Yesterday evening was the last in the summer series of racing at Crystal Palace. Or at least it would have been if the rain earlier in the day hadn’t rendered the circuit damp and dangerous to use. But at least the juniors had a bit of a spin around on a shortened course.

Before this year I’d never ventured to SE19, put off by the reports of chaotic scenes of multiple races fighting for space on the tight little circuit. Those of softer dispositions complained of the tight bends, blind corners and breakneck speeds. But out of curiosity and in search of a new challenge, I headed down at the start of the summer.

Everyone who has raced at Palace will tell you the same thing – get to the front right at the start of the race, then stay there. Start at the back – like I did – and you’ll spend half the race working your way through the bunch. In the 3/4s it was like skipping across stepping stones as rider after rider got shelled out the back – as I moved forwards, they were moving backwards. After a diet of longer road races the intensity of Palace is a shock; corner-sprint-corner-sprint-corner-sprint… it’s better than any interval session you could devise.

But perhaps what I’ll miss most is the atmosphere. With so many races happening on the same evening – the juniors racing first, then followed by the E/1/2, 3/4, and women’s races running concurrently – it’s as if the whole of London’s racing community descends on this little corner of London each Tuesday. From the elites in sponsored skinsuits and immaculate bikes, to the first timers in mismatched kits and skew-whiff helmets. There are no facilities, everyone just sits on the grass in the middle of the circuit, chatting whilst pinning on their numbers. Relaxed, informal – on a bright sunny evening, it feels exactly how summer should.

Saying farewell to Palace last night felt like saying farewell to the summer.

Photography by Phil Jones/Bluetrainatlondon
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