Geraint Thomas Newport Track day… we were there!
And here's how it went
Mondays: round and round they come with monotonous regularity. But not this Monday. Yeah it came round, but if was far from monotonous - not if you were one of the lucky people at the first ever Geraint Thomas Track Day at Newport Velodrome, that's where me, Dave and road.cc competition winner Alec Mckinnon pitched up bright and early for some round and round track action.
We were part of a group of 50 adults who were going to spend the morning playing on the track followed in the afternoon by 60 kids who'd come from as far away as Brighton and the Isle of Man: a party of 20 budding Cavs. The youngsters weren't the only ones showing real commitment when it came to getting some track time, our boy Alec had driven down from Glasgow the night before and endured/enjoyed a night in Newport's finest £25 a night Etape Hotel… sort of fitting before a day's pedalling. Sort of.
A few minutes after meeting up at the velodrome reception and we're changed and out in the middle, hire bikes in hand waiting for the day to begin. The first thing that happens is that we're divided in to two groups, those with a reasonable amount of track experience and those without. Dave's ridden the track loads so he's off with the big boys, I've done it once years before and Alec is a track virgin so we're in the other group. While the experienced types get straight out on the track we warm up in groups on some Wattbikes having the finer points of pedalling dynamics and power delivery explained to us. Once you're on the bike you can see theory being put in to action as the display shows you a graph of which foot you favour and where your pedalling deadspot is. The idea is to elminate that spot with smooth up and down action from both feet, so that instead of seeing two circles denoting the power output of each leg on the Wattbike's screen you get a sausage shape as the circles merge and you get rid of that deadspot.
Hmm… you can feel the difference too.
While we've perfecting our sausage shapes on the Wattbikes, Dave and the others are hooning round the track doing various drills such as a five man pursuit where five riders are spaced 50m apart around the track… if you catch the man in front he's out, it goes on until there's one rider left. Presumably it goes on for quite a long time if the three riders in the middle elminate each other. Finally they round things off with a flying time trial over two laps, fastest wins.
As our Wattbike warm up and bike fettling session winds down the prizes are handed out for the experienced group's pursuit. It's done in reverse order and when all the times have been handed out there's one man left, and it's only that Big Dave a thumping two seconds quicker than the next fastest man. Raw power or what? There's a podium and everything, better still Dave's prize is to sit on the back of one of the motor bikes as they pace Geraint Thomas and the guys from the Olympic Development Squad in a Madison demonstration later. Dave gets to do it holding on one handed cos I'd thoughtfully brought a video camera… but more of that later.
It was time for Alec and I to get out there and show 'em what we could do. The first rule of track is "keep pedalling!" if you don't the coach explained "you've just pushed the button on the ejector seat". We'll keep pedalling then. So on the bikes and clipped or strapped in to the pedals, (you can bring your own shoes and pedals - I forgot mine, but it doesn't matter you can do it in trainers with toe straps… they even provide spare track mitts too), if you've never ridden fixed before the track is a good place to start there are no obstacles and you basically ride in a straight line - the track does the turning for you.
We begin by riding slowly round the blue strip that connects the apron to the track before building speed up to the black 250m line, then the red sprinter's line and finally the blue stayers line, the coaches have us going higher up in to the corners where you put the efforts in to fire you down in to the straight, it's exhilirating stuff, though all the while you're conscious of not getting too close to the wheel of the rider in front: if you are going faster you have to go up the bank slightly.
Two groups of riders progress through a series of drills interspersed with instruction sitting on our bikes leaning on the barrier that runs round the infield - the trick here is to remember the every so often the barrier opens… forget that and you're potentially in for a top comedy moment and a painful one too. The first part of the session culminates in us riding in a line behind Owain Doull from the British Cycling Olympic Academy, and at the mid point of the front and back straights the rider behind Owain has to peel of the front and chase round as fast as possible to join on to the back. Easier said than done but a good excuse to get down in the drops and go for it.
After the initial session our group splits again into those feeling confident to get out on the track with Owain taking us round, up, and down the track climbing right up the banking and swooping down out of the corners. Alec and me opt for this group. It is amazing how quickly you get used to climbing up the banking and steering a line down the shoulder as you exit in to the straight, the rhythm of pushing through the banked corners and easing off in to the straights quickly beomes second nature too as the line of riders led by Owain follows him wherever the coaches direct. Going up the banking if you get too close to the rider in front also quickly loses its sphincter puckering effecct. Mind you there is still the small matter of keeping up and negotiating your way round the fella whose foot comes out of his pedal and then closing the gap.
All too soon it's over I somehow manage to miss the final 2 lap time trial (honest I was fiddling with the camera) ahead of Dave's big moment on the motorbike. Honest. Alec though posts a more than respectable time – not sure whether he beat Geraint's dad who looked useful which probably isn't too much of a surprise – but he's certainly got the track bug and he's in the happy position of having the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome scheduled to open in Glasgow for the end of next year.
Three and a bit hours have flown by and all the while the man whose track day it is has been mingling with the riders, chatting, answering questions and watching how we're doing. Finally he shows us how it's done with a demonstration of madison riding with the guys from the Olympic Academy, Owain, Jon Mold, Luke Rowe and the motor pacing bikes… one of which has Dave sitting on the back.
Crikey they go fast. Afterwards Dave tells me the motorbikes were doing 60kph for most of the 15-minute demo and the guy piloting Dave tells us even he was surprised by the turn of speed. At the bell for the final lap Luke goes for it, rounds the motorbike at over 70kph and outsprints it to the line. Oh, one other cool bit: as the rider on his resting lap goes round the top of the banking each one high fives the kids in the stand who all hold out their hands. Sometimes they are going quite fast, it's cool, but it must flippin' hurt too.
When that's done, we all head off for a three course meal in the track centre plus charity cycling auction and leave the boards to the kids. Unbelievably well over three hours have passed since our time on the track began and everyone would happily have stayed on for another three hours.
Leave 'em wanting more then give 'em a three course meal, they know how do do things properly in Wales!
And we all got a box of Welsh cakes to take home too, result.