“All day long they work so hard
Till the sun is goin’ down
Working on the highways and byways
And wearing, wearing a frown
You hear them moanin’ their lives away
Then you hear somebody sa-ay
That’s the sound of the men working on the chain ga-a-ang
That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang”
Now I’ve committed to it, this final stab at 3rd Cat-dom has, of course, become something of an obsession.
Not as much of an obsession as it might have been, to be fair. My life has in fact been dominated by a work project of Sisyphean proportions for the past two-and-a-half months, to the exclusion of almost everything else, notably training.
To get the best bang for my very limited time buck, as well as to acquaint myself with the track riding I’ll be doing in Portsmouth, I’ve finally started to attend an event I’ve been meaning to try out since last winter: the Wednesday night chaingangs at Brighton’s Preston Park Velodrome.
Organised by Rupert Rivett, founder of the very splendid On the Rivet cyclist’s network, these training sessions are billed as an ideal way to keep some speed in the old legs during the offseason. For me it’s a bit different: I need speed right now, especially as I feel desperately under-trained at the moment.
The Preston Park track is a funny little gem of a place. It was built in 1877 and most of the facilities look like they haven’t had a lick of paint since. It also has no lighting whatsoever, which means the sessions finish in pitch darkness, illuminated only by the riders’ bike lights floating around the track like little disconnected spheres. Watching from afar it must look very odd indeed… it’s weird enough from within the chain.
That said, the track surface is in pretty good nick and the whole place is wonderfully atmospheric. Apparently evening track meets there in the 50s used to attract crowds of 3,000-plus, with up to 10,000 souls crammed in on Bank Holidays. Last night we had a chap giving his young sons some bike riding practice, a couple of joggers in the infield and a dog that wormed its way through the fence and almost caused a major pile-up. But it was still fab.
The chaingang itself works like a track team pursuit, i.e. a single column where the lead rider swings off after his or her half-lap stint on the front, easing up to drop back in at the rear of the line. I much prefer this to the two-column through and off version often used on the road, although it isn’t as convivial to be sure. In any case, after about half an hour of pounding around Preston Park at speeds well north of 20mph nobody’s in the mood for talking anyway.
The major surprise for me, a perennial bunch lurker in 4th Cat races, is how tough it is when you have to take regular turns on the front. So much so that on both evenings thus far I’ve had to cry ‘No mas’ before the finishing sprint, slightly disappointing since regular readers will know this is an area I desperately need to work on.
I’m not too worried though – the rest of the training is gold dust; perfect for my immediate needs and something that would be impossible to recreate on the road.
Sadly I only have time for one more visit to Preston Park before D-Day (or should that be P-Day). However, I’m certain that won’t be my last sampling of this slightly batty but very worthwhile way to spend a Wednesday evening. It’s a lot more fun than the Champions League, anyway…
- Click here for more information about the Preston Park Chaingangs