Race report: 2013 London Triathlon

10 Aug

It’s not strictly cycling related, but this 1500m swim, 40k ride and 10k run deserves a write up of its own.

Virgin-London-Triathlon-Swim-Canary-WharfWe might not be the majority at mass cycling events, but the women’s open age group wave at this year’s London Triathlon was the biggest. That’s 440 sets of hands, arms, legs and feet to fight your way through during the 1500m swim in the Thames River. So for the first 15 minutes, I was literally punched and kicked all over as the ladies jostled for position. Quite apart from the face smacking, at 8.30am the sun was glaringly bright on the water, making it near impossible to see the huge red and white buoys that marked the turning points. A large boat had recently crossed the swim path, leaving a giant wake to navigate. As a result I’m confident I zig zagged wildly through a much longer swim than necessary, aligning whenever I hit one of the kayakers along each side. Swimming in the Thames really isn’t all that bad. It’s slightly salty and too murky to see much so you simply plough on and avoid swallowing any water. Kate, my tri buddy, powered ahead and finished the swim in an impressive 26 minutes to my 30.

Out of the water and onto the bike. I’d done no open water swimming since the previous London Tri a year earlier and my carefully honed skill of rapidly taking off wetsuit was forgotten. One feels slightly sick and dizzy after front crawling 1500m as fast as possible and I wobbled all over the show as I pulled down each arm and got stuck at the waist. In my head I remembered to stand on one side as I pulled off the other leg but in reality I just staggered around for a while until I finally got there. The run into transition is fairly long and includes a steep flight of stairs to the bikes. Ouch.

Challenge one of T1 is locating your bike. One among 440 is like a needle in a haystack, but I’d remembered to drape a hot pink jacket over my seat so it was easier to spot. Kate’s transition area next to mine was glaringly empty, her and bike long gone, leaving a silent ‘hurry up’ taunt in their wake. Dump wetsuit, clip on race belt and helmet (having remembered to tie your hair in a low ponytail so it doesn’t get in the way) stand on towel to dry feet and step into socks and shoes. Hold the saddle to run with the bike and mount only when you’re fully out of the transition area.

The 40k ride takes you from east to west London and back again. You pass majestic Westminster and power along the north embankment overlooking the London Eye, the Shard and the City in the distance. It’s treat to be on the roads with no cars. A few gentle hills mean you can really pick up speed at certain parts but for the most part it’s a flat ride. One big loop and a slightly smaller one, remembering to eat before I felt hungry. We’d had a week of gorgeous still sunny weather, but this morning the wind was aggressive. A head wind all the way to Westminster, about 70% of the ride, making it tougher than it should have been. The bike is my weakest leg and despite pushing my legs as fast as they could go, I was still overtaken. The elites passed as I approached the 30k mark, the whomp whomp sound of their solid back wheels announcing their arrival. Yeah, whatever.

I felt slightly better about my slow ride (1’18) after hearing about a friend who got knocked off his bike and rode the remaining 25k not realising his brakes were partially locked on. Now that’s what you call a struggle. Kate finished the ride in 1’17, still minutes ahead after her fast swim.

Emily and KateT2 is easier than T1, except for the fact I’d removed the pink jacket from my seat so totally lost my transition area. I spent a precious 30 seconds staring madly around before spotting my trainers, quickly racking bike (Kate’s was there this time, laughing at my tardiness) and swopping shoes, twisting race belt to the front. My bike pedometer had gauged my speed on the ride and I picked up my Garmin watch for the run. A useless move as it turned out, as it never picked up the satellite.

I love to run and once I get to this part of the triathlon I relax and remember to smile. My one brick session (going from bike to run) beforehand paid off as I set off quickly, running the first two km in eight minutes. By 10.30am the sun was starting to blaze and I was massively grateful for the water and sprinkler hose on the way round. The run is three loops, so three 15 minute reps. Finally, on the third loop, I caught Kate and we shouted words of encouragement as I ran past – girls are so nice to each other, right?! The 10k run took just under 45 minutes in the end, an average 4’30km pace throughout, to Kate’s 50.

