So… no seasonal racing bow for me in the end.
I’m keeping my modest stock of powder dry for the next event at Mountbatten Centre on March 11. I did, however, take a trip to see some proper bike racers in action, at the London Track World Cup, which acted as a dry run for the Olympic track cycling events.
Here, in no particular order, are five things I learned from that trip:
1. The velodrome is the jewel in the Olympic crown
By far the most architecturally pleasing of all the structures in the Olympic Park (though the Aquatics Centre would have rivalled it but for the carbuncle-like stands bolted on for the Games) the London velodrome stood out even on the grey day we were there. The wood cladding is very classy and the ‘pringle’ roof gives it a dramatic silhouette. Though lovely to look at on the outside, the velodrome truly came into its own once the Brits hit the boards; and that, my friends, is just how it should be for our ‘home’ Olympics. Much has been said about the Wall of Noise and I can confirm that it was absolutely spine-tingling at times. Top marks all round.
2. Keirin is a helluva thing to experience in the flesh
I’ve always thought that keirin was a bit of a mickey-mouse event. I’d read the stories about how Japanese interests had hugger-muggered the UCI/IOC into including it in major competitions, and with its weird derny bikes and Roulette-wheel unpredictability it seemed a bit incongruous as an Olympic event. Then I actually saw it live and direct, and realised that it provides perhaps the most heart-stoppingly exciting gladiatorial racing available on the track. There were times when I had to look away, so likely did a big crash appear to be. And the keirin certainly provided the biggest thrill of our day at the World Cup…
3. Sir Chris Hoy is an unbelievable, indomitable competitor
“He’s blown it; he’ll never make it through from there…” Oh ye of little faith. First round of the keirin; Matt Crampton has already missed direct qualification and now it’s the turn of Sir Chris Hoy to take on five rivals with only the winner sure of progressing to the semis. The derny has already pulled off and the pace is extraordinary, but our hero is way behind as they roar up the back straight. What happened next was true Boy’s Own stuff, sadly not captured on camera as only the evening session was televised. Hoy simply turned on the afterburners, swung up to the outside and clawed back the distance centimetre by centimetre despite taking the longest route round the bend. The roar of the crowd had to be experienced to be believed as he blasted past the final rider right on the line to win the heat. A standing ovation was the least he deserved – what a guy!
4. Victoria Pendleton *might* have lost her bottle
I should declare an interest here in admitting I have a terrible schoolboy crush on Vicky P. So it pains me to say that I fear she may have lost her edge in the hurly-burly events of individual sprint and keirin. There’s a long way to go before London 2012, and clearly there’s no issue about top end speed, judging by the team sprint performance, but I couldn’t help but notice a little tentativeness when she was up against arch-rival Anna Meares. This was a view supported by a team-mate (and ex-track rider) I rode with the following day. I really, really hope I’m wrong and when it comes to the crunch of Olympic gold the old, sharp-elbowed and iron-willed Pendleton will be back.
5. The Track World Cup was good value for money
Our £30 seats for the daytime session gave us access to more than seven hours of racing, including sprint, kierin, individual pursuit, time trial and points race events. With a free programme to boot I reckon that was good value, certainly compared with the Olympics themselves, which offer pretty thin pickings by comparison. For example, the morning Olympic sessions on the track are just an hour-and-a-half in duration, each featuring only two events, none of them finals. Would be quite peeved if I’d forked out big dosh for those…