When we think of Greece, some of the first things that come in mind are the blue sea, beautiful beaches, picturesque islands, ancient history, democracy, and Acropolis, but what about cycling culture? Does Greek cycling community exist? The country is ideal for all cycling disciplines; cyclocross tours in a wide range of mountains, road and gravel brevets in routes near the sea, fixed gear alleycats in the city center, bike messenger services, everyday commuting, and of course track bike criteriums. We wanted to know more about the first ever Crit in Greece and how it came about, and why it does not exist anymore. We talked with its founder and organizer Neoklis Manikas, one of the most known figures of the fixed gear scene in Greece.
Interview: Panos Sinopoulos
Could you tell us about your relationship with cycling and especially fixed gear scene?
“I am a cycling commuter in Athens since 2006. One year later, I participated in the first ever alleycat race, organized by a team called Local (λόκαλ, in Greek) to which I then became one of the core members. Soon, we started organizing night, fast rides, and it wasn’t until July 2008 that I organized my first alleycat race with the help of my team friends.”
“In 2010, I bought my first fixed gear bike. At the time, I had moved to my hometown, Larissa, where I formed Larissa Fixed Gear with an aim to promote fixed gear scene in my town. Many people came along and we started creating alleycats and rides all together.”
How did you come up with the idea of a track bike criterium?
“After 2 years successfully organizing alleycats in my town and also in other cities; Athens, Thessaloniki, Trikala, Kastoria, I became familiar with the Red Hook Crit races. I contacted David Trimble in order to discuss the possibility of such a race in Larissa, where we had found an ideal location, a sponsor and people to help in organization and production.”
Why did you choose a city outside Athens?
“It was easier for me to be flexible in my hometown finding the right spot as well as liaising with local authorities and vendors.”
How do you feel about the participation of the athletes and the overall race outcome?
“Yes I am quite happy about that, if we consider the bad weather conditions and the police refusal to temporarily close an active road path to insure cyclists’ safety – the race circuit was passing through a provincial road.”
“People came from cities around Greece and 36 riders participated in the race. The race was a total of 12 laps of 2km each; total of a 24km circuit. There was a lead Moto for the first 2 laps and also a volunteer medical team that successfully treated some riders after crashes. For timing and scoring we used a hand chronometer and personal notes. We had little experience in organizing this type of race but our overall effort surely set the foundation for another Crit, regardless the fact that it never happened.”
Why is that?
“Next year, we tried to make the race sanctioned, but Greek Cycling Federation responded that the use of track bikes for road races is prohibited. That happened in 2013. Additionally, we could not completely secure the cooperation of local police authorities to temporarily close the active road path for race purposes. So we abandoned the effort.”
Could you tell us what do you think of the fixed gear scene in Greece?
“Fixed gear bicycles and cycling commuting in general was only a trend that lasted from 2008 till 2013 and is now descending. During those five years there were many teams that used to organize cycling activities of many disciplines. After our Crit, some of the participants tried to organize such a race in their cities without any success.”
“The only initiatives left since, are those of a fixed gear shop downtown Athens that keeps organizing fixed gear and cyclocross races and of local teams that organize alleycats every now and then. If we exclude professional cycling, I believe there are no more significant efforts of promoting cycling culture and commuting in Greek cities.”