You feel like a superstar when you finish the London Triathlon, it’s true. It ends in the Excel Centre along a red carpet with cheering fans to either side and bright lights around the finish line. A customary sprint finish was in order to come in at 2 hours 41 minutes, 34th in my age group and 3 minutes faster than last year despite a slower swim and bike. Kate, a little bit fish and a little bit more Victoria Pendleton than me, finished in 2’42. Thank you to the fantastic organisers and marshalls who made the event so seamless and such good fun. Brilliant effort all round.

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Five reasons why you should watch the Tour de France

7 Jul

Sprint finish Tour de France1. It’s incredibly exciting watching. Stick to the highlights between 7-8pm on ITV and you’ll see the best of that day. Unbelievable sprints to the finish line, incredible strength up steep mountains, stunning scenery and splashes of vibrant colour in the various team kit. Not to mention the nail biting carnage of the crashes and unplanned chaos such as the support bus getting firmly stuck under the finish line, with riders at 60k an hour just 3k from the end. You’ll be on the edge of your seat.

2. You learn about science. ITV do a brilliant job of explaining the how and why behind cycling. Why it matters to sit on the wheel of your team mate (the energy you save by riding in their slipstream is substantial), how close you need to be to make the most of this advantage (very), why the team sprinter who will win the stage is kept in the middle of the pack until the last minute (so he can conserve his energy). You realise how strategic and tactical the sport is – mental as much as physical.

3. Cyclists are hard bastards. Sure, Murray may play for three hours to win Wimbledon, but these guys are on the bike for five plus hours NON STOP. They eat, drink and pee on the bike, battling several thousand metres of ascent in the mountain stages and riding on the flat at an average of 50k an hour and downhill at up to 100k. That’s some serious speed. And they do this EVERY DAY for three weeks. It takes not just physical prowess, but pure mental determination and focus.

4. Mark Cavendish (speaking of physical prowess). Need I say more…

Mark Cavendish

(P.S. Ladies, if you do want more, check out the Bangable Dudes in Pro Cycling blog. The site consists of carefully selected photos of good looking professional cyclists (opinions are subjective). There’s something for everyone, including a heavily bearded CX cyclist and some mountain biking dude riding in just his gold speedos. Er….)

5. In the spirit of equality, I asked the men in my household what they thought. Their answer: crashes and sprints (as covered above) and the girls on the podium… an outdated, sexist tradition of having two beautiful women on either side of the podium as that day’s winner recieves his jersey and gifts… Really?!! Do they have men at the podium for the women’s Tour de France I wonder???

Dan Martin podium girls

If all the above is not enough, this year is the 100th Tour de France, so it’s the perfect time to get into it. It only happens once a year, so make the most of the next two weeks. And if you really enjoy it, you’ll have the Vuelta (the Spanish version), the Giro (the Italian version of the Tour de France) and the Classics (one day races) to watch as well.

You’ll also be able to appreciate why there is so much controversy around doping in cycling and whether it really is possible to achieve first place through sheer human athleticism, or whether you do need some additives.

Oh, and if you’re confused about the various colour jerseys and what they mean, there’s a brilliant explanation in this article from the Financial Times. Here’s an excerpt:

Then there are the jerseys: the semaphore of the Tour. The overall leader wears the famous Yellow Jersey (or Yellow Jumper, as I pitifully managed to refer to it on my first Tour). The Green Jersey is worn by the rider who manages to sweep up the most “points” on offer every day. You get a certain number at the finish line, and a certain number for an intermediate “sprint” en route. The Polka Dot jersey goes to the rider with the most points in the King of the Mountains competition – much like the Green Jersey but only available to collect on mountainous stages. The White Jersey is for the best young rider overall.

Any more ideas???

