So when did all this start?
Back during the dark nights of October 2015 I had a cunning plan to try and compliment my training and thought that it would be a good idea to get myself up to the newly opened Derby Velodrome and see what all this malarkey about track cycling is all about. Obviously to do this I needed a partner in crime and then stepped in John McLaren!
So you would think that to get on the track would be easy, in fact the hardest part is sometimes trying to get hold of the arena to book yourself a slot on what is already becoming a popular pastime for the whole of the Midlands. The route to glory starts with stage one of your accreditation whilst this will last an hour; but be assured that this hour will be of pure joy, excitement and exhilaration! In all the stages of accreditation there are objectives to be met before progression is allowed to the next stage. Objectives and aims get more intense and harder to achieve and it’s not just a case of turn up for a pass, people do fail.
Stage two for John and I came very close to stage one; the reason being is that we were that excited that as soon as our stage one finished we quickly ran around to reception to see if there were any spaces on the stage two that started straight away thus to avoid a potential 3-4 week wait. Having completed this stages three and four soon came and passed and then it was on to bigger and better things – SQT’s aka Structured Quality Training.
One really good thing that Derby Velodrome offer is that once you have completed your accreditation with them then you are free to ride any velodrome in the country. If you have become accredited at other velodrome’s then you will need to book Derby for a familiarisation session before you are let loose on the Midlands boards.
So SQT’s come in a variety of packages. Generally speaking, for the majority they are split into SQT A & B. ‘A’ being the more experienced riders and are of a quicker pace and B’s for the mere mortals amongst us. Derby also offer, women’s specific session, discipline specific session (Derny or Madison) and also sprint and pursuit training. So why not jump in the deep end and do the derny session, what’s the worst that could happen? It turned out to be proper good fun (and hard work); whizzing around the track behind a two stroke engine motorbike and the adrenaline of it all was infectious. Soon John and I progressed up to SQT A’s and started to learn more about the track, not just riding fast around it but more learning track craft which is a fine art in itself.
Derby Track League – Why Not!
Having been clearly bitten by the track bug, the next obvious step for me was to enter Derby track league and test myself amongst the more seasoned and experienced riders. I was really chuffed that I got accepted to race in the league and started off life in the C group to allow for certain teeth to be cut. Previous road race experience served me well in this group and the ability to time trial certainly helped as I’m never afraid to push into the wind. If I’m honest, I loved racing in the league during the early stages but mainly it was used to get some high intensity work outs that can’t really be replicated on the rollers or turbo. I would often do the races for my own personal gains rather than tactically to try and win (and even be a main part) in the event be it scratch or points.
My first taste of victory in the league came in a race called the points de prime in which this race lasts for 12 laps (a whole 3 kilometres) and the first rider across the line every lap gets one point and the winner is the one with the most points. So what better way to start this race as a ‘unknown’ as to go straight from the gun and hang on! Plan executed to perfection, well I say perfection, I lasted 5 laps which luckily was enough to win the event, the remaining 7 laps were done trying the hang on to the coat tails of the peleton.
After sampling success, my hunger for the track grew and grew and I started to feel like I was more at home on the track rather than the road. What I hear you say not do any testing again! Well no not quite that serious but certainly to put road racing on the back burner for a season or two. After a lull in the league where all these decisions were made I decided to race a little bit more tactically and place my personal training gains as secondary. For the track league I ended up in 5th place overall before it resumes in September where I will hopefully have moved up from the C group leap frogged the B and jumped straight into the A’s.
To keep us ‘trackies’ interested over the summer months Derby track league planned a monthly race meeting (2 x endurance; 2 x Sprint nights) and this certainly inspired me to do well. In the interim I had been on a few Wednesday afternoon sprint sessions and decided that after not being that bad at track cycling I would enter the National Masters Track Championships at Newport Velodrome in Wales! The sprint sessions that I went to at Derby certainly paid off as I ended up winning every race that I entered within the C group with the most memorable of them all is lapping the field in the 80 lap points race and finishing with 50 points (must be an arena record there somewhere!). I’m looking forward to the next meeting where I’ll be mixing it up with the big boys in the B group before deciding whether to leap into the A group for the remainder of the league.
