Track Cycling by David Carter

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.