A velodrome is for life….

…not just for winter.

Now the evenings are getting lighter, people look surprised when I tell them I am going to the velodrome in the evening. Why not go outside and ride they say and its a fair question to which the answer varies based on their experience of cycling.

To some I can explain about the intensity of interval training, the lack of traffic and how a good coach will be able to make the simple art of turning left every 10 seconds an enjoyable experience with a variety of drills.

To others, I just say its fun.

Here in Bristol we are fortunate to have Newport Velodrome just 20 miles away. This is a world class facility and has hosted National and International competitions as well as being a home from home for Team GB (their training sessions are usually open to the public too). The staff and coaches are friendly, the regulars are friendly, the new riders are treated with respect and offered advice, its just a nice community. There is advice being given everywhere and Track League is possibly the most fun you can have on a bike. Its fast, frantic and pure racing.

So lets go racing…

A typical track league goes like this, a straight up 10 lap scratch race followed by a 6 lap “Hare and Hounds” race. The top three from the scratch race are the hounds chasing the hares who start half a lap ahead…. if all goes well the hares, with the advantage of a slipstream, can just catch the hares making a dramatic last lap dash…

That is followed by an elimination race or “Devil takes the hindmost” as the purists would say. Every other lap, the last person over the line is called out so riders need to maintain a position near the front at all times, not get boxed in on the bottom and also have a handy acceleration technique should you need it on the final straight. Tactics can come in to play here, push on at the front and you will string the pack out behind, you may catch out a rival who was near the back and napping…. Sprint, rest, look around, gauge who is on form, sprint, rest, think about your position, move up the track, sprint, sprint, someone is increasing the pace, the bunch strings out, last lap bell, shoulder check, move out, lose the slipstream, sprint….

A 20 lap points race will usually wrap up the evening, if you’ve read this far you will probably know what the format. A sprint every 5 laps which rewards first person over the line with 5 points, 3 points for second, 2 points for third and a single point for fourth, oh and double points on the last lap. I love the points race as there are more tactics to consider, you can gauge fatigue in your rivals too. Inevitbaly I get too excited with about 6 laps to go, sprint for the intermediate sprint then have ambitions to “go long” to the finish. Those ambitions are never matched by my ability though and I always fade with 2 to go and miss those double points.

Simple is as simple does…

I like the bikes too, they are beautiful in their simplicity. One gear, no cables, no shifters or ugly mechs, designed and built with one purpose and you dont need aero gubbins because so much of track riding is in a group that round tubes and shallow rims are still just as effective. The track can be cruel though, there is nowhere to hide if you are down a few watts on the next person.

A bummer…

There is a downside, there is no joined up approach to accreditation in the UK. I can ride and race at Newport but if I want to race in London, I need to do at least one stage of their 4 stage accreditation process. Similar rules apply at Manchester and Derby. Can you imagine having to take a driving test for each County you drive through in the UK? British Cycling need to sort this out and make track racing more accessible…. Oh, you get a big bum too, you are seated for all of the night so you build up muscles in your glutes and thats your bum. None of your formal trousers will ever fit right again. Small price to pay I think.

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