I had never been inside a velodrome for longer than a couple of hours until last week. Having watched every moment of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships at the Lee Valley VeloPark, I am officially a cycling convert.
The combination of the sound of the crowd, the sight of the riders racing round walls of wood right under your nose and the feel of the breeze they create makes for a genuinely thrilling spectacle. I admit that I had the added bonus of sitting next to Sir Chris Hoy and Dame Sarah Storey, Britain’s greatest Olympic and Paralympic performers, but it would have been amazing whatever the situation.
I have learnt so much over five days of immersing myself in a sport that covers cat-and-mouse tactical sprinting, all-out power, incredible endurance, men in funny black hats on electric bikes setting the pace, elimination races that work a bit like musical chairs, and the mad madison when the push me/pull me combination of riders can propel each forward. I’ve seen riders pick themselves up from crashing falls with ripped suits and bleeding wounds, getting back onto their bikes and rejoining the race.
Most impressive and enjoyable of all, I’ve watched British cyclists bounce back from a poor run of form to put on a stellar show for the home crowd. Laura Trott had the busiest schedule but she took it all in her stride, winning two gold medals in the scratch race (mass start of 22 riders over 10km, lots of argy-bargy, first one over the line wins) and the six-event omnium.
Her fiancé Jason Kenny showed world-class speed to take the sprint title and they both head to Rio with excellent chances of adding to their Olympic gold-medal haul. The most unexpected new champion was arguably Jon Dibben who won the men’s points race. He said afterwards that his legs were dead for 100 laps but he certainly made the most of them over the other 60.
The last word rested with Brad and Cav, the rock ’n’ roll pairing of iconic cyclists returning to the track for one last hurrah in the madison. Cavendish will have to wait to see if he’s done enough to make the British Olympic squad but Wiggins will be there and may yet eclipse Hoy as Britain’s most successful Olympian of all time. I’ll be there to watch them all and I can’t wait.
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