Newport Velodrome – ©Dave Gratton AKA SunflowerDave (on Flickr)
For someone who always has a lot to say for himself, thinking what to write about is more difficult than I thought! I should hasten to add, that’s not because I can’t think of anything, it’s because I’ve got so many ideas running around in my head it’s so difficult to chose.
So my decision has been made for me because for the first time in weeks I have an hour or so to spare to put pen to paper (yes, I am actually writing this on paper) as I’m sitting in the stands watching my daughter Ffion take part in a Welsh Cycling youth track session. So the subject: the importance of good cycling facilities, specifically Newport Velodrome.
The difference this sporting facility has made to Wales is difficult to quantify, but if you look at the numbers of riders both before and after this facility was built who are at or on their way to the top of the cycling tree, it’s obvious that its impact has been massive! The same can be said of Manchester Velodrome and I am sure it will be the case with the Olympic Velodrome; we should also consider Herne Hill and the riders that have benefitted from that facility. What it shows it that good facilities really do make a difference to the progression of riders coming through the ranks, whatever their cycling discipline. Of course we also need champions to inspire youngsters into the sport, but we’ve got such a conveyor belt going at the moment there is no worry about these facilities being under used.
So what memories have I taken from Newport Velodrome over the last 8 or 9 years that I’ve been making the 30-minute drive from Abergavenny to get here?
Well I might as well start with my number one memory and also because “why shouldn’t women’s cycling be given priority over men’s for a change?” If I can find the photo to accompany this when I next go hunting in the attic I’ll post it at a later date, as even now I find it quite hard to believe. Picture this: a women’s keirin with six riders on the start line. In amongst the six, the current senior World Champion wearing her stripes Clara Sanchez. Also on the start line I think it was Sandie Clair. Next up to them, a few star struck young girls from the UK including two from Wales, my 13-year-old daughter Becky and Katie Curtis. I can’t recall another current senior world champion ever racing in Newport, so that line-up is implanted very firmly in my head. By the way, it was France first and second with Becky coming in third to the disbelief of the French coach, especially when finding out Becky’s age.
As for other memories of female competition in Newport, between 2006 and 2007 the Youth and Junior Track National Championships had such strong fields the racing really was fantastic to watch. Seeing Becky, Lizzie Armistead, Joanna Rowsell, Jess Varnish, Laura Trott, Dani King…(I could go on) racing against each other with Hugh Porter getting very excited on the microphone really was brilliant. Looking back now I honestly think you could see then who was going to make it to the top and they weren’t all winners. The look of determination in a rider’s eyes is something I believe is what sets them apart and that is something you can spot at a young age. If someone happens to win a Youth National Championship on the way to the top that’s nice, but ultimately you need to look at the bigger picture and remember it’s not a sprint, it takes a lot of time and effort to win at elite level. And that’s what people will remember; senior champions not 11-year-old ‘superstars’!
On that last point, some really bad memories for me have been watching young girls of Under 12 and Under 14 level attempting to break a National Record as if it was the be all and end all. They have been all kitted out with the best equipment money can buy and their parents have been shouting so loudly at them as if they were doing it themselves, but why? Many of those I have watched are either no longer riding or just riding now and again. And why provide the best equipment at such a young age? Good equipment yes, but keep the very best as a reward and as an incentive when they are racing at international level. I really would like to see some sort of equipment specification cap on all youth riders to make it more of a level playing field and to give them something to aim for.
While I’m in the process of airing my concerns, the other thing that really worries me is that young riders seem to be specialising on one cycling discipline at ever-younger ages and training to the detriment of their education. Youth sport should not be like that. If I could single out one young rider who has got the balance right and sets an example for other to follow it is Elinor Barker and look where she is now! Elinor has given most forms of cycling a go, but over the time I’ve known her and the family her education has come first. She’s obviously had coaching, but it has been Elinor’s drive and determination to succeed that has won her the Junior World Time Trial and of course her supportive parents (I believe there could be another reason and the same applies to Becky as well; both Graham, Elinor’s dad and myself are ardent Newcastle United followers and maybe it’s because the girls have never seen us celebrate the winning of a trophy that they are doing their bit to cheer us up!).
