MARK GILBERT - 1st Poitiers BICC


Once in a while, every association involved in the organisation of a pigeon race, can get caught out with the chaotic weather patterns our country is blessed with. Nothing is certain except that once the decision has been made to release the birds, there is no going back. 

Personally, I have been involved with National organisations at committee level for years and I have never come across a “Cavalier” attitude in any of them. The work that goes into making these decisions is dedicated, and although we may have more information at our disposal than ever before, the chaotic influence of nature is never predictable. The combination of East winds and the English Channel has always been difficult, with fog banks appearing from nowhere and can be a hazard to a good race with most of the pigeons returning after the designated time. I’m reminded of good advice once given to me “pigeon racing is like walking through a summer orchard, where the grass is full of rakes”.

Mar GilbertThe winner of the British International Championship Club Poitiers race is himself a Committee member and part of the three man team who collaborate to decide when the liberation takes place. Mark Gilbert is well known in the sport; indeed, his national wins are now well into double figures (21) but this one came with bitter sweet emotion as on my visit, he was mainly concerned for all the members who had entered the race with pigeons homing late, knowing that many of them would have been sent for preparation of the longer races to come. Mark asked me to ensure that you received his apology and although he won the race, he was very disappointed with the outcome. He would rather have his Barcelona, Tarbes and International race candidates safely on their perches himself so knows how many will feel. A few pigeons did buck the trend, and Mark was at a loss as to how these early pigeons could have come through, making the expected speeds when it was a long wait before he received another bird. 

His winning pigeon is a two year old hen raced on the roundabout system. She was paired early season and allowed to rear one youngster but parted before going to nest for the second time. Her breeding may give some indication as to her determination shown on the day because she is impeccably bred for the Barcelona, the main event in European International racing. Her father is a son of “New Laureaat” who won 1st International Barcelona in 2013 against 25,382b and winner of the Golden Wing Barcelona 2013. In 2011 he was 8th National Barcelona against 12,281b and in 2012 323rd National Barcelona against 11590b when raced by Luc Wiels in Belgium. Her mother is a daughter of “Starlight” 2nd International Tarbes against 12537b in 2008 for Etienne Meirlaen in Belgium.

For her preparation she was given two 20 miles training spins before going into the local club races, then entered into Falaise, Alencon and Cholet with the BICC and one other channel race with the federation before being given a week’s rest before Poitiers. She is fed with Versele Laga Superstar with Energy mix added seven feeds before basketing, with a few peanuts and oil. He says that it is important not to overdo the fats though, which is why it is only added into the last few feeds. As a yearling she was entered into the NFC Tarbes Grand National being 18th Section E and 87th Open and is earmarked to go to Tarbes again as well as Perpignan this season, a 570 miles race followed by 637 miles, if all goes well.

Our club President John Tyerman wrote; “BICC had just over 1800 birds entered for the National Race from Poitiers. The predicted weather forecast no doubt affected the entry numbers. Marking and collection of birds went smoothly and both transporters arrived at Horndean around 8pm on the Thursday evening, where Paul O' Leary and his team assisted the two Convoyers in transferring the birds over on to one lorry. Convoyers Trevor and Steve caught the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and after disembarkation made the long drive down to Poitiers, arriving mid-afternoon on the Friday. Birds were later fed and watered and left to settle for the night. Again, the Race Advisory team were aware that the weather was somewhat problematic with rain forecast for Normandy region. Our Weather Advisor Steve Appleby had been monitoring the weather and after studying the latest Met Office charts he was confident we would get a liberation on the Saturday morning, so this information was passed to our Convoyers on site at Poitiers. Saturday morning dawned and with good weather on site at Poitiers and with a fairly good line of flight forecast, a liberation took place at 5-45 am. The birds split into two batches and headed north in a light SEW. 
When nearing the Le Mans area the convoyers reported running into heavy rain for around 40 miles on the motorway - It had been hoped that the birds would have been through that area ahead of the rain and there is no doubt that this rain affected the later outcome of the race. Chanel conditions were good but with the NEW it was never going to be an easy fly back to UK. Returns were somewhat sporadic, but many fanciers clocked several of their entries and by nightfall we had well over 130 home.
There were later a number of nasty comments posted on the ‘pigeon chat' website criticising our decision to liberate, some of these fanciers seem to have no conception of the line of flight from Poitiers and quoted holdovers at a Messac and Carentan which were affected by weather, but these locations are some 80 miles to the west of Poitiers, so our birds would have no reason to take this line. Yes, it did prove to be a difficult race but with most fanciers flying well over 300 miles into the ENE wind, it was never going to be easy. Many congratulations to John Rumney who clocked a very gallant pigeon flying 589 miles into the north east of England.
BICC members have had some very good National races and the Race Advisory team and Convoyers are fully confident that the decision to liberate was the correct one. We are happy to confirm that only fanciers first arrivals are shown on the 'early times' and this does not actually give a true reflection of returns on the day. As I said earlier some fanciers clocked several of their entries and our winner Mark Gilbert, had over 30 home on the winning day. Congratulations to Mark on winning the race.”

Steve Appleby also added his report “At first light our convoyers reported very good weather conditions at Poitiers which was also supported by the view captured from a local webcam. The weather heading north from Poitiers through central France was of broken cloud and blue skies. The main consideration was the heavy rain showers identified over and around the Cherbourg peninsula as seen on the radar rainfall images. These were forecast to move away north westwards during the morning clearing the flight path. Visibility in the channel was good 5 miles plus. With this information to hand liberation of the B.I.C.C. pigeons from Poitiers was affected. Our convoyers saw the pigeons split into two groups before clearing the site. On making contact with our convoyers on their return journey they reported that they had driven in good weather all the way to Le Mans where they hit a rain shower. The heavy showers plaguing the Cherbourg peninsula persisted all morning failing to move away as forecast. At about midday they migrated northwards over the channel obstructing the flight path. On obtaining a forecast from the Channel Isle Met Office predictions of sunny periods to develop in the Channel Isle area from early afternoon proved correct but only for a short period. More heavy cloud developed over northern France and moved northwards over the channel. As a result during the afternoon the channel became overcast, and coupled with the easterly winds decreased the visibility. These poor conditions were the main reason for making the channel crossing extremely difficult for the pigeons. All forecasts obtained from different sources before the race were consistent with supporting a race to take place from Poitiers. Finally, a forecast is just that and subject to change, and change is exactly what transpired in this race. Well done to all the pigeons arriving back at their lofts.”


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