Taking the plunge into the world of Track League cycling

TT Secretary Oli Wright describes his first experience of Track League cycling at Derby Velodrome.

Since my first trip to Manchester Velodrome in 1996 as a 15 year old where I witnessed my hero, Chris Boardman, knock a massive six and a bit seconds off the individual pursuit world record, I have wanted to do some track racing myself.  Track racing has always struck me as exciting, fast and tactical and the professional riders have always impressed me with their high cadences, their brute force and power, their quick reactions and in some cases the size of their thighs.

For one reason or another I didn’t get to race on track during the next 23 years (possibly because I have none of the above), but I have built up some experience of riding the track and gained an accreditation at Newport and Derby over the last few years.  I have also ridden a few club events with our club and my last and I’ve done some drop in sessions as well as training events with the Police Sport UK squad too.

Now that my little one is a bit older, I finally decided to take the plunge when I got the chance to enter the Derby Track League, starting on the 15th of January.  The League is split into four divisions with four races for each division each night.  Being new to racing, if not the track itself, I entered the lowest division for newcomers to racing and those of more modest fitness (at least on paper).

As I prepared to ride that evening, I felt some trepidation about the quality of the opposition I would face, the craft needed to position myself and play an active part in the four races to come and moreover whether my level of fitness would let me even hang on to the bunch, let alone do anything more.  After a winter of moving house, doing more DIY jobs than I’ve had hot dinners, dislocating my shoulder and getting out on my bike far too little, it was the big question mark.

In order to make the most of week 1 I decided my aims would be limited to the following:

  • Enjoy it; it’s supposed to be fun;
  • Consider it a good training session whatever happens;
  • Learn lessons and build experience of racing;

So, with my bike, kit and rollers in the car as well as a gear ratio I wasn’t entirely sure would be right, I left work early and made my way to Derby hoping to bag an early sign on and a decent spot in the track centre to set up and get myself ready and warmed up.

I had noticed a couple of Cowley Condors riders on the start list so made a mental note to grab a chat with them at some point that evening.  I actually ended up setting up right next to them without realising and so over the course the evening we had a few chats.  There was also a Shutt rider there, who was in the fast group.  Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and there was a good buzz about the place.

20 lap Scratch

This race went off like a rocket, with the average speed touching 30 miles an hour for the lead few riders.  The race split in to about three or four groups in the first half of the race and I settled in to a group of three working together pretty effectively.  The winner of this race and the next (an Army CU rider) was upgraded to the group above and went on to win their third and fourth races, so he was definitely in the wrong group to start with.  A bit of a baptism of fire, but I was pleased to have been in the hunt with a few other riders rather than just completely off the pace.

28 lap Points

This race was also bloomin’ quick and I stood no chance of getting in the lead bunch even for the first lap because I found myself behind the slowest rider in the group as we rolled off and they immediately lost the wheel.  That was pretty annoying and before I knew it we were half a lap down.  I had not expected to be going for points, obviously, but it would have been good to see the back of the bunch for a few laps.  In the end, I settled in with my new found buddies as they dropped off the pace as well as another rider for a team pursuit to the finish.

30 lap Win and Out

An event in which you have a sprint after ten laps to determine the winner, who then retires, followed by a sprint at 20 laps for second place.  The remaining places are determined in the final sprint at the end.  I had made a decision to not get caught out at the start again and so I made a leap for the front four spots from the off.  That was a good tactic as I managed to swing up and get in the main bunch for the majority of the race, only dropping off in the last 5 laps or so when the pace really picked up as everyone went all in.  The pace of this race was still pretty high even without the Army rider as the strength in depth in the group does pretty deep, so the biggest lesson I could take was that if you are gone, you are gone; if you can stay in touch, then you’ve got a better chance of survival.  This was my best race of the night, but I was still very much sprinting for the minor places.

Unknown Distance

The order in which the groups run changes each week and with ours being the last of the four this week, the final event was an unknown distance race.  This is always the case in order to ensure that everyone is off the track by 10pm.  We started at 9:58 and were promised a short race.  As a result everyone went from the gun expecting the bell after the first lap.  It actually went after the third, so I was pretty much done for by the end, as were some others who were shed off the back.

It was a cracking night.  Very hard, and clearly my fitness needs a lot of work after a slack winter.  But I definitely enