Cover a winter cycling event for road.cc? Remembering an afternoon marshalling a cyclo cross event once, standing in the freezing woods on my own, in a high vis bib, watching nothing much happen very slowly - I was about to say no when road.cc said - the 31st Revolution track meet at the velodrome in Manchester?? Oh. Go on then.
That was last year and this weekend sees the first of this winter's Manchester Velodrome's Revolution Series followed on Monday October 31st by an hour of highlights on ITV4. So now would be a good time to report in and tell you all how I got on.
For those that don't know, the Revolution is held as a series through the winter season to allow younger pro team members and up and coming talent to race alongside their elite teammates and foreign competition. It's a lovely free for all with no medal ceremonies. The winners receive a small bouquet as they finish which is often tossed to the crowd so the battles can crack on with little in the way of holdups. There's no stopping every 15 minutes for a medal ceremony here, instead every night delivers a quick paced smorgasbord of different sprint races, team races, the ever confusing Madison and try outs of new events.
Cycling still retains the open and unpretentious atmosphere lost long ago in football and other big money sports. I was at Manchester for the Worlds in 2008 when Bradley Wiggins won the world solo pursuit title. Wiggo rushed off the track and went looking for family and friends through the public corridors shaking hands as he went. No Hi Vis minders or security at all.
The link between crowd and riders is still easy and relaxed and the staff and security team at the velodrome equally so. I received my wrist band for access all areas (apart from the VIP area where the best shots of the bend is..) and settled into the hallowed centre circle. Various regular photographers were already powering up ipads and wifi links.
The madison heats still confused everyone - including the marshalls at one point. Apparently there is an official who's only job is to stand and follow the leader with his finger as the rider circles so that everyone knows who's actually winning. There must be some electronic tagging system that could sort all this out but in the meantime it's the hallowed finger. Scratch your nose and it's a stewards enquiry.
Last year Revolution tried the Aussie individual pursuit which features 8 riders equidistant around the track, you pass the rider in front to eliminate them from the contest. Great for the audience as it's so easy to follow (compared with the Madison) and the eliminated riders get to coast around at the track top and shout encouragement. Seeing Dean and Russ Downing hunting each other down in the early part of the race - in a fine display of professional sibling rivalry - was one of the highlights of the night and it's sure to be a crowd pleaser in this series too.
It's not just the events which are all stirred up and let loose at Revolution. Pro teams like Team Sky and Rapha Condor Sharp battle against the sponsored teams featuring GB Academy riders and foreign elite riders. DHL also have their long running 'Future Stars' programme which allows up and coming 15 and 16 year olds to get a taste of real track competition, In the past riders such as Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh and Andy Tennant have all moved into British Cycling’s Olympic Academy following success in the ‘Future Stars’ and Emily Kay is the first young rider to win two years in a row.
The circus atmosphere is electric: quick changing events combined with the fun and rivalry between the UK pros, overseas stars and the young upstarts who get and take every chance to beat the pros. This year the organisers have created a special sprint competition to pit the plucky Brits against our old enemies France and Germany — so there's an opportunity to show a bit of jingoism cycle fan style - politely clapping everyone regardless of nationality.
In another extra wrinkle Revolution is also backing adventure cyclist Sean Conway, who's training for a bid to become the fastest man to ride around the world unsupported, at the first Revolution of this series he'll be racing a pursuit against current record holder, Vin Cox both on their fully laden touring bikes - hope that makes it in to Monday's TV highlights. Oh, and if you go along you'll also get the chance to race Sean on his rollers in the Revolution track centre.
For you photo-techies velodrome photography is a challenge. Apart from the track the velodrome lighting is as poor as an underground car park. It may be soothing for the riders but it's rubbish for photography. On top of this you're trying to capture very quick movement. Long lenses and fill flash really record the close up agony - so useful for press shots but produce very flat images. I shot the story either with available light and a fast ISO or with a fill flash and a slowish shutter speed to get the blur. The last time I tried this sort of work I was shooting film - so it's much easier now as you can look at frames and then adjust your settings to get the next frame right. I was relieved when one of the regular pros attending told me that you could get as much as 75% wastage in terms of blur and soft focus even with the fastest lenses. It's still a press the shutter and pray way of shooting - and all the more fun for that.
Best moment of the evening? Mentioning the Aussie pursuit to Deano as he passed in the centre circle only for him to stop and chat for a couple of minutes as if I was a regular on the circuit - and actually knew what I was talking about.
If you've ever attended a velodrome event before and thought of that old theatre axiom about 'the mind is only as willing as the backside' then Revolution will be a revelation. I can highly recommend it - from inside or outside the track.
You can find out more about the Revolution Series at www.cyclingrevolution.com the full set of Dan's Revolution pictures can be seen on his Flickr page and highlights of all this season's Revolution Series events will be aired on 1TV4 the following monday with the first show on Monday 31st of October.