Race Report: FT & Human Race London Cycle Sportive

1 Jul


Team FT“It’s a shame they don’t have a 130k route” I remarked to Jonny as we set off on the medium length, 100k FT London Cycle Sportive . “The long route of 160km is a bit much, but I would happily do something in between”. Well. Be careful what you wish for…

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for the ride. 26 degrees and the most glorious summer day we’ve had all year (I have ridiculous tan lines to prove it), minimal wind, blue skies. Perfect cycling weather. 2500 cyclists gathered at Dulwich Park in South London to start the route, choosing from 50k, 100k or the epic 160k ride. There were around 20 of us from Team FT, sporting custom made kit from Le Marq (somebody later said we had the best kit of the day and I tend to agree). The crowd was mostly men and, ladies, I’d like to point out one of the good things about doing a mass participation event which is 80% men is that there are barely any queues for the portaloos. It’s the little things.

Sportive startWe set off in 10 minute waves, all very orderly and organised, after a short race briefing: “stick to the road rules, watch out for fellow cyclists, enjoy”. After the unavoidable stop/start route out of London, 15k or so through Cyrstal Palace and Streatham, we reached the delightful narrow country lanes of Kent. I was struck at how little distance you have to travel out of London to feel miles away from the city. We’re talking rolling green meadows, lush green hedges, colourful flowers, cows, horses, sheep, red brick houses dotted throughout the fields. The slim roads are undulating and at the top the views are gorgeous. It’s great riding, and there was brilliant comradery between the cyclists as we sped along in loose pelatons with the usual shouts of “Hole!” “Car up!” “Slow!” etc.

Heading into KentWe’d programmed the route into our Garmins but needn’t have done as it was clearly marked with huge red arrows. These navigated us across the North Downs and up the steep incline of Biggin Hill until, after about 50km , we reached the first feed station. Nobody prepares a feed station for you on a training ride, so this was a real treat. The wonderful people from Access Sport, who the ride was in aid of, were giving out energy bars and drinks, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, bananas and delicious home made flapjack. There was even a mechanic truck on hand to help with ailing bikes – it was a seriously good set up.

Refuelled and rehydrated we set off again – and this was where things started to go wrong. The trusty red arrows seemed to be pointing in various different directions, confused with yellow diversion signs, and Garmin couldn’t find us anywhere. Eventually, the red arrows and the yellow diversion signs just ran out and Garmin blinked nonchalantly, totally off route. Cue lots of lost, confused, hot, sweaty cyclists trying to figure out where they went wrong. Some were trying find the route from a mix of printed paper maps (so old school) and others shaking non-responsive Google Maps frustratedly on their phones. As the group got larger there were varying reports of which direction was right, but we were all reluctant to head downhill in case we found ourselves having to retrace our steps upwards. Talk about the blind leading the blind. In the end we set off for Dorking, certain that this would lead us to Box Hill eventually where we’d find the course.

Box Hill lookoutThe bad thing about losing your way on these roads is that while it is possible to get back on track, you usually end up along some busy A roads rather than the pleasant country lanes. Which is what happened to us as we wound our way down into Reigate. We passed through the town, added an extra 15k to our ride, and eventually Garmin stuttered to life as we grew closer to the route. A well spotted left turn down Old Street Lane and we were back, happy red arrows leading the way once again. It later transpired that some BT road workers had changed the arrows as they were doing some highway maintenance and needed to put in a diversion. They didn’t think to tell the Human Race guys, who had set up the route hours earlier and had no idea their directions had been tampered with. Cheers, BT.

And so on to Box Hill and its gentle climb upwards to the best lookout of the day. It was a hive of activity at the top and we stopped for the obligatory photo shoot. A cycle sportive can be so different to a running race – stopping is more acceptable and timing isn’t as crucial as so many factors including hills, traffic lights and weather impact on your total. So after another bite to eat we set off, home straight now back into London. It’s a fast, flat and downhill road back from Box Hill, lots of fun. The ride came back into town via Croyden, uninspiring to say the least after the prettiness of the Surrey Hills. I’m sure there must be a nicer route back in.

The finish line was at the Herne Hill Velodrome, London’s oldest operational Olympic venue and where we were lucky enough to go track cycling recently with Team Sky’s Ben Swift. It truly was the sprint finish of a champion, turning sharply onto the track and racing round as fast as possible to cross the finish line in elation. A brilliant way to end and as you crossed the line you not only got coconut water and refreshments, but a shiny new medal to wear on the way home.

Bron and KateA massive thank you to the organisers and marshalls, many of them volunteers giving up their weekend to make the ride safe and enjoyable for everyone. I’m superbly proud of fellow cyclists Bronwynn and Kate today too (in photo to the left). Bron only bought her bike two months ago, so 100km today was a fantastic achievement. And Kate’s only ever ridden two other 80k+ rides and has been battling a cold all week, so was equally strong. Final stats were 115km with 1,152m of ascent, and by the time we added on 20km to and from home, my earlier wish of a 130k ride was well and truly fullfilled. Next time, I’m doing 160km…

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Kit review: Le Marq custom cycling clothing for the Financial Times

26 Jun

FT girls in Le MarqThe arrival of our bespoke Le Marq Financial Times cycling kit this week caused much excitement in the office. The brilliant team at Le Marq have designed the gear for Team FT to wear in the FT Human Race London Cycle Sportive this weekend, and we are going to look good! I only have this photo of some FT girls modelling the kit for now, but more action shots to follow after the ride on Sunday.

From the moment I unwrapped the tops, I was impressed. The design is fantastic, sporting the all important FT pink with eye-catching use of our logo across the front, sides and back. It keeps in line with the FT brand guidelines while looking distinctive and classy. The design uses three colours: a white base, FT pink panels on the front and back, and a curving black design across the front. As well as making the tops stand out, the black curves represent landmarks on the sportive route: Biggin Hill (a killer, if you’ve done it), North Downs, Box Hill (made famous by the Olympic route last year), Surrey Hills and the Herne Hill Velodrome where the ride finishes with a victory lap. It looks excellent and is also a nice way to remember the route. The sleeves are finished with a great three stripe design that matches the cuffs of the bib shorts. The bibs are black with the Financial Times logo along each side in white and – my favourite – the pink FT logo stamped firmly on the butt. Great branding. All together the kit looks sharp and as everyone knows, looking good is the number one rule for all cyclists. If you look the part, you’re halfway there to winning.

To the fit, functionality and comfort. The tops have a full length front zip, making it easy to get on and off. The sleeves are fitted but not too tight. There are three decent sized pockets on the back of the top, meaning you can fit in all the food and accessories you need for a long ride. Very important. The tops are a high quality material – all Le Marq kit is manufactured in Italy and has been developed and tested by cyclists on difficult routes, exposed to the elements – so is very comfortable for lengthy wear. Compared to previous kit orders where the hems have disintegrated on the first wear, this feels much more durable.

A word on the sizes – the men’s are very snug. Most of the guys in Team FT asked if there was a bigger size, so if I was ordering from Le Marq I’d go up a size from your usual one unless you really want a racing fit. In the end I convinced the guys that tighter was better because a) it was more streamlined and therefore fast and b) it was a good excuse to show off their rippling muscles, etc, etc. The women in Team FT had no problems with the sizing. In fact it was nice to find kit that actually fitted, compared to other gear where a size small is more like a medium because it’s adapted from the men’s sizing. The shape of the women’s tops is great too, figure hugging without being skin tight.

I asked the men what they thought of the bib shorts and the answer was positive – decent padding and a comfortable fit. A group of the guys have just set off on a three week trip around France, so I’ll report back on the comfort of the kit after they’ve spent a few more days in the saddle.

Here’s some of the feedback about the kit taken directly from Team FT:

‘I really like the design and it’s great to cycle in. The size is snug – although they should be!’

‘Very nice jerseys, though they are a little snug. I know they are a ‘racing’ fit, so it’s probably more of a case of me being ‘racing’ unfit!’

‘Fits like a treat.’

‘Love it. Very cool design.’

‘Fits really well and very comfortable.’

The verdict: I’d highly recommend Le Marq kit for anyone looking to order top quality custom cycling clothing, at competitive prices (more details about how to order and pricing can be found on their website). They aim to supply ‘premium quality apparel for the world’s hardest and most prestigious amateur events’ with clothing ‘worthy of the finest pro teams’ – and they certainly provide that. The clothing combines chic design with essential functionality. Thank you Le Marq!

P.S. If you’ve got stash envy, it’s not too late to order an official event jersey for this weekend’s FT ride. You can buy one online now for £59.50.

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Winging it… not always the best organisational strategy

23 Jun

Erin and Kate in Brighton Here’s a guest post from Erin, who recently did an interesting version of the London to Brighton ride with another friend Kate. As she explains:

Our plan was to catch the train from London to Eastbourne, camp there, cycle to a castle on the Saturday, ride to Brighton and back on the Sunday then return to London. I’m pleased to say that we managed to reach both destinations and tick off both rides. Everything else, on the other hand, went wrong.

To start with, both of us were feeling slightly ‘under the weather’ on Saturday morning (nothing to do with Friday night escapades) so we didn’t end up leaving London until around 11.30am. Our camping plans had also already failed due to a lack of tents for sale in nearby stores, so we decided a five star hotel would have to do instead. Booking this accommodation proved rather difficult however as it turned out there was a bit more happening down on the coast than we realised. The tennis was on and also the annual London to Brighton charity ride. Fortunately we found a nice wee room in the end, but did have to share a bed.

We made some lovely, die hard tennis fan friends at the hotel who had been coming to Eastbourne for the past 60 years to see the tennis. They thought we were just crazy and couldn’t understand our antipodean twang: “Where are you from young lady, because it’s obviously not from around here?” Foreigners, eh. They’re everywhere. Our friends also enlightened us to the fact that we most probably would not be able to get back to London due to a ban on bikes on trains on Sunday. Thanks South West Trains staff for informing us of this when we boarded the train to Eastbourne with bikes…

Kate and Erin at castleThe sun rose on Sunday and we decided to put this possible hiccup to the back of our minds and enjoy our ride. We had a friend who had offered us her floor to sleep on for Sunday night in Brighton, if worst came to worst. We had a lovely ride, all four seasons making an appearance. On arrival in Brighton, the atmosphere was pumping and the town packed with cyclists who had biked from London – mostly male ones. We kept getting congratulated on our achievement so ended up just claiming the compliment instead of explaining that we had just coincidently decided to ride to Brighton on the same weekend as the event.

We made it back to Eastbourne, put on our best puppy dog eyes and a kind train worker let us onto a train to Hastings. The detour was less than ideal but we got back to London eventually, riding home from Tower Bridge with huge packs and 80km of hills and rain in our legs. We learnt a few lessons, had a fun weekend and despite the lack of organisation, winging it worked out just fine in the end.”

Pearl in Brighton

How many girls does it take to change a tyre?

20 Jun
Lady changing tyre

One of the essential skills of any self-respecting female cyclist is the ability to fix a puncture. Yes, it’s one of those jobs that most of the time I’m happy to play damsel in distress for, batting eyelids at the closest lycra-clad, lean, muscled (or not) male cyclist. But I do think that if you’re going to ride a bike you should at least know the basics as inevitably (particularly if you cycle in London), you’ll end up with a puncture at some point.

The first time I changed a tyre it was an agonising 45 minute job, huffing and puffing and alternately swearing at the tyre, bike, myself and closest offending person (my lovely patient boyfriend who was doing his very best to help). It ended exultantly with four bloody knuckles and five broken nails, but a brand new, well fitted inner tube that I did all by myself (well, 99% myself).

Here’s the step by step process:

  1. Take off the tyre by loosening the screw that goes through the middle of your wheel, so you can pull it out of the frame (much easier on the front as you don’t have the chain and back derailer to contend with). You may also need to loosen the quick release lever on your brake pads.
  2. Remove any excess air from inner tube (this step is very important; I know because I missed it out the first time).
  3. Then the hard part, particularly when the tyre is new: remove one side of the tyre from the rim using special little coloured levers purchased from any cycle shop. This step requires a fair amount of brute strength and strong fingers and hands. After hooking one tool under the side of the tyre and onto the spoke below, slide the second little tool under the wheel adjacently, simultaneously pulling the tyre back with one hand, across with the other and gripping the wheel without pulling the tyre down, moving your hand in small fluid movements until the tyre releases from the rim, pops out and slides right the way around. Easy, right? Not really. It seemed to take me forever, was the cause of aforementioned bloody knuckles and broken nails, not to mention seriously blackened hands. But – I got there.
  4. Remove tyre fully, turn it inside out and check thoroughly for any offending glass or other sharp objects that might cause a repeat puncture. (Note, if you check really thoroughly you can give yourself a little break as you prepare for the next bit).
  5. Step five is actually easier: slightly pump up the new inner tube and slot inside the tyre which you’ve replaced back on the wheel, one side only. (If you’re really manly, or experienced, or just want to impress someone, you can blow up the inner tube with your mouth rather than the pump). Also note that OCD cyclists will align the writing on the side of the tyre with the valve hole. Aesthetically pleasing, and easy to find when you later go to pump it up.
  6. Replacing the tyre onto the wheel: the second difficult bit. To do so hook in the side of the tyre into the wheel rim, taking care not to pinch the inner tube as you do so. Then work the tyre back onto the wheel, moving round the rim. This is deceptively easy until you get to the final bit, when you have to find some brute strength again in your fingers to force it back on. If feeling hot, bothered and quite frankly irate that this black rubber tube has got the better of you, don’t worry, you’re nearly there.
  7. Pump up the tyre. Use your pre-prepared track pump to pump the wheel up to 110-120 psi (that stands for pounds per square inch, of course).
  8. Finally, replace the wheel on the bike. Fairly straightforward, align the wheel between the forks and on the skewer. Slot in, push down. Don’t forget to tighten the brake pads if you loosened them to get it off. Twist the skewer to tighten it (make sure you haven’t loosened or tightened it too much) and push back your quick release. Very important: ensure this is aligned in an aerodynamic position, for extra speed.

And that’s it – brush off your hands and give yourself a pat on the back. Now you’ve proved you CAN do it if you need to, next time you can call on one of those lycra-clad men to impress you with how quickly they can do it for you.
If all else fails, it might be worth watching the below video which claims it will teach even six year olds to change a tyre in three minutes.

Velodrome cycling with Team Sky’s Ben Swift

19 Jun

Few things are more exhilarating than cycling at speed round a steeply curved velodrome track, others on your heels and the single golden rule in your head: “whatever happens, do NOT stop pedalling”.

Raring to go with our fixiesI discovered this thrill after spending yesterday afternoon at the Herne Hill Velodrome with Team Sky professional cyclist Ben Swift, the fantastic velodrome coaches and the brilliant team from Human Race. On a muggy London afternoon, thankfully with dry skies, I headed to the velodrome – the only venue from the 1948 Olympics still in operation – with a friend Kate and fellow FT staff Ben and Tom. Tom’s an FT journalist and a keen cyclist, and his previous close encounter with the velodrome track did nothing to quell my nerves about my first time on a fixie bike (that means no gears and no brakes). The event was part of the FT’s partnership with Human Race, also including the FT London Sportive on 30th of June (which there are still places available for, if you get in quick).