National Masters Track Championships (NMTC)
So as I eluded to, I entered the NMTC and choose the TT (750 metres), scratch and points race to compete in and not too enter the pursuit (3 km) which now I have regretted knowing that I’m more suited to this event given a proven testing background. This was compounded by lots of my new found trackie friends at the track were surprised that I didn’t enter. I think my reason behind it were that putting some sticks on my track bike and learning a new craft would take me too long with the champs only 3 months away from time of entering. My partner in crime John had also entered the Championships and with a medal winning background on the track (the athletics track that is) he had entered the sprint events including the match sprint (with a flying 200m lap to get a seeding) and the Time Trial (and for John being such a young pup this distance was the kilo! – pays to be over 40!)
John was the first to venture down to Wales on the Thursday evening as his races started with the sprint and that lasted the whole day Friday and finished with the kilo Saturday morning. For me it was a journey down (pretty much into the unknown) Saturday morning ready for my first race, the TT.
I arrived at the track nice and early as to avoid any last minute rushes and to get myself a space for my rollers, bike and an abundance of kit. I won’t lie I was extremely nervous and it felt like the first time I entered and attended my first National Time Trial event that indeed I was swimming with the biggest of fish now. The buzz around the velodrome was immense; there was event after event going on and plenty for the eyes to take in. The first and probably most lasting memory that I will have is seeing lots of riders in their club kit but most of them wearing the world championship bands from past World Championships that they have won. In fact, these outweighed the number of past National Champions!
Signing on for the event took place and I then started to set up my kit and get everything prepared; bike was pretty much done and I decided on the gear that was going to attempt the TT in. Rollers placed ready and I was ready to soak up the atmosphere. John and Libby arrived around lunch time for John’s event. Given John’s single day of more experience over me he was ‘old hat’ to all this going on, having already done his sprint event the day before and you could tell with John and he seemed lots more relaxed where I was still bright eyed!
The thing that first grabbed my attention during the racing was that the other age groups were already on the track doing their thing so I started to watch them and remember seeing them leaving the starting gate in a massive gear, pushing to get on top of it and get into their pace. I was thinking at this point “maybe I should have had a go at actually starting from a proper start gate”! After watching a couple of riders, the method the clock counts down and where they actually apply pedal pressure to get going I was confident I would hopefully be ok. Soon after a lot of waiting around, plenty of nervous loo breaks it was my turn to go onto the track. Luckily I have ridden at Newport about 4 years ago so wasn’t fazed to much about the track itself but more to the starting gate.
Before I knew it my bike was in the starting gate and I was upon it! Suddenly it all got very real and the ambient noise in the arena was not to be heard anymore. Focusing on the track ahead the infield turned into a blur and time slowed down. The lights on the digital countdown turned from red to green with a loud beep and it started to count from 10. Come on Steve this is like any other time trial that you have done. 5, 4, 3, 2, big breath, lean back and prepare to push, 1, GO! I left the gate which turned out to be very similar to that of a TT but instead of getting a friendly push off nothing happened and it was up to me. A slight wobble on the wheel and I quickly gained momentum and I was off. Whizzing around trying to build the speed up to 30 mph and my cadence up to around 120 rpm I set off. Clearly still very nervous that half way through into one of the turns I found my I had lost what little upper body strength I had and my arms were starting to give way! My positon changed on the bike and the front wheel started to wobble and my weight shifted to the rear of the bike. This is a scary moment to be honest after all I didn’t want to crash on my own on the track in front of so many ex-World Champions. I regained control of the bike finding that I was pushed high into the banking and carried on losing valuable seconds but I remained upright giving it my all to the point that when I finished the effort I was on the verge of blacking out from the effort. The end result, well firstly survival and finishing in 9th place with a time of 57.021; Yes, not setting the world on fire but it will hopefully prove to be an important benchmark for more to come.