On the male side of things, at the same time as that outstanding crop of girls I mentioned the boys’ fields were also amazingly strong and they provided fantastic racing to watch. Jason Kenny, Peter Kennaugh, Alex Dowsett, Luke Rowe, Adam Blythe, Andy Fenn…(once again, I could go on) are just a few of the names that cycling fans would recognise from the Olympics and pro-peloton this last year. Despite many outstanding races and individual performances the one that stands out still after these years is Andy Fenn’s Youth 500 metre time trial. Here was someone mixing it up with the best youth riders this country had to offer in all the circuit races around the country and he was winning the endurance and pursuit events on the track. In the 500 metre time trail he was up against all the best youth sprinters in the country including current BC Academy sprint member Peter Mitchell. I can still picture him going around the track now. I seem to recall I was sitting in the stands next to Iain Dyer, National Sprint Coach and Trevor King, father of Dani and a few others and the first thing that came to my mind was that here was the person to follow in Jason Kenny’s footsteps. Well I was wrong on that front, but I really think he has the potential to be the next big road sprinter from GB. I am not saying that Andy will be another ‘Cav’, because I am not sure there’ll be another in my lifetime, but I am sure that he’ll be winning many races and stages over the next few years. Another rider I’ve watched in Newport in a similar mold to Andy is Sam Harrison, although he’s got a few years to catch up yet.
As recent as last winter I was sitting in the stands of Newport Velodrome watching the annual ‘Winter Track League’, which mixes all abilities up into different races, both male and female. In Wales we are very lucky indeed to not only have Elinor Barker coming up into the senior ranks, but we also have Amy Roberts. To see both Elinor and Amy mixing it up with the men in the ‘A’ league really is a great sight and I am really excited about the prospect of those two girls representing Wales and GB around the world over the next few years. The girls often found themselves riding in amongst elite men, well not just elite, but professional riders. Last year watching Luke Rowe, Magnus Backstedt, Jonny Bellis and many more on a Tuesday night with the rain hammering down on the velodrome roof, whilst sipping a cup of tea, is fascinating, enjoyable and a relaxing time in amongst my hectic lifestyle.
I have never been in Newport Velodrome with a full stand of spectators, but with the success of this last season and the accessibility of cycling stars to the general public I think I might get to see that over the next couple of years. What Newport needs is the right event to fill the stands, something that has got my mind running wildfire again! Now, if that event gives equal precedence to the women riders or better still star billing, wouldn’t that be amazing?
…Next time, whenever that will be, I’ll probably write about organising my first ever hill-climb and also about the importance and thrills of cyclocross.
Thanks for reading.
Rob Hayles Retirement Presentation - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
Saturday night saw the arrival of the much anticipated second Revolution of the season and the return of Mark Cavendish to the track after more than 2 years. Mark’s last outing was at the World Championships in 2009 and as a former World Madison Champion it was great to see him back at the track reunited (if only for a manly hug) with his former partner Rob Hayles. Since then we’ve witnessed Cavendish conquer the road in his gutsy and punchy style. It would be great to see what he could achieve tonight.
We arrived to set up about 4pm and the press and team areas were already buzzing, everyone was talking about Cav and whether he’d arrived yet. After investigating we heard the news that he had already arrived before most of the press had even got parked, he was keeping a low profile until later… who could blame him. Every new arrival to the press area wanted to know if Cav was doing interviews and could they be added to the list. It was all very vague, he wasn’t really wanting to do interviews and it would be a case of catching him if and when you could, and IF his PR would let you get near him. It didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the collective.
The atmosphere seemed to be fuelled by events at a larger venue across the road, Man City were playing at home to Newcastle United and you could hear the cheers of the home crowd as the goals went in… 3 in total. The velodrome car park and SportsCity were overflowing with football fans cars, so I was quite surprised to see the steady flow of Revolution season ticket holders when their doors were opened at about the time Manchester City fans were merrily leaving, it must have been gridlock outside as the football crowds dispersed and cycling fans attempted to park.
