Inspired by Neil and David Carter’s track articles I booked a Stage 1 Track Skills Session which included bike hire at the London Olympic Velodrome (aka Lee Valley Velopark).

We (Nadine and I) arrived about an hour early, having driven down (as there is 4 hours of free parking for users of the Velopark), signed in and headed upstairs to the viewing area for a pre-ride coffee.

It’s only at this point, some 2 months after I booked the session that reality sinks in. “I’m going to be riding on this track!”

We took a seat and watched some of the earlier sessions going through their drills. Seeing the smiles on the faces of some, and grimaces on others, makes you a little nervous.
3 words kept going around in my head – “Don’t stop peddaling”

About 30 minutes before the start of my session I was invited down into the track centre, to get changed and kitted out with my bike.

The changing rooms / toilets / showers are basic but clean and free lockers are provided for your street clothes.
On the track no watches, cycle computers, fitness bands, wristbands, jewellery etc is permitted. Helmets must not have any attachments or visors and as a minimum you need to wear gloves and a cycling jersey.

You have the choice of wearing trainers or road shoes with Look Keo Cleats – I opted for the latter and Neil fitted them to my spare pair of road shoes.
Not one person on my session used the toe straps and trainers option.

Once you have selected your Condor track bike (according to your height and footwear choice) you’ll group together to attend a safety briefing (and to check that every rider has completed the emergency contact form)

Right on time, we made our way onto the track and lined our bikes up against the railing, before we were given an overview of the track layout and what we expected to achieve in this session.
It was pretty clear – you had to listen carefully to, and carry out the instructions when given.
There is a real emphasis on safety, and it was drilled in to us to look behind before making any changes in direction and to make very clear calls to the person in front of you.

We set off single file around the blue safety zone (with our hands on the top of the bars), to get used to starting and stopping whilst locked in to a fixed gear bike – whose wheels will continue to turn even if you don’t want to keep pedalling (which is not an option!)

Having mastered starting and stopping we were allowed to progress to the light blue painted section of the track (riding the drops) for a couple of laps before being brought in to discuss how to control speed and corner effectively and safely.

The next drill had us riding the black line – at a pretty quick pace around the track, before progressing to the red line, which is a bit higher up and requires more concentration as you hit the bends, both to keep upright and to maintain track position also.

We rode this for several laps before coming back to the safety zone for our first assessment feedback.
Each rider was given one or more areas to focus on for the next session which involved riding near the top of the track at speed.

Our task was to stick together and not let gaps form, riding about 1m behind the rider in front at about 30kph.
It may look easy, but it’s not – and requires a lot of trust – both in your own abilities and that of the riders ahead.

We rode quicker and quicker, and you soon forgot about ‘just keep pedalling’ as that took care of itself – now thoughts turned to self-preservation and staying in the slipstream, whilst going faster and faster, whilst your throat cried out for water.

Our instructor took us up and down the track (calling out which lines to hold each time we flew past him at the end of a 250m lap) before he called us all to the safety zone for one last update.

1 hour flew by – with about half the time riding and the other half taking in what was being said – you soon understand why the sessions are only this length.
I am very thankful I had put in the hours on the turbo this winter as there is no way I could have hung on if I hadn’t done so.
You need a pretty good level of fitness to participate in this event.

I’m already looking forward to my next track session!

Thursday night we hosted Watford Velo Sport for a wahoo zwift-off to see who amongst them would come out best in an omnium style competition.  The best out of three events; Box Hill climb, London Classique 5km, the Mall sprint 200m, with the idea that maybe there might be a surprising winner.   We’re in the depths of Winter and no one is at their best, training lacks intensity so we can’t think of a better time for a friendly fight.  We streamed the event live, if you didn’t watch you can still catch up on our facebook page, three videos are here.

What was really interesting and worked well was the three events allowed two very different cyclists to finish first and second. Lewis very powerful, pushing upwards of 700w against Elliot who is much more slightly built, able to use his weight advantage to take first place on Box Hill despite pushing a lower wattage.  Over the three events there wasn’t much to separate them.

Laurent was on form that night if you watch the last video on our facebook page, you’ll hear Laurent give David a lot of stick, “In the whole L’Eroica spirit David will be riding shoes from circa 1973”, “Check out Amazon, he has a book on cycling excuses”, “He’s been on the bike a few minutes already he has 17 excuses like it’s only January, and I’ve eaten too many pies”.  And my favourite, “The spinning classes are further down the street”.

There was great camaraderie, very enjoyable evening.  Neil and I thought the guys were a credit to Watford Velo Sport.  It was a pleasure hosting the event.

In February we will be hosting the same event for the Willesden Cycling Club with the idea if both parties are willing that after that there will be a Watford vs Willesden Wahoo Zwift-off.  And yes we’ll livestream the events!

To start with it was very calm, having a pre-race tea and coffee and the odd bit of cake.  Very civilised.

