I come over all velodramatic

October 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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I was sad to miss the Ashton Hoyle CSP CX, as we had such a terrific time last year, but a wet Sunday saw me heading off to the nice dry velodrome with @1fishonabike for a British Cycling women-only Rider Development session.

This was my fifth time riding the Hallowed Boards™. I’m not sure why I felt so scared. Absolutely ready to cry, leave, be sick, or possibly all three. Maybe it was getting to reception and realising the session really WAS three hours long, and it wasn’t a misprint as we’d been assuming.

velodrome fear tweet

But we were there, with our kit on and our hire bikes and our silver shoes, and hordes of people a LOT younger than us were whizzing round the boards, so sloping off wasn’t really an option. We fortified ourselves with flapjack and hoped for the best.

Coach appeared, looking like a ginger David Cassidy, and talked us through the afternoon. Our group were sharing the track with another group, so we had 15 mins on the boards, then a break, then another 15 mins, and so on. He had a detailed plan and moved us through a set of activities, building our confidence and skills.

David-Cassidy

Your coach for today

We warmed up with a few laps and tried to get out of the saddle. (HEEEELP.) (I did it eventually, though*.) The rest was pair work, riding side by side. We practised changing position so the person on the outside was on the inside, and back again; we rode low down on the track then high up; we moved up and down the boards (ride round by the handrail** then SWOOOOP down to the bottom trying to stay next to each other***, then up again); we rode closely behind another pair, changing positions so the front pair was at the back and vice versa. Then at the end, because ‘you’re not looking tired enough’, we rode in pairs up above the blue line and waited for our number to appear on the lap board. When it did, we ZOOMED down to the black line and rode a lap flat out. WHEEEEE.

On the boards

It was great working with Hannah; we encouraged and supported each other through the wobbles. David Cassidy was pleased with our progress, so much that he amended his plan halfway through because we were doing so well. I was struck by how every time he described the next activity, I thought, ‘Oh, no. I’m not sure I can do that.’ And then I managed it, and of course this felt fantastic. Terrific teaching. At the end, he told us we should be proud of ourselves. I think we all were; I can’t speak for anyone else but I came away feeling completely different about track riding. Beforehand, I’d loved it but been terrified the whole time, and grimly aware of my limitations. Afterwards, I felt like anything was possible. We covered a lot of the skills necessary for track accreditation, so working towards this is the next step. I still need to practise riding close behind someone else (in the two-pairs exercise, I spent the whole time going OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD) but if I can do all that other stuff, I must be able to crack that too, right? Right?

There’s another women-only session, on 22 December. I won’t be going, because it’s Heptonstall Charity Fancy Dress Cyclocross day, but I can’t recommend it enough. Sign up. Go on. You know you want to.

women's track session

Happy participants

* GO ME

** eeeeep

*** shouting WOOOHOOO as you do this is not compulsory, but it’s hard to resist

‘Cross diary 27: I do a bit of track

June 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Posted in cycling | 5 Comments
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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.

National Cycling Centre - The home of British Cycling and Team GB

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.

IMG_0701

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.

IMG_0745

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.

IMG_1101

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.

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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?

Postscript

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.

Bloke: Gargrave.

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!)

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