On arrival the team fitted us and about 30 other riders with the kind of single speed old skool bikes you’d expect to see trendy East Londoners riding, sans helmet. As he adjusted the seat for my height, coach Tony told me this particular red bike was ‘Wiggo’s old ride’. (Only the massively impressive 2012 Tour de France and Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins.) Must go fast then, I thought…

Lining up to startTeam Sky’s Ben Swift (what a brilliant name for a pro cyclist) is an incredibly nice guy who was very generous with his time and advice. After a quick pep talk: “Whatever happens, do not stop pedalling. Always look to your right before you move up the track and left before you move down. To stop, simply slow your legs down. Have fun, smile, and whatever happens, do NOT stop pedalling” – we were off. By ‘off’ I hardly mean a racing start, more that we held rigidly on to the fence beside the track as we strapped our feet into the pedals, before ever so gingerly moving off onto the flat part of the track. One lap round on the white line, one lap moving up onto the blue line, one lap up onto the red line and a final lap sitting at the top at a very odd sideways angle thinking desperately, do not stop pedalling! Slowing down takes some time as you gently ease off your legs, reducing the pace until you can grab the railing beside the track to stop fully and unclip your feet.

Round the trackAfter the comfort of my usual road bike with brakes, riding a fixie was daunting. Add to that a track that slopes upwards at what feels like a 90 degree angle as you round each corner, and the initial experience is unnerving. In actual fact the steepest gradient is a mere 30 degrees, gentle compared to the 45 degrees of the 2012 Olympic Velodrome. “Hoods or drops!” the coaches yelled as we sped past – most of us were gripping the handlebars at the front where the brakes should have been. No use doing that. Much as I knew the force of gravity and traction wouldn’t let it happen, I still felt like every time I rounded the bend at the top of the track, the bike and I would slip down to the centre and crash catastrophically.  It was only when I’d been round a few times and proved this wouldn’t happen that I felt confident to build up speed – and that’s when the fun began. Because when you forget about the slope, forget about the risk of crashing, forget about the lack of brakes and just think about going round as fast as you can, the sensation is electric. Your focus is honed on pushing your legs round at speed, looking fleetingly to each side as you move up and down the track. Then on tailing the rider in front of you closely to catch their
draft, before pulling up and accelerating the pace to overtake. The higher up the track you are, the better visibility you have and as Ben explained, “it’s all about your vision”. From there you can check where your opponents are, view the track ahead and plan where and when to attack.

On the trackOur second drill was an attempt at group riding. I say attempt because what was supposed to happen was a tightly spaced peloton of riders moving smoothly at the same pace, the leader pulling up and away at each halfway point, before easing in to the back. What actually happened was a haphazardly spaced and paced jumble of riders trying to stick close together, but not really wanting to sit on the wheel of the cyclist in front just in case someone forgot to stop pedalling. In the end four of us managed to make the formation work for a while, and the oomph that you get from sitting behind the leader of the peloton is substational. At the front you’re battling the wind and pulling the others along but behind, your legs spin easily and you roll along almost effortlessly.

Kate and I with Ben SwiftThe final session was the best – an eight lap scratch race. So called because all riders start from scratch, rather than at intervals like in a pursuit race. Here, the object was simply to go as fast as possible and I promise, eight times round the 450m track was hard work. When you really push it your thighs are burning and lungs are gasping and legs are flying so fast they’re a blur. (In my head they were, anyway. Photos may show otherwise.) On the last lap the coaches rang a bell so you know it’s the final one and can really go for it. I have no idea what the time was, but I do know that eight laps was quite enough. Ben holds the record for the 15km race around the track – that is 33 laps. Don’t ask me how you keep count.

The whole experience was sensational, simultaneously terrifying and intoxicating. I can’t wait to go back. In keeping with the theme of this blog (to encourage more women to give cycling to go), there were about five women to 30 men there, so I asked the coaches about the male/female ratio. Much more men than women was the answer, but Kate and I were strongly encouraged to join the ladies session, run by women for women and taking place every Sunday from 5-7pm. Just £6 to turn up and give it a go… I might just be there next week.

Kate and I ready to go