‘Cross diary 27: I do a bit of trackJune 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Posted in cycling | 5 Comments
Tags: biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, manchester, track, velodrome
So. It’s all about the mud, right? And the sunshine, and the wind in your hair, and the views across the valley, the sheep, the reservoirs, the QoMs. Right? Wrong. It’s all about the TRACK.
The highly successful and much-feared Calder Valley Fell Runners have a little-known radical cycling wing, Calder Valley Velo. CVV booked a private session at the Velodrome, which I managed to inveigle my way into despite having successfully avoided numerous attempts to get me to go toiling up and down mountains, twisting my ankle in rabbit holes, etc.
So this is how I end up driving to Manchester last Friday with four hardy, skinny running types in the car, asking me if I really need the satnav and being altogether too chirpy for before-seven-in-the-morning.
The sun shines. The traffic is fine. We get there very early. A full 45 minutes to get REALLY nervous. I’ve been to the Velodrome lots of times, but only as a spectator. Walking up to reception, I’m conscious of the illustrious people who’ve preceded me across that tiled floor. This is where Chris Boardman must have signed in. Michael Hutchinson stands in this queue for his coffee (Americano, in case you’re wondering). This is where Victoria Pendleton got CHANGED. I don’t feel worthy.
The CVVers, blissfully unaware of the weight of cycling history upon them, are busy getting worried about the banking. It does look impossible, when you’re down in track centre. I have my mind on other things, terribly excited about my SILVER rented cycling shoes and the Dolan track bike which has my name on it, on a little post-it. The saddle is just the right height. I feel a bit loved.
Weirdly, I’m fine about the banking. However, I’ve just read Matt Seaton’s book; in one episode, he forgets to pedal while high up and comes off the bike, with fairly epic consequences. Never having ridden fixed, I am so worried about this that I am nearly sick on my shoes. I seriously consider bailing out, right at the very last minute.
Coach appears and summons us genially up to the track. We line up along the handrail and try to get our feet into the pedals (harder than it sounds when you can’t just hook the pedal up with your free foot). Coach gives us an encouraging pep talk (‘Don’t stop pedalling at the top of the banking, or I’ll be scraping you up from down here’) and we are off to do two laps on the flat, dark-blue-painted concrete. ‘One big pull with the left hand and off you go!’ I do a big pull with the left hand and, miraculously, off I go.
Once we’ve managed to stop again (slow the bike by pushing back on the pedals a bit, aim for the handrail, grab a bit of netting by mistake, feel a bit foolish) we are allowed to move out onto the couple of feet of flat boards at the edge (the Côte D’Azur) and from there, up onto the banking. This feels monumental. The gradient starts right there, at a crazy angle – no gradual incline. For the first couple of laps, I’m terrified I’m going to ground a pedal. It doesn’t happen, and Coach shouts at me as I go into the corner, ‘PUSH on the pedals, now! Get some speed up!’ I start trying a bit more.
I steer up the banking and push harder. It’s hot, really hot. Warm wind ruffles the hair on my arms. The corners rear up, again and again; there’s nowhere to rest. A few seconds on the straight, then into the corner again, over and over. I get down on the drops and pull my knees and elbows in, imagining myself bulleting through the air. I’m overtaking people. I dig deeper: I must be able to go faster. The sun shafts through the roof. The boards rumble with other people’s wheels; my wheels make them sing, odd pentatonic harmonies of wood on wood. I’m reeling in the chap in front, inexorably, lap by lap. I must have him. A glance over my shoulder, swing up and out, grip the bars and here I go. Faster, legs. Come on, lungs. My knees are hitting my chest. I put my forehead down on the bars and barrel through. There is nothing in the WORLD to match this.
Coach laughs at me, as I trundle in at the end. ‘Look at that grin.’ Everything aches. I wobble through to the changing room and laugh stupidly in the shower. A couple of CVVers comment that it was fine, but it wasn’t for them, really. I look at them like they are from another planet.
When can I go again?
Later, at road skills training (of which more, on another day), I have this conversation:
Me (grinning madly, jumping up and down): GUESS where I was riding a bike this morning. Go on, GUESS.
Me: EVEN more exciting than Gargrave*.
Other bloke (knowingly, with a smile**): On the track.
* Is Gargrave really that terrific? Never been…
** There are those who Get It, and those who don’t
(Pictures by kind permission of Anna, the partner of Blair Garrett, who organised the trip. Thanks so much, Blair & Anna!)