This Friday Revolution Series round 1 kicks off and I’m racing.
Yep, that’s right. Me and a squad of students will be bleeding out of our eyeballs on the hallowed boards of the Olympic Velodrome in a one off Varsity Team Pursuit showdown. Only Southampton, Loughborough, Lancashire and Glasgow have been invited. Make no mistake, for us, this is BIG. However you look at it this will be the pinnacle of my student cycling career – one that started in 2006 and somehow still has a couple of years left to run. I’m nervous. We’re nervous. The crowd is going to be huge, and for the first time in my cycling career they have paid actual money to watch. Yikes.
The Team Pursuit is an absolute smash fest if it’s done right, but getting it right is hard. It’s suffering akin to running the mile but with added challenge of riding centimeters apart from the wheel in front, executing clean changes and all whilst not blowing the bunch apart (harder than you think). It requires so much of what I love about cycling – skill, awareness, camaraderie, physical ability. It’s a knife-edge and it’s beautiful. Getting the opportunity to race Team Pursuit only comes a few times a year if you’re lucky. Getting the opportunity to race Team Pursuit at Revolution comes around even less frequently - i.e. probably just once.
Having spent five happy years involved with Bath University’s most excellent cycling club, with the pleasure of riding with absolute hitters like John “Big Ring” Whittington, Chris Baddick and road.cc's own Liam Glen, it took me quite a while to warm to a new student cycling scene when I moved to the University of Southampton for post-grad. Eventually I gave in and thank goodness I did. The past 18 months have been nothing short of a track cycling revolution for me and the club. From chopping around Calshot (our local track) in the cold (nobody tells you it's a freezer) with typically at least one unnecessary crash per session to riding an invitational race at the UK’s biggest track event is quite a turn around.
SURC unlike any other cycling club I know have been absolutely on it with chasing money through various grants that float around in the ether of Sporting bodies and Universities. That’s helped fund three members to complete their track coaching qualification and another three are well down that road with British Cycling too. There are spinning classes, weights sessions, club rides, group roller riding and targeted skills sessions running each week - and that’s just Monday to Friday. This is a club that is serious about supporting new riders, serious about supporting women’s cycle sport and serious about getting as many people riding the track as possible. You don’t get many of them around. Does your club have 25% female membership?
So back to the race... Despite our best efforts the University of Southampton as a whole isn’t renowned for sport. In fact one of my teammates thinks that collectively we are “rubbish”. He might be right, but what we are good at is engineering. If the R. J. Mitchel wind tunnel is good enough for FroomeDog et al. it’s good enough for us. A few strings pulled (helps when the man in charge races CX) and there we were, freezing ourselves to death trying to eke out some spare watts. That's right: SURC does Team Sky, if only for a day.
What they don’t tell you when you see a photo of a pro in a wind tunnel is that actually it is really hard to achieve your optimum position. It’s a complex multi-parameter headache that you can’t possibly bottom out for one rider in one day. We had several riders in one day and did our very best with a motely crew of engineering, physics and geography students to make some gains. It was a great experience, but I don’t think that any of us are under the illusion that we could take on Jack Bobridge.
At the Universtiy champs last May we came second in the Team Pursuit to Loughborough. It wasn't clean, it wasn't drilled, but it was dedicated - a little bit like Braveheart does cycling. This time round I'm determined for it to be different, better, faster. So come on Loughborough. Let’s be having you.
You can follow the club on twitter: @surcClub