Former cabinet minister turned TV presenter swaps railway tracks for a track bike ... briefly

Michael Portillo swapped railway tracks for a track bike in last night's episode of the BBC TV series Great British Railway Journeys - and had a bit of a moment as he lost balance and came crashing back to earth, though luckily for him, a coach helped break his fall.

The programme saw the former cabinet minister travel from Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire to Herne Hill, and the velodrome that is the last surviving venue of the 1948 Olympic Games.

After learning about the history of the velodrome from Peter Cattermole, who helped lead the campaign to save the venue, the 64-year-old emerged from the pavilion in Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome jersey and shorts.

Still sporting a pair of red suede slip-on loafers - we'd like to think this isn't the start of a track cycling trend - he was helped to mount the fixed-wheel bike by cycling coach Joseph Alberti of VC Londres and happily went for a quick spin.

Everything was going swimmingly until, at the end of the ride, Portillo - still on the bike - attempted to shake Alberti's hand, overbalanced, and would have had a nastier fall than he ended up having had the coach not intervened.

Watch it here on BBC iPlayer (UK only) - the segment on Herne Hill Velodrome starts at around 22 minutes 15 seconds.

H/T to Andy Thornley for the spot.


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.