Rest was then the order of the day before my evening race; more soaking up of the atmosphere required and also to give John a shout as he bombed around the track in his kilo time trial. Soon before I knew it I was warming up on my rollers ready for the evening scratch race. I remember people watching as everyone is rushing around getting ready for their own events and then I saw one of the riders donned in his very fine World Masters Champion skin suit sporting the famous rainbow bands (something if I’m honest I will be going for in a few years). Just the sight of him wearing the ‘world champs’ bands inspires me more and more. I chuckled to myself thinking that I would hate to be in his scratch race! So there I was on my bike, helmet on, rocket fuel gel consumed and ready to roll onto the track to start the scratch race. Just before clipping in the reminder of the 22 riders formed around me and yes you guessed it, there he was the current world masters scratch champion in my race! Excited I thought to myself ‘oh well if I last the distance I know whose wheel I want to follow’.
The 15 kilometre scratch race was under way and not to lie but it was relentless and the hardest race that I have done, clearly under geared (94.5”) the race was strung out from the start and no let up. A few riders dropped out with the high pace and though I had no impact on the race I hung on to finish 16th and very chuffed; final race time was 19min 10 sec for 15 kilometres so just short of 50 kph, I reckon my average cadence must have been 1,000,000 rpm!
A night of rest (well listening to the traffic on the M4 with no air con in my hotel room) came and went and soon it was morning and time to get back to the track for my final race, the 15 kilometre points race. The script was pretty much the same as the day before, get to the track, sign on and wait around for a fair few hours before getting ready and warmed up. I lucky enough to remember to take my camping chair with me and I manged to grab 40 winks at some point! Having spent most of the afternoon trying to relax and calling up Lynne (who had to work during the event and letting her know how much I was missing her – especially as she is my rock and always happy to help me with my track racing) it was time to get on the rollers.
I like the points race as there is an opportunity for everyone to do something but like the scratch it does turn out to be a lottery! It started off well to be honest and instead of hanging on I managed to get myself on the front and decided to try and make a bit of an impact and go for it. Slowly easing away from the chasing pack I discovered I had another ex- world champion on my wheel! My moment in the spotlight was only short lived as the pack caught us back up after 2 laps and then things ramped up for the sprint but nonetheless I was there before I disappeared in the pack. The pace was sky high and again a few dropped out but I was determined to hang on in there and finish and with that I solid 12th place. Chuffed with my performance as this weekend was all about experience and seeing what event I wanted to do and what events I would be good at.
Meanwhile back at base camp in the Midlands a sneaky order for a set of pursuit bars has gone in and arrived and now the pursuit training will begin and the target set of winning the National title next year will start.
Next race for John and I is this weekend in the Derby Grand Prix on Saturday 9th July. I will be racing in the Endurance events which feature a scratch, points, elimination and 10 mile GP and then I thought for fun I would enter the Kieran and give John a hand, though in retrospect I reckon I’ll be on my chin strap by then and too tired! We will see!
Finally a big shout out must be given to the BtB sponsors whom with Beet-It and OTE helping the team and me keep fuelled for these events (especially the rocket fuel gels!), to KitBrix for helping me #keepittogether with the team kit bags (essential for different events). To Blake Pond at No Pinz for providing my custom made track ‘trip suit’ which proved to be not only the smartest, most aerodynamic suit at the Championships saving watts where it matters but it is one of the most comfortable suits I have worn. Thanks also to Bridgtown Cycles & Bike-Fit for all things to do with bikes and pedalling.
The final words of thanks must go to my wife Lynne. She has been there for me on countless occassions at Derby track league carrying my kit for me (well i did treat her to a trolley in the end) and being the most supportive person a husband could ever wish for. Lynne thank you.