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Last year I rode the Imperial Winter Series at Hillingdon, it was cold and wet, my fitness was questionable and I boasted a palmarès of eight mid pack finishes. Not exactly inspiring for the year ahead. All in all this resulted in a lowly peak at the end of February when the racing community is in limbo between the winter and summer months, unfortunately this set a barren tone for the remainder of the year. This year I am hoping for a different story.

I’ve been a fan of track racing since we road tripped to Manchester in 2007 to watch Sir Bradley Wiggins win the World Champs, its prestigious, calculated environment is a far cry from the memories of Hillingdon’s first aid room, nursing cuts, bruises and road rash courtesy of the finest in West London tarmac. Next came Six day, a soap opera on wheels; alliances, boozy fans and the archaic smell and haze of a two stroke engine – I was hooked.

Two years ago Six Day track racing came back to London, orchestrated by a Ministry of Sound DJ, boyish sprinter’s and a partisan crowd it was an enduring success. A modern cathedral where prayer books are replaced by rulebooks, enclaves become trackside cabins and pews are awash with fans young and old. My only surprise was that it took thirteen years from my first Claud Butler road bike to the relatively young wooden boards of Lea Valley Velodrome, 2012s lasting legacy. Stage one track accreditation loomed.

I have ridden a fixed wheel bicycle before, for those that don’t know me, this is the perfect bike. It is simple, beautifully so. Firstly there no brakes, no cables and one gear. This results in an unmatched harmony with no place to hide, no coasting and less components for me to either break whilst riding or “fixing” my bike. Note; “Fixing” in this instance means identifying a problem, which I’m good at, taking it apart and making X problem worse whilst creating issues with Y and Z. Cue the LBS on speed dial.

To get back on track; quite literally. There is little messing around, we were soon clipped in and up onto the track. It was harder than I thought, probably a side effect of watching the medal factory in operation, and quite liberating. Garmin’s are banned – both an affront to the purity of the rider and enforcer of self-preservation. Naturally I feel this adds to the appeal of track riding although as a coach there is a burning desire to get stuck into the numbers.

Like many I like to know details before I commit, after polling several friends it became apparent that on your first outing your “playtime” is dictated by the experience of the group. We were lucky and got a chance to mix it up all over the track with little input from the coach. Stage two was more structured; a short brief from the coach, track drills, back to track centre for coaching feedback and repeat. A well-honed conveyor belt process designed for efficiency and turnover.

A large cohort of the group failed, my wisest words would be concentrate, close the gap, pedal hard on the banking and listen intently. For the more experienced riders this is akin to a driving test, the real learning is after accreditation, at pace and on your own bike. In hindsight this is absolutely necessary, amateur criterium racing and road racing would certainly benefit from a similar program.

Accreditation wasn’t the Six Day or the Worlds but it was a small step, a safe step to improving my riding, building off season fitness in a world class venue and starting racing in 2017. In what other sport can you take your first steps in the shadows and echoes of an event such as the London Six Day, in only a mere 24 hours later?

So there you have it a sport steeped in tradition, simplicity and hard work perhaps stained by the sterile nature of a commercial venture. Go make up your own mind but for me….. Stage 3 is in a few days.

Shortly after writing this David and Neil passed stage 3 Accreditation.  You can read Neil’s experience of riding track here.

 

 

Since the London Olympics in 2012, I’ve been keen to ride the velodrome.  A month back David Carter (aka Coach DC) messaged me with a date to do our Level One accreditation.

It was an early start to arrive at Stratford for the eight o’clock session but when we arrived my anticipation was palpable.  It felt strange changing into my Summer shorts and jersey having just come in from the cold.  We met our Trainer and headed into the centre of the velodrome to pick up our bikes.  If you are not aware a track bike is a very simple machine, no brakes, no gears, no free hub, meaning no freewheeling.  The word basic does not adequately describe the simplicity of a track bike.

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Once we had adjusted our saddle heights, we had a quick briefing on the geography of a velodrome track.  The wide blue stripe on the inside is the Cote D’Azur, next line out is the black line followed by the red line and finally the blue line is half way up the track.  Our trainer made us ride around the Cote D’Azur and after a few laps we moved out to the black line, then further out to the red line and lastly the blue line.  It was noticeable how much more of power output you need to enable you to ride at the blue line and above.

One common misconception about the steepness of the banking is that it continues to steepen the higher up the track you ride but it is actually the same angle from the red line upwards.  To ride past the red line you do have to pedal harder to stay at the top but this is not because the bank is steeper but because it is longer at this point.  You are traveling further in distance than you would if you were circulating lower down.

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Once we had ridden ten laps or so we were allowed a 25 minute free ride.  Coach DC was in the lead with me following, within fifteen minutes my legs were screaming.  There is absolutely nowhere to hide on the track, nowhere to recover and no freewheeling.

Thinking that standing up and sprinting for a bit may save my legs from the torture I was putting them through I was out of the saddle and went for it.  All was well until I sat back down again and stopped pedalling, never stop peddalling.  The chirp of the rear tyre locking up and the crank that keeps turning regardless had me nearly thrown over the handlebars.  This was an abrupt wake-up call that this is a fixed gear track bike.  Taking in what our trainer had advised us I dropped down to the black line, which is 17 metres shorter than the red line and blissfully recovered, all the while keeping up with David who was riding the red line further up.

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As our session came to an end and we returned our bikes the only thought on my mind was booking level 2 and which track bike should I buy?

Needless to say, Level 2 is now booked, and the search is on for a suitable bike.

Some thoughts about riding the track:-

  • Although it’s a bit of a trip, I think that an hour on the track is probably worth at least two hours on the road.
  • It never rains in the Velodrome
  • It never rains in the Velodrome
  • It never rains in the Velodrome
  • Winter training will be much more fun in the warm and once I have my level 4 accreditation I can attend open sessions and skills sessions and the act of learning new skills certainly distracts from the effort that has to be put in.

I said I would never race a push bike but and there is a but – it’s fast and so much fun sweeping down the banking and feeling the g-force when you hit the next corner that I am so very tempted to try it.

If you haven’t tried it, give Lee Valley Velodrome a call and book your Level 1 session, it’s the most fun you can have on a rainy Wednesday morning in November.