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!