THE BARNSLEY Town Centre Races return for the first time in three years on Friday and organisers are hoping for the biggest crowd ever.

The event, organised by Barnsley Road Club and previously attracting some top professional riders such as Olympian champions Ed Clancy and Tom Pidcock, was an annual fixture before the Covid-19 crisis.

It was cancelled in both 2020 and last year but returns this week, finishing with stages in the women’s and men’s National Circuit Race Series. It is part of the ‘Big Weekend’ in the town centre.

The course will be on Eastgate, Regent Street, Mandela Gardens, Back Regents Street, Eldon Street, Market Hill and Church Street where it finishes.

Jenson Young, from Penistone, is due to compete but Damien Clayton, from Cawthorne, had to pull out after breaking his hip two weeks ago in a different race.

Organiser Chris Lawrence said: “Without a doubt we’re expecting our biggest ever crowd. I would expect two or three thousand, at a conservative estimate. There should be a cauldron atmosphere.

“We benefit from the fact there isn’t a similar event in Sheffield. Cycling fans will come to see the top end of the sport.

“Then there will be Barnsley people who are in the town centre and want to watch. Because it’s linked with the Big Weekend, people will be in the town and it’s going to be quite something.

“People will just want to go out and the appetite for live sporting social events has never been stronger.

“We have both the men’s and women’s national circuit champions, Matthew Bostock and Josie Nelson. We have just shy of 370 entrants which is probably the biggest field we have had to cope with.

“The event has a good racing reputation. It’s believed to be technical but it’s a very flowing course and it takes a huge effort to get away from the field.

“This year we might see a sprint finish with a large group coming in together.”

Lawrence and his team have been planning for this throughout the pandemic but he admits the event’s future could be threatened by the financial crisis across the country.

“We didn’t stop because of Covid.

“We had the ‘Barnsley not in the town centre race’ last year which was the biggest event after Covid and a signal to the rest of the cycling world that we have to just get on with it.

“The organising team we have is fabulous. They just want to see sport happen in the town centre and people to enjoy it.

“It would be devastating to lose the event in future years.

“The support of the council has been fabulous. There have been cycling infrastructure changes throughout the borough but it needs a lighthouse event in the calendar to inspire the next generation in Barnsley to take up the sport.

“There are cities in this country that don’t have a quiet road but we’re within a few miles of the most spectacular, testing and picturesque roads in the country.

“A lot of cyclists from the region come into Barnsley to train because the roads are so good.

“We would hope the event will carry on.

“We’re in a delicate place socially in the country and don’t know what will happen with the change of government.

“The cost of living crisis could affect young people racing bikes, as they are some of the lowest paid in the country.

“If pressures happen, we may not run. But we have to show this event in the best possible light, and encourage everyone to come along.”

After the opening ceremony at 4pm, the racing will kick off with a ‘community ride’ following by an under 12s race at 5pm, under 14s at 5.30pm and under 16s at 6pm.

There will be an amateur race at 6.45pm followed by the women’s race at 7.30pm and men at 8.45pm.

Meanwhile, Birdwell Wheeler Paul Heggie set a new club record for 68-year-olds at the Leicester Forest 50-mile open time-trial on the A46 between Leicester and Newark.

On an extremely hot day, and despite losing his water bottle after five miles, he finished in 2-22-46.

Tuesday saw the third of the club’s five-mile time trials from Thurgoland to Hoylandswaine roundabout and back.

Wheeler Trevor Mayne missed out on the win by three seconds with 13-06.

Other Wheelers times: Dan Emery, 13-53; Paul Heggie, 16-28; Allan Whittaker, 16-46.