  But then again as far as APRs go, I am still interested.

 

Ian shows off his Mallorca tan. Or maybe not. Photo by Paul Hornby
Ian shows off his Mallorca tan. Or maybe not.
Photo by Paul Hornby

 

Neil Walker's classic race face.  Photo by Paul Hornby
Neil Walker’s classic race face. Photo by Paul Hornby