Matt Crampton and Callum Skinner - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
Cyclists were already warming up in their team bays, there was a steady stream of people from the media area back and forth to the Howies team area to see if the Manx man was about to appear. Other riders were also grabbing a lot of attention, Team Sky were represented by Geraint Thomas and Alex Dowsett after their hugely successful long road seasons and the media were hungry for soundbites, Rapha had the imposing figure of Ed Clancy.
Finally the compact figure of Mark Cavendish appeared looking smartly groomed sporting his pristine World Champion Jersey, a huge smile and what looked like a Movember Moustache or it could have just been an out of season look, there were a couple of slightly fuzz covered faces about, possibly tache attempts, facial hair isn’t the usual sight at a track meet.
Team UK Youth were being headed by their charismatic co-owner, the always delightful Magnus Backstedt who was feverishly signing autographs throughout the evening for anyone who asked, taking time to have conversations with all the young boys and girls who approached him, most of whom barely came up to his knees, bent double he would reach down to take their notepads and comment on their cool sunglasses, telling them how smart they looked in their replica team shirts, this made their day and with little puffed out chests and beaming smiles they headed back autographs and pens in hand to their mums and dads. Magnus really is in his element at these sorts of events connecting so well with the public. Tonight he would have a bike frame up for grabs as a prize for a Team UK Youth Prize Draw and tickets were selling like hot cakes. We grabbed a few words with Magnus, “It’s great to see such a huge crowd, I really enjoy being back at the track and hopefully the team will perform well tonight.”
There were less international cyclists presents at this Revolution, there may not have been quantity but there certainly was quality in the shape of flamboyant Franco Marvulli and Iljo Keisse the European Madison Champion. ITV4 were setting up their pundit station by the finish line which is now part of the Revolution experience, Ned Boulting flitting around from the media area to his set chatting away with the recently retired Rob Hayes his presenting partner. When the doors finally opened you could feel the excitement in the crowd, the whole velodrome was packed to the rafters, no spare standing room around the curves, all seats taken, the VIP area was about to take it’s first dinner course of the evening.
The riders swarmed around the track doing a few warm up laps and with about 20 minutes to go Mark Cavendish decided to take to the boards and the crown went wild, his distinct hunched riding style, trademark thick framed sunglasses and diminutive torso highlighted by his banded white jersey really stood out in the peloton of rather rangy leggy riders. When the teams were introduced before racing commenced and Howies took their turn to ride the Cote d’Azur Mark received a standing ovation. I grabbed a word with Geraint, how do you feel being back at the track? “It’s great and it’s going to be a special night, the crowd’s really buzzing and we haven’t even started yet!”
Before proceedings got underway with the Elite Motor Paced Scratch Race we witnessed Hugh Porter, who had obviously lost track of time chatting in the centre of the velodrome doing some speedy manoeuvres up the banking followed by Starsky & Hutch style acrobatics over the track railings to get back up to his commentary position, surprisingly nimble, blink and you’d miss him.
Mark Cavendish - ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
The motor paced scratch race was over 6km and featured a top line up of endurance riders. Mark Cavendish and the Sky riders (Alex Dowsett, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh) were at the front of the pack, it was almost like a practice lead out train for next season, I’m not sure anyone had told Cav he wasn’t yet on the Sky team, but he stayed in his usual position that alerts others capable of a sprint finish to pay attention. In the end Steven Burke of Team UK Youth rushed to the front with just enough time left to wind it up and prevent Cav from jumping off the pack, he took the race in style.
