The Lee Valley Velodrome
Early on 31 March (Easter Saturday), 16 hardy SNCC members hauled themselves out of bed and headed for the Olympic Velodrome – or “The Pringle” as it is affectionately known. The 16 consisted of one regular track racer, a few who had done some track taster sessions previously and the majority about to sample the delights of track cycling for the first time.
The early start was soon rewarded by being the very first riders to enter the velodrome that day and the privilege of feeling a part of this world-class sporting arena – even if it was for only one day: just strolling around the inner track area felt really special.
For those who like their facts: The velodrome was completed in February 2011, at an estimated cost of £105M and was the first Olympic Park venue to be completed. The roof is designed to reflect the geometry of cycling as well as being lightweight and efficient reflecting a bike.
The track, designed by Australian track guru Ron Webb, is made from Siberian pine held together by 350,000 nails. The wood’s strength and malleable nature makes it ideal for track building. When properly constructed, a Siberian pine track is reputed to produce a faster surface than other materials.
At the start of the session, our coach for the day, Tom, introduced us to the key features of the track:
The apron is the flat area between the infield and the track, where you will start to ride before progressing onto the boards.
The cote d'azur is the start of the velodrome proper. Light blue painted boards signal the edge of the track.
The black line - also known as the datum line - is 20cm above the cote d'azur and denotes the official track length: 250 metres for an Olympic facility. Riders will try to stay glued to the black line as they seek to find the shortest and fastest way to cover the regulation n umber of laps.
The red line - also known as the sprinter's line - is 70cm above the black line and is used in various track races.
The blue line - also known as the stayer's line - is for use in Madison races. The resting riders will circulate above the blue until they are “handslung” back into action.
Having digested the lingo, we were then permitted onto the track. With a fixed wheel, clipping into the pedals requires use of the guide rail before pushing off and taking to the boards.
Our first lap was conducted in eerie silence as we all concentrated on sticking close to the wheel in front and soaked up the atmosphere.
Over the course of our 2-hour session, Tom led us through a series of drills where we ventured progressively higher up the track and tried our hand at various track manoeuvres. To peel off from the front of the pack, the rider changes his angle of travel to ride higher up the banking, which sheds speed, while the other riders pass by underneath: it sounds simple but takes some nerve the first time it is attempted to trust that you won’t slip off the 45° banking into the steady stream of riders below. Team pursuits, where a number of riders break away at sprint speed, was another favourite.
All agreed that it was a fantastic experience, one that is within reach of the majority of club cyclists and one which we hope to repeat in the not too distant future.