Having been inspired by our yearly club sessions at Lee Valley Velodrome and with a desire to wear bib shorts again despite the winter weather, I decided the time was right to join some of my club mates and earn my track accreditation. There are four stages of accreditation. The first two, once passed allow you to ride what are called unaccredited drop in sessions and access to skills training for later sessions. Passing stages 3 & 4 allow you to ride accredited drop ins, race ready skills and fitness sessions, ultimately leading to the option to race track league. Regardless of your motivation to ride track, it serves as a great way to build fitness and leg speed at the same time as developing observation and technical skills that transfer out onto the road, keeping you safe and making you a more effective rider in a group.
I’m always a little in awe of the Velodrome as I approach it, the sight of the ‘Pringle’ shaped roof looming large evoking memories of the 2012 Olympics. Heading down to track centre through the corridors of framed jerseys and seeing the steep banking of the track I’m then reminded of my fears but it doesn’t take long to shake those nerves and acclimatise. I do find I still have a little voice in my head that is always present though which reminds me never to stop pedalling! Not a great move on a fixie!
So what can you expect from the accreditation and skills sessions?
The early stages ensure you know the basics of the track. You’ll soon know your cote d’azur from your sprinters line and demonstrate that you can ride safely around the track observing and communicating with other riders around you. You’ll also learn about the track bike itself and how to select one from the many available and set it up ready for you to ride. As the stages progress, the skills become more advanced.
Warm ups always begin with a double pace line on blue. Also known as the stayer’s line, this is the line above where the resting rider in a Madison pair will circulate until they are slung back into the action. The front two of the pace line change in pairs from front to back. This is usually followed by a single progressive pace line on black starting with single lap changes through to quarter lap changes.
With the warm up complete and your legs ready for more, the coach will usually take you off for a quick talk about what is to come in the following blocks. So far in our track journey we have had a go at stacking, where six or seven riders ride side by side around the track together, the bottom rider then dropping back around the pursuit line to accelerate in the draft diagonally up to the top of the stack. Chain gangs ridden at pace and close together on the black and red lines. Contact riding where you lean against another rider shoulder to shoulder or even with an arm over their shoulder
Then the fun begins as the skills learnt are put to use in race situations such as the team pursuit, points and scratch races. This is when you realise what all the drills have been for. They keep you safe when everyone is racing for the line and there are riders all around you.
Along the way we’ve ridden with some good and some bad riders. I’d like to think all the Lea Valley riders are solid and well drilled and some of the feedback from the coaches has reaffirmed that view, but it’s not always been plain sailing.
During one of our team pursuit blocks recently, in what has potentially turned out to be an early move for the 2020 Betts trophy I took the instruction that I was to gain a lap alone and dropped down to the black line to pick up the pace. After a few laps of effort and with the bunch now in sight in front of me on the home straight a voice from behind took me by surprise and said “When are you going to swing off Si?” Turns out coach had called for four and not one and I was dragging a team of three others behind me. Conscious that this may count against me in passing that particular stage I had a quick word after we came off the track to be told that whilst I had questionable race tactics as he saw it, I’d done nothing wrong. I had passed to ride another stage.
At the time of writing we are three stages into our accreditation and looking at dates for skills sessions that will prepare us for the fourth and final stage. It’s been a lot of fun getting to this point and I would recommend anyone of you give it a go.