London Prepares: Track Cycling

Saturday 18 February 2012

The test events ahead of London 2012 are essential, and for the Track Cycling at the new Olympic Velodrome, the maiden event was the fourth leg of this season’s World Cup, which arguably now has a greater depth of quality than the Games itself due to the disappointing change in Olympic rules that will limit individual events to just one rider per country.

That means some of the best cyclists in the World will not be competing in their best events and there was an early reminder of that in a long Saturday daytime session when Victoria Pendleton set the pace early on in the Women’s individual Sprint, which had a mammoth field of 47 competitors in the qualifying heats. The previous night Pendleton and British team mate Jess Varnish won the Gold in the Team Sprint and broke a World Record representing Team GB, indicating the pace of the new track, made from Siberian pine. Of course, in the Olympics, only one of them will now be able to compete in the Individual race.

The qualification of the Individual Sprints, which allow riders to accelerate before starting a timed 200 metres allows the women to get up above speeds of 40mph. Pendleton’s long-standing rival and World Champion, Australian Anna Mears, went on to slightly better her time in Qualifying as did Wai Sze Lee (Hong Kong) and Shuang Guo (China). But Pendleton went onto really show her class in the afternoon’s first two-knockout stages, the second of which she overcame Varnish in two straight heats in the Quarter-Finals (picture above). In the later evening session Mears won a semi-final against Pendleton before losing the final herself to Guo, with Lee winning a bronze; but as Pendleton always stated, she is planning her season to peak in the summer, and these early signs were good.

The eight-hour session stared at 9am, with spectators asked to arrived 45 minutes early. On leaving Stratford Station stewards  with large foam hands as visible props showed spectators the way through a windy “Stratford City”, a branding for the outside of a large shopping mall en route to the entrance of the Olympic Park, where after a security check, there was a short walk down some stairs to a shuttle bus. The bus ride took in the scenic sights of a park seemingly still very much under construction, before reaching a much more pleasant looking dome that is the Velodrome.

In the arena, the event worked well. Background music between events included The Inspiral Carpets, Primal Scream, New Order and The Charlatans, suggesting someone in Production has got taste, while there was a deliberate ploy at interaction with the crowd. There were guides on the basics of events on the big screens, informed trackside commentary throughout, and the opportunity for hash tagged tweets to also appear on big screen, although if anyone had any network coverage let alone 3G coverage for more than a few minutes, they were very lucky. The commentators also acted as cheerleaders for team GB, which wasn’t necessary, so good was the atmosphere even though at no stage time during the Saturday day-session were all seats occupied, despite the event selling out quickly.

There will surely be no empty seats in The Olympics, but it’s open to question how many British sports fans will have actually got tickets, so poor was LOCOG’s handling of ticketing; the uneven distribution of tickets in the initial general sale will never be forgotten, with the failure to put a reasonable limit on applications either in total or by event leading to a system that primarily benefited only those with the wealth to buy an disproportionate amount of tickets.

For some unsuccessful applicants, the weekend’s World Cup was an alternate opportunity to see some of Great Britain’s already legendary cyclists perform in London before they retire. Sir Chris Hoy is the big name in the sport following the great days in Beijing, and the leader of a successful British Team. His one race on the Saturday afternoon was in a six-man heat of the Keirin, where he untypically left his run late, before a powerful and dramatic surge showed both his confidence and a tactical nous, with a performance he went onto replicate in that evening’s final. That was the first of two gold medals for him for the weekend, as he also went on to win the Individual Sprint on the Sunday, and on the same fast track in the summer, with a home crowd behind him, he will fancy his chances to replicate the glory from 2008.

The first event on the Saturday was Women’s Individual Pursuit, which Britian’s Joanna Roswell recorded the fastest time of the eleven heats. The previous evening she had won a gold medal in the team pursuit with a World Record, and another of her team-mates from the previous day, Laura Trott, also featured heavily throughout the Saturday, in the women’s Omnium, a new 6 discipline event at the Olympics, which promises to be exciting and tactical, as well as a real test of endurance. Trott went onto claim a bronze on the Sunday, and will have a chance of better in the summer if she improves her tactics in the Points Race (picture below).

Both as a test event, and as an event per se, the weekend was undoubtedly a success. The British leg of the World Cup is usually held at Manchester, but from this year will now be rotated between its previous home, The Olympic Velodrome, and the new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome which will be opened in Edinburgh later this year.

The Olympic Velodrome, designed with sustainability in mind, promises to be a good example of tangible legacy of The Games in London, when in the year after the Paralympics finishes, the surrounding area will be developed to include a mountain bike course and a road cycle circuit, which in addition to the existing track facilities, will be available for public use. A nice alternative for London’s many cyclists to roads that have become more hazardous under Boris Johnson, and the pedestrian crossings which continue to be a blind spot in the eyes of many a cyclist in central London.

And as well as the promise of a legacy, there is a summer of great sport to come first.

MG

With echoes of Glory from Danny Blanchflower to Bruce Springsteen, and full of the flavour of Escape that European Travel brings, The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ tells the tales of a journey as Spurs returned to the European Cup for the first time in 49 seasons. It is available for preview and to download from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.