At this point it appeared as if not an ounce of competitiveness inhabited these racers.

As they changed the off-season legs appeared.  So much drag guys.

Laurent perfectly matched as per usual.

First to go on was Kevin and Louis, their continuous power was in the high three hundred watts with Louis hitting seven hundred-plus up Box Hill.  This was a good intimidating start.  Louis has a Quintana face when riding, never showing discomfort.  We can imagine he’s someone who can mentally disarm you if riding alongside.

 

Table of timings on the three events.

Box Hill climb Points Classique Loop Points Mall Sprint Points Total Points
David Carter 8.44.00 7 7.43.92 6 00.12.68    7 20 David Carter 7
Kevin Chandler 8.17.25 6 7.45.40 7 00.12.06    3 16 Kevin Chandler 6
Robert Broderick 6.41.52 1 7.29.96 3 00.12.37    4 8 Robert Broderick 3
Justin Self 10.03.89 8 7.59.92 8 00.13.40    8 24 Justin Self 8
Laurent Audibert 8.24.74 4 7.33.07 4 00.12.58    6 14 Laurent Audibert 4
James Kingsley 8.29.39 5 7.35.55 5 00.12.47    5 15 James Kingsley 5
Louis Francis 7.09.21 3 7.12.76 1 00.11.93    1 5 Louis Francis 1
Elliot Joseph 6.43.08 2 7.29.87 2 00.11.99    2 6 Elliot Joseph 2
Martin Twaites 9.59.74 9 7.51 9 00.13.52    9 27 Martin Twaites 9

 

For those of you who like music, this review is technically my second album with all the risks and consequences it can have… So I’m grateful that Azelia & Neil have asked me to test the Look 695 for it, what a bike it is!

Aesthetically, I absolutely love it. The 695 (unlike its big brother the 795), is built with a “traditional” stem design which won’t stand out from the crowd. It is a bit more conservative, but this isn’t a set up you’ll get tired of. The frame is beautifully crafted, the highlight to me is the square shaped down tube with “Look” stated rather loudly. You will notice its bulkiness when particularly analysing the frame, but again, it blends beautifully with the rest of the bike’s harmonious design. The inside of the seat tube bears the mention “Fabriqué à la main” (handmade): small proud reminder that this isn’t an ordinary bike, a lot of French savoir faire contributes to its design.

I find the frame’s “bar code-like” display of colour stripes stunning. Taken from Look’s logo, it’s a discrete evocation of the La Vie Claire team from the mid 80’s & its legendary jersey. Riding this bike, you get to feel you own a bit of this history, look back and you may see Hinault and Lemond arguing about a Tour de France victory behind you. The frame has an elegant glossy finish, catching the light beautifully despite the fact it’s mainly a black frame. You can’t look at it and think it is boring!

The bike is equipped with a Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset: reliable, functional and performing as you’d expect from the brand. Basically, you can count on it.

The bike I tested was equipped with Edco Umbrial 45mm carbon wheels and what a tremendous set of wheels these are. Before going any further, I must highlight that a bike this good demands an equally good set of wheels, an incredible amount of performance is lost otherwise in stiffness, acceleration, etc. These Edco wheels are the best I have ever used: despite their 45mm profile, they are very predictable and stable in crosswinds, the breaking is excellent for carbon rims, even in wet conditions (this is exceptional enough to be highlighted). These wheels offer a very low friction level, resulting in “free speed”, this is very noticeable as you ride along regardless of your speed. One last very positive point, Edco wheels come with a patented cassette system, compatible with Campagnolo, SRAM and Shimano, which is unique. If, like me, you own bikes equipped with different groupset manufacturers, you’ll still be able to switch wheels between them, while other cassettes won’t allow it.

Back to the bike! On the road, it is both a rocket & probably the most comfortable bike I’ve ridden. Like the previous bike I tested and my own, the Look 695 was equipped with 25mm tyres (Continental Grand Prix 4000SII). In terms of comfort and performance, 25mm is now the benchmark for most manufacturers. The Look’s frame offers good clearance so 25 or 26mm are a no brainer both at the front and the back. The secret of this bike’s comfort is the elastomer logged at the top of its integrated seat tube: it dampers roads imperfection for your upper body but doesn’t compromise the power you produce (technically, being more comfortable, you’ll be able to produce power for a longer period of time).

I rode this bike again and again, and never really wanted to head back home, it is truly playful and the direction is very precise: I had great fun downhill with it, feeling immediately very comfortable at its control. It is so comfortable, you won’t necessary realise how fast you were, checking Strava will quickly demonstrate it though!

It is a very polyvalent bike with this particular set of wheels, perfect for rolling hills and flat courses. Go for a lower rim profile, and it will be an awesome companion for climbs in the Alps or the Pyrénées. It was with a heavy heart that I had to bring the bike back to the shop: what more could I tell you to demonstrate how wonderful this bike is.

Laurent also wrote a review of the Storck Aernario here.