One beautiful hot day in late March Jon, Rick, Jeff, Crispin, David, and I made our way down to the Herne Hill Velodrome – home of the track cycling at the 1948 London Olympics. The track is 450m long – compared to 250m for the Olympic velodrome – and the steepest banks are 30 degrees as compared to 42 degrees of the Olympic velodrome.
But before you even get onto the track, you need to get used to the bikes. These have no gears and, crucially, no brakes. The only way to slow down is to turn uphill or to gradually decelerate – which takes some getting used to. As does the fact that you can’t freewheel. In other words, if you stop pedalling the pedals still keep going round – which was to catch me out more than once as I tried to relax after a lung busting sprint.
Having just about got used to the bike, we then went onto the track. We started going round at the lowest level and then went higher and higher up the banks. The banks seem very steep and, at first, you think the bikes are just going to fall away under you. However, the reality is that the bikes grip very well and you soon start feeling comfortable on even the steepest bit of the curves.
Next up, was learning to cycle as team i.e. in a line with everyone very close behind each other. This is a crucial skill as it means that everyone (other than the leader) benefits from the person in front’s slipstream. Which, in turn, means that you expend far less energy. However, as you need to be literally a few inches behind the person in front it also involves a lot of concentration and trust in the person in front and in your own reactions.
– Sprint – at the Olympics this starts with a flying 200m time trial. The fastest then proceed to a knock-out competition which sees very tactical one-to-one races. (We did both elements.)
– Team Sprint (or Olympic sprint) – teams of 3 over 3 laps with the one rider dropping out at the end of each lap.
– Team Pursuit – teams of 4 (3 in our case) racing over a number of laps with the time of the third placed rider in each team being the time that counts.
– Omnium – each rider scores points based on how they do in 6 different events
– Keirin – a 2km individual race where the first 3 laps are paced by a gradually accelerating motorcycle (aka a derny)
Between the practice laps, the sun and all the different events, it was a tough – but brilliant – 3 hour session. (About half way through I got a splitting post exertion headache – anyone know how to deal with these?).
To give you a flavour of what it was like here are a couple of quotes from the emails that went round afterwards:
“That was fantastic fun. I now have sunstroke and heat exhaustion. In March.” (Jeff)
“Likewise – I very nearly fainted when I got out of my car!” (David)
And the best news is that the public can do what we did and hire the velodrome and all the necessary equipment (including that derny!).
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