The DHL Future Stars Boys then hit the track for what turned out to be a thrills and spills packed Scratch Race, the current Championship leader Ryan Whatmough took a nasty fall along with a number of other riders in two separate crashes in the back straight. Chris Lawless put in a major effort to stay away from the pack for a large chunk of the race but in the end the win went to his Maxgear teammate Jake Ragen, 2nd was Jake Kelly and 3rd was Jack Hoyle. This would prove to be the start of a great evening for Ragen. There was another interesting tussle going on in the centre of the track for those who had been sent to report on the event, a mele of press surrounded Mark Cavendish which I imagine may have started to get under his skin as the evening progressed, he could hardly move.
Mark finally took up his position to be interviewed by ITV4 for their television highlights show while the sprinters took to the track. We were also treated to a bumper selection of British sprinters, just four of them but all quality riders, Matt Crampton, Dave Daniell, Pete Mitchell and Callum Skinner. The first event for them was the 200m Time Trial and they all put in great performances but Dave Daniell pushed Matt Crampton into second place.
In the Revolution Series there is really only one girl who you need to mention… Emily Kay (Cunga Bikes), Emily has won the Championship two years running and in the first Revolution of this series she cleaned up by taking all three races in style, her ability to time her moves to perfection is unmatched, she knows when to sit in the wheels and when to wind it up to take sprint points, she has amazing tactics and out powers the whole field Emily really is a tour de force. There’s no doubt in my mind Emily is a going to play a major role in the British Cycling team in years to come, she’s destined to be a household name. The only girl to make an impact on Emily all evening was Ellie Coster in the first of the Girls races The DHL Future Stars Points Race. Emily gained maximum points during the race but Ellie took the final 5 points on the finish line, it still left Emily with a comfortable win and I’m not even sure if Emily might have sat back at the finish to preserve energy for the following two races ahead. She went on to win the Elimination and Scratch races with ease, in the Elimination race Ellie pushed for second place again, she’s really trying to make a mark against the dominating run Kay is having. Emily took the whole thing in her stride, definitely the girl of the evening and the season so far! Hats off to you Emily.
Where it went wrong for Rouleur Sam Harrison & Joe Kelly - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
The madison time trial didn’t pass without incident, unfortunately Rouleurs team of Sam Harrison and Manx man Joe Kelly came unstuck with their hand sling, the approach didn’t look good from our vantage point they didn’t seem to be matching their speed, Sam seemed ahead of Joe by quite a way and Sam seemed to grab at Joe’s handlebars thinking it was a hand and Joe grabbed Sam nearer the elbow, I’m not sure which element of the switchover caused what happened next, it was probably a combination of things but both rider came clattering down in front of the press area and Joe didn’t appear to move for quite a while. They did eventually get to their feet but the evening ended there for Joe as it was announced he was still concussed later in the evening and Sam appeared to retire too. The rest of the Madison event was fast paced with Ed Clancy and Andy Tennant riding a 55.351 which was more than enough for them to take victory, Sky came in 2nd over 2 seconds down followed by Howies (Cavendish and Andy Fenn) over half a second down on Sky.
The rest of the DHL Boys races were taken by Oliver Wood which bumped him up the overall standings but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to take the lead in the championship, the position was up for grabs after Whatmough’s fall in the first race and he was carrying injuries all evening but Jake Ragen put in some good consistent results after his earlier win and that gave him the edge over Wood. He gained a 2nd place in the Elimination and a 3rd place in the Points Race.
In the Elite Team Elimination the first team to go out was Team Sky, Cav was living dangerously near the back for most of the race, when the fourth team (Maxgear) were caught out Cav just nudged ahead but Howies couldn’t hang on much longer and the next and final elimination was Cavendish and his Team, they managed 3rd. The victorious team was Rapha with Keisse putting in a great ride representing the whole Rouleur team on his own as Kelly and Harrison retired. The big surprise was Team Sky being caught out at the first elimination.
Over the 3 rounds of the Revolution Sprint Matt Crampton got the better of the field stacking up some omnium points and doing the same in the Keirin by pipping Callum Skinner to the post, but it wasn’t enough to take the overall Sprint Omnium title from Dave Daniell who had been consistent all evening after his initial win in the 200m TT and his emphatic win in the 500m TT at the end of the evening.
