I’ve never cycled in a velodrome before and always quite fancied the idea. It was quite a bit more intimidating than I was expecting it to be!
As instructed we arrived 45mins before our session was due to start and after signing in and getting changed, we took the tunnel into the centre of the track and watched the final 30mins of the session before ours. People were whizzing round the track, being told to go higher or lower up the track by the instructor and being encouraged to go faster. It looked like they were going pretty quick!
With about 10mins to go before our session we were given helmets and bikes. The bikes were very light single speed Condor fixies that didn’t have any brakes. I haven’t ridden a bike without brakes before and to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to it!
As the previous session finished we went out onto the back straight of the track and lined up ready to start. I suddenly realised that I’d made a mistake of being near the front of the group, but Ruth had made the ultimate mistake of being in the lead!
After a quick introductory talk we started doing laps of the track. We were told to circle around on the apron beneath the track. The instructor was standing on the back straight and we had to pass him on the right hand side each time we went round. He slowly edged up the track each time making sure we could look and move out safely. It was all quite tame until I had to pass him right at the top of the track near the barriers and then absolutely whizzed back down to the apron below and I realised just how steep the track was! My normal reaction would have been to touch the brakes and it was a bit frightening to realise that I didn’t have any and trying to slow my leg rotations to brake was not a natural reaction.
Once the instructor was satisfied we could all handle the bike safely we were called to stop on the back straight. Having watched the previous group on track stopping was something that I was a bit scared about. We had to slow down (without brakes) and because we were clipped in, come to a rest by grapping onto the rail on the inside of the track. Thankfully I negotiated stopping without falling off each time we needed to do it!
The second time we were let loose on the track we were allowed to overtake and it would be fair to say Ruth and I didn’t stay anywhere near the front of the pack for very long! There were quite a few club cyclists in our group and those that clearly don’t know any fear and they went flying round. We were told only to overtake on the straights (as the ends are much more steeply banked), but soon all the rules were being broken and Ruth and I were being overtaken left right and centre.
I was a bit too scared (official excuse - had tired legs from running) to go too quickly, but did eventually decide to overtake Ruth. Over subsequent laps I managed to make up a full lap on Ruth and came round to overtake her again. A couple of people passed me at the beginning of the straight, meaning that I didn’t pull out to pass Ruth until midway down the straight. I couldn’t complete the manoeuvre in time and ended up going round the top of one of the bends. It is very steeply banked up there and I peddled a bit faster to make sure I had enough momentum not to fall off!
After coming to rest again, we were instructed to follow the leader / form a train going round the track, with the objective of being right on the wheel of the person in front of us. I was mid / front of the pack and was a bit scared about how fast we might go, but was more or less able to keep up with the person in front of me.
I wasn’t looking behind, but the train had evidently split, as after a few laps we caught up with a group being led by Ruth and formed onto the back of them. We continued to circle for the next 5 – 10 mins and with the instructor urging us to go faster and a few people in the group clearly getting a bit restless. I didn’t really envy Ruth being at the front of the pack, but she was gradually winding up the pace.
Our session ended 5mins early as we had to let Bradley Wiggins onto the track for a final practice for his attempt at the World Hour Record the following day. Unfortunately I didn’t see Bradley come onto the track, but speaking to a couple of others in the changing room afterwards they had caught a glimpse of him being very slow to leave the track at the end of the session.
I feared that the session might not have been Ruth’s thing and she might have hated it. It turned out she had a good time and I think enjoyed it more than me!
I’m pleased I got to cycle on the Olympic velodrome, but I don’t think I’m enough of a thrill seeker to want to do it again. You just go in circles, so unless you really enjoy the speed I’m not sure there is much in it. I think the sessions would be better if the instructors were less pushy about going quickly and perhaps the sessions were graded so club cyclists and slow coaches could self select into different groups.