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The road to take to be the next Bradley Wiggins or Lizzie Armitstead
WIGGO Peter Walker
Team GB’s cyclists will inspire a new generation. It is becoming a regular, fouryearly occurrence around the UK: the British cycling team collect a clutch of Olympic medals and suddenly velodromes and bike clubs are inundated with interested newcomers. So, if your 12-year-old son or daughter has decided they want to become the next Bradley Wiggins or Lizzie Armitstead – or, indeed, if you fancy your chances – where to begin?
specially-built circuit; and cyclocross, the increasingly popular challenge is which riders race thick-tyred road-type bikes over muddy ground and hills. Each has its particular quirks and appeals – try more than one out if you can. How can I try track cycling? There are two options: the indoor velodromes of the type used in the Olympics, surfaced in polished wood, or outdoor tracks, again usually oval and banked, but more often concrete or asphalt. They’re both essentially the same thing, although velodromes clearly have an advantage if it’s raining, or winter. There are more than a dozen outdoor tracks of various sorts spread around the UK, and a handful of velodromes, for example in Manchester and – once the Olympics are over – east London. You can’t just begin track cycling without supervision. Using the brake-free, fixed gear bikes needs practice, as does getting sufficient confidence to properly use the banking. Given that velodromes tend to be used by a number of fast-moving bikes at once, there’s also some etiquette to acquire. Many tracks offer try-out days, often with the use of a track bike. These can be very popular – the ones at the Manchester velodrome, the training base for Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton et al, can often be booked up several weeks in advance. What sort of bike do I need? That, of course, depends on what sort of riding you plan to do. For example, road bikes and mountain bikes are very different creatures, and there are all sorts of subdivisions within these. That’s where a friendly local club can help. They may also
Above Wiggins races for team GB in red, white and blue.
ow do I start? By far the best way to get involved in competitive cycling is to join a local club. As well as providing people to ride with, and sometimes facilities, clubs have on tap decades of collective knowledge and experience. If you’re not sure what sort of cycling is for you, or what bike to buy, this is the place to start. British Cycling, the sport’s governing body in this country, has around 1,400 clubs affiliated to it, and a facility on its website to find your local one. It recommends calling the secretary of a local club to discuss what sort of things they do, and whether this suits you.
be able to loan a bike, particularly at a track or velodrome where ordinary bikes are not permitted. How much will I need to spend? That, again, depends. As a beginner, for example, it’s perfectly possible to buy a perfectly decent, if basic, road bike for around £400. This figure drops for children’s versions, and of course for second hand models – again, a club can often be a good source here. If you get hooked and have a particularly thick wallet, at the top end, it’s perfectly possible to spend £7,000 or £8,000,
“I can feel the wind racing past my ears and my stomach struggling to keep up with my body.”
even more. A lot of money, maybe, but a significantly cheaper hobby than, say, motorbikes, let alone yachts. Some types of cycling involve more expensive bikes than others. The general rule of thumb is that the more simple the bike type the cheaper it is. Thus, track bikes tend to be at the more affordable end. If you get seriously into mountain biking, with its ever-improving arms race of suspension and hydraulic brakes, then brace yourself.
Track cycling for the first time The first thing that strikes me as I emerge from the tunnel into the middle of Manchester velodrome is the banked sections of curved track at either end of the arena. They tower over me, pitched at
A few clubs can be a bit fixated on very competitive, high-speed events, but increasing numbers offer rides for more or less every ability and experience level. What sorts of cycling can I do? The list is very long. Traditionally, clubs tend to specialise in road racing and/or time trials, the latter being the flat out, against the clock contest in which Wiggins triumphed on Wednesday. Alternatively, those with access to a velodrome or outside track will often be geared towards that. But there are plenty of other competitive options – mountain biking, whether cross country (up and down) or downhill (just the latter); BMX, usually undertaken on a
Above Bradley faced gruelling climbs in the Tour de France.
Above The champion finally time to put his feet. Left Tour de
France winner became worthy of a knighthood.
a frighteningly steep angle of 42 degrees. A lone rider glides past above me. It looks like a fairground Wall of Death ride. It is eight o’clock on a Monday morning and I am here for my first taste of track cycling. The velodrome – part of the National Cycling Centre - is in constant use by schools, clubs, racing leagues and Team GB, so sessions for beginners are usually squeezed in at the start or end of the day. Limited to 15 riders, they are also usually full weeks in advance. I booked the last place on this morning’s session a week ago. I am one of four track virgins. The others in our group have done at least one track session before, and are working their way towards accredited status by practising specific techniques such as slipstreaming and stacking. Our teacher is British Cycling coach John Daly. He’s seen interest in the track soar since the thrilling and occasionally terrifying exploits of Team GB at the Olympics. “Before the Olympics, my club, Eastlands Velo, didn’t have a waiting list for membership. Now it’s eight to 10 weeks for anyone who wants to join.” We are introduced to our Dolan track bikes. They have no brakes and a fixed gear ratio that means the pedals will always be turning whether our legs want them to be or not. After clipping in both feet while holding on to the barrier, we are told to push off and do a couple of circuits of the wide, inner green zone to get used to the fixed gear. Once we have convinced John we can come to a complete halt against the barrier without tipping over, he sends us out on to the track. The others in our group are already whizzing around the boards. He tells us to do a lap on the inside “blue band” to work up our speed and then move on to the track proper after we have checked over our shoulders first. The Siberian pine creaks ominously beneath me as I make the transition.