On The Boards

It might be a 3hour drive from Warwick down to the National Velodrome in Newport, South Wales...but boy is it worth it!

The facility is almost brand new - built just a few years ago and inside it is an impressive sight, even more so when you walk in to the spectators area to see the Olympic Youth Squad training on the track - very impressive lads and girls, all pushing some serious speeds up to 40mph as they practised their 500m times on the 250meter track.

After getting suited up in skinsuits and collecting our bikes we headed into the centre of the track - a little daunting to say the least - the angle of the banking is pretty damn steep! The coach got us riding round the flat area on the edge of the track to get used to the fixed speed bikes. Then gradually we moved up the banking - first on the "Cote d'azur": the blue edge of the boards that isn't too steeply sloped, then moving up and gaining speed onto the higher levels of the track.
Before long we were picking up speed and riding in formation around the circuit; the coach challenged us to do slalom drills in an out of the other riders as we rode round at close to 20mph; interesting to say the least, especially when some riders leave only a very small gap between them and the rider in front.

The excitement really started however, when we had all twenty four of us on the track at once, and had the lead rider sprinting away from the pack on the whistle, blasting off round the circuit until they rejoin the pack at the back. To say that the adrenaline was flowing would be an understatement - hitting those banked corners at 30mph gives a sensation that I certainly haven't experienced on a bike before - air rushing over your body and legs spinning at 100+rpm.

Then came the challenge...
I got singled out as one of the four fastest riders in the club and the four of us were lined up at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions around the track. The guys had joked about "this is where we are sick" as we lined up - that worried me a bit; last time I was sick after exercise was after a 2km test on the rowing machine, this couldn't be that hard could it?
Heart thumping in my mouth we waited for the whistle, then there it was - bang - we were off. My heart rate, already high with excitement rocketed - I wasn't wearing my monitor, but reckon it was up close to 190bpm. Pumping the legs like pistons after half a track we were all fully up to speed - the guy behind me got caught after about 2 laps, I pressed on. I knew Paul, who started opposite me was probably the strongest rider; he in turn caught Rob who was in front of him. Head down I drove for it - mouth wide open sucking in as much air as possible in time with my legs driving beneath me. After 4 laps I took a glance up to see where Paul was - he was almost dead opposite me on the other side of the track. I gripped the bars tighter, hammering the bike into the corners as close to racing line as I could get; not really believing that just an hour ago I had been tentatively riding round the Cote D'azur.
Another lap down I stole another look - still neck and neck, I grimaced with the pain, surely I couldn't catch him; he had his own track bike and had done this far too many times before; he rode a fixed gear bike the 8miles to Uni and back each day for God's sake! Then I heard the cries from the centre of the track "Two Laps to go - you're gaining Tim, GO FOR IT!". Surely not, but a quick glance across confirmed that I had slightly pulled ahead - perhaps I had a chance! I pulled up every last bit of energy from within and went for it. After another lap I could see him on the same section of the track as me - just hang on and I'd win it. Then the whistle came - I had done it! Panting like an dog in the Sahara I pulled into the centre of the track - damn that was cool!

After we had watched the other riders do similar events we cooled down on the track while Newport Velo cycling club were warming up for their session - I say cooled down, we were still nailing those bends at close to 30mph in a long line of 20riders, all doing one lap at the front. Now that is what I call a worthwhile warm down!

So my first two hours on a velodrome were pretty awesome; no crashes, just some serious adrenaline and heart rate levels - If you get a chance go for it! The only downside I can see is that the air is so dry my hoover breathing dried my throat out so much it has given me quite a bad cough - but hey its a learning experience - drink more in future Tim! Next time I get a chance to go back I will be there in a flash - just wish we had one a little closer to where I live!


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