In the Australian Pursuit Sky redeemed themselves after their disappointing result in the Elimination Race when Peter Kennaugh won over David O’Loughlin (Cunga Bikes).
Rob Hayes & Mark Cavendish interview - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
After the Pursuit there was a special presentation to mark Rob Hayles retirement, Rob did a lap of honour to yet another standing ovation he then rode through a guard of honour of all the elite riders with their bikes, Rob then dismounted and was greet with a hug by his old madison partner Mark Cavendish. Rob and Mark where then interviewed together by the ever enthusiastic Hugh Porter, he reminded everyone that Mark’s next major competition would be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and he urged all present to vote for him… and who can argue with that… I urge you to do the same, I can’t think of a sportsman or woman who deserves it more! So don’t forget to have his number on speed dial on the evening of 22nd December 2011, it will be broadcast live from MediaCity, Salford Quays, Manchester, UK.
The real highlight of the evening was the Scratch Race, Team Sky really showed their strength, first of all Alex Dowsett rode off the front whcih has become his trademark all season, seeing the danger the peloton pulled him back and a small peloton of riders went off the front for a few laps. Spotting a chance Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh leapt off the front to break away, it was almost like Sky had scripted the race, but they only stayed away briefly and gave up and returned to the pack, it seemed like they were waiting for someone to come and join them. Then there was a second attack from Alex Dowsett, now it became clear they were just trying to tire the whole pack by hitting and hitting again. Ed Clancy had had enough of this and saw his chance to go but Sky were on to him and Geraint pulled him back. Through all of this the crowd were going wild and everyone was on their feet, everyone had their eye on Cav who was sat on Franco Marvulli’s wheel, he basically stayed up front and out of trouble in around 5th place most of the race, assessing the field the whole time, he looked so at home. With five laps to go he was still sitting pretty in 5th and as the tempo raised his Howies lead out man Jon Mould dropped off the front and the Manx Missile launched. It was an awesome sight to see such speed and acceleration at the Manchester Velodrome where it all began for Mark. He crossed the line in style and the whole velodrome erupted.
Magnus’s hopes came to fruition tonight when Team UK Youth stepped onto the podium to take the lead in the Team Championship.
It was one of the best evenings of cycling I’ve seen in a long while and you can see the highlights for yourself at 7pm on ITV4 (UK) tonight!
Jake Ragen and Emily Kay lead the Future Stars Championship - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
Team UK Youth: Steven Burke, James Lowsley Williams & Magnus Backstedt - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
Motor Paced Scratch Race – Steven Burke Team UK Youth
DHL Future Stars Scratch Race – Boys – Jake Ragen Maxgear Racing
Revolution Sprint Omnium – 200m TT – Dave Daniell 10.285
DHL Future Stars Points Race – Girls – Emily Kay Cunga Bikes
1km Madison Time Trial – Ed Clancy and Andy Tennant Rapha Condor Sharp
DHL Future Stars Elimination – Boys – Oliver Wood
Revolution Sprint Round 1 – Heat 1 – Matt Crampton 10.606 Heat 2 Dave Daniell 10.647
Team Elimination – Rapha Condor Sharp (Andy Tennant)
DHL Future Stars Scratch Race – Girls – Emily Kay
Revolution Sprint Round 2 – Heat 1 Matt Crampton 10.716 Heat 2 Dave Daniell 10.909
Australian Pursuit – Peter Kennaugh Team Sky
Revolution Sprint Round 3 – Heat 1 Matt Crampton 10.831 Heat 2 Callum Skinner 10.951
DHL Future Stars Points Race – Boys – Oliver Wood
Cycling Weekly Keirin – Matt Crampton 10.595
DHL Future Stars Elimination – Girls – Emily Kay
Scratch Race – Mark Cavendish
Revolution Sprint – 4 station 500m TT – Dave Daniell 32.545 (who wins Omnium with opts)
Overall Points Leaders after two rounds:
Team Leaders – Team UK Youth
Future Stars Girls – Emily Kay
Future Stars Boys – Jake Ragen