I’ve got Olympic fever again after my first velodrome visit
Since the 2012 Olympics, I’ve only felt truly patriotic three times.
They were when the England Lionesses were knocked out of the Women’s World Cup last year, when the Tour de France passed by the top of my road and yesterday: when Sir Bradley Wiggins led Team GB’s Men’s pursuit team to the final in the Track World Championships at the Velodrome.
“I honestly hadn’t felt such pride in my country since we were in the thick of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”
The only time I’d ever actively watched cycling before yesterday’s session at the Olympic Park, was during the 2012 Olympics when I watched on TV as Wiggins won the road race and Sir Chris Hoy score his final gold medal on track. And aside from the 10 seconds of action during ‘Le Tour’ opposite my local pub, I’d never seen cycling live.
That changed when I attended the UCI Track World Championships, to get a real taste of why it’s becoming so popular in the UK.
The Lee Valley VeloPark is a very impressive venue in which to watch live sports. It’s small, but feels huge, it’s enclosed, but not overwhelming, and modern, but not bland. I must admit however, that my first impressions of the actual event weren’t all that good.
The women’s pursuit qualifiers after a while, became quite monotonous, with little notable action. When it comes to motorsport for instance I’m quite happy just relaxing and watching the ebb and flow of quiet moments – because I find just ‘watching cars’ move interesting. But bikes don’t give me the same feeling of excitement.
“Team pursuit in country vs country form encapsulates everything I love about sport”
That quickly changed after that session was finished, and the 6000-strong sell-out crowd were treated to some pure competition in the form of keirin heats, 1k time trial finals and team pursuit heats; three events I hadn’t seen before, even on TV.
Keirin gave me a real sense of speed, as the women participating took part in two-and-a-half laps of sprinting after the warm-up laps behind the motorbike. It extremely entertaining to see just how often the finishes were decided by thousandths of seconds, with some riders using slingshot tactics on the banked turns similar to that of NASCAR drivers on super-speedways.
Seeing Theo Bos dominate the men’s time trial, with an early time that was over a second quicker than seemingly everyone else – only to be pipped on the final run by Germany’s Joachim Eilers was mind-boggling to witness. But that wasn’t really what grabbed me during the afternoon, instead, it was the sheer patriotism expressed by the fans surrounding me when the Team GB riders were competing.
I honestly hadn’t felt such pride in my country since we were in the thick of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was the men’s team pursuit which I will remember for a very long time.
Team pursuit in country vs country form encapsulates everything I love about sport. I love the speed, the endurance, the strategy, the teamwork and the ability to get an impression of just how hard the athletes are working.
“I took the energy out the door and back onto the train home”
When Sir Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull and Jon Dibben all stepped onto the track to face off against Italy to secure a place in the final, the crowd erupted, it was exactly how I’d pictured the atmosphere to be during the Olympics when I entered the velodrome for the first time a few hours earlier.
Soon after the two teams set off, it seemed that Team GB were set for the win, taking a lead and holding it for the remaining tours. It wasn’t the dominance that got the crowd going though, it was the pace.
The announcer over the PA began getting louder and louder as the race continued, and at one point revealed that the four riders were on pace to break the record they set back in the Olympics.
The fans went mad – and I did too. Union flags started being waved furiously in the stands and the riders seemingly used the energy coursing through the building to spur them on to the finish.
In the end, they didn’t break the record, but that didn’t detract from the experience. Any time 6,000 people are loud enough to sound like 60,000, it’s impressive.
I took the energy out the door, back onto the train and all the way home; I had caught ‘Olympic fever’ again for the first time since the Opening Ceremony almost four years ago.
For me, visiting the Track World Championships in the end was the best way to spend a quiet Thursday afternoon in March.
Bring on Rio!