Must learn to smile next time (and breathe!) ©Korneel Wever
Track cycling has always been a favourite of mine. To watch that is. The anticipation of the cyclists lining up on the track, skin-tight lycra and a face full of determination and concentration, the whirring sound of the wheels spinning at 60kmph+ on a banked wooden track; the creaking boards going un-noticed under the sound of excitement. There has however, always been that little ‘voice’ inside, whispering at me with excitement at watching the pros do what they do best ‘you should do this Hayley, you’d love it!’. As a spectator though, the thought of taking the leap from a comfortable seat in the grandstand to the saddle of a track bike is daunting. But, I remind myself that I am Hayley *fearless* Davies, and I can do this!
Technically I had 9 months to prepare myself for my first experience, having had to cancel my initial session last January due to injury. Taking a leap of faith however, means committing, and so I booked myself on to the first ‘basic training’ session of the 2012/13 season at Amsterdam Velodrome.
Besides excited anticipation starting to form, small niggles of doubt were also playing on my mind in the weeks running up to the session; ‘what happens if I don’t enjoy it’ – counting on this experience to transform me from an average roady to a hooked-tracky; ‘do I have the power and speed it takes… let alone the lung capacity to get me through it?’ But, having built a network of track cycling friends around me, they yet again assured me in knowing my passion for speed; I am not only capable, but I will love it too. If they have faith in me, then I can have faith in me too!
Feeling confident! © Korneel Wever
With 3 indoor tracks throughout the Netherlands; the same number you’ll find in the whole of England and Wales, you could say we’re pretty lucky. When I moved to Holland 2 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to watch the World Championships in Apledoorn, my first experience at seeing the events live. However, nothing can prepare you for the moment you are stood on the edge of the 200m track, overshadowed by the 47 degree banking; steeper than an average track of 250m – ‘oh my god! I can’t ride on that!’. Shutting the thoughts out, I get down to finding a bike (small enough) and circling the centre court ‘don’t forget you can’t free wheel. And you may find it easier to grab the side to clip in/out’ shouts the instructor. ‘Oh god. The banking is nothing. I have to clip in and out when stopped?!’ But, much to my delight, as seen on my face here, this bike is pretty comfy, and after completing a couple of event-free laps, I feel in control. I am ready!
The instructors gather us on the track and talk us through (in both Dutch and English, happily accommodating our expat needs!) a series of skill exercises from cruising the concrete, getting comfortable in the Cote d’Azur (the blue strip), and slowly coaxing us up onto the boards and around a set of cones set out and slowly moved up until we’re right up at the barriers on the top straight banking; all while looking around and becoming aware of the other rides on the track. Wow, that’s a lot of things to think about! Of course, I have a minor panic attack when a rider in front slows suddenly as I climb the boards, letting out a little squeak (much to the delight of my friends who happened to be sat on the barriers at that exact point); but, I control it and carry on… this isn’t so bad!
Happy with our track-maneuvering skills, we move on to the fast-flying laps. The part, to be honest, I was most nervous about. Split into two groups of 8; the first group is lead out by an instructor and told to build their speed to a minimum of 35kmph, the speed at which you have enough momentum to hug the boards through the banked corners. ‘What you won’t know’ the instructor starts, pointing out the lack of speedo, ‘is if you are actually at your optimum speed. You just have to go for it’. Thankfully, I was in the second group which gave me the opportunity to watch what the other riders were doing; and what they shouldn’t be doing!
Then comes our turn. With a deep breath, I push off from the side, behind 4 other cyclists and the instructor on my wheel. We build the speed to what must have been a comfortable 35kmph, until we’re riding in the ‘sprinters line’ – between the black and the red. Within the first fast lap I find myself gaining on the cyclist in front of me– ‘Over take Hayley!’ I hear from behind. Over take?! Is he mad?! That requires going higher… ‘OVER TAKE HAYLEY! DO IT NOW, BUILD YOUR SPEED’. OMG ‘I can’t do it’ I shout back ‘YES YOU CAN! DO IT NOW!”. That’s it, I’m going. I push through the pedals building my speed with power I didn’t know I have, take a quick glance behind and the next thing I know I’m up beyond the blue line, passing the 4 other cyclists that were in front of me, with the cool wind brushing against my skin. OH MY GOD!!! I’M FLYING! THIS IS AMAZING.
I don’t know whether I am holding my breath or if I am over come with adrenaline, but the room is spinning. I slow my speed and head back down to the Cote d’Azur, but after only one recovery lap, I’m back up and flying around again before the whistle is blown for us to gather back at the centre. The instructor gives us a couple of words of advice; to me ‘don’t build or break your speed so fast, other cyclists around you may not be able to respond’. Got it. We’re soon back on the track, riding in two groups, wheel to wheel until the final whistle is blown. Two and a half hours, over so soon? I was only just getting started!
Many say track cycling, regardless of whether it’s your first go, or your 10th go, is addictive. They’re not wrong! Speaking with the instructors after the session, I’m approved to move up into the ‘introduction level’. Not five minutes at home and I’m logged on to the website booking myself in for next Sunday’s session. My track cycling experience; to be continued….!
Basic introduction clinics are held at Amsterdam Velodrome on Sundays throughout September – March and include a 2.5 hour skill session with qualified trainers. Bike, shoes and helmet hire are also available starting from 11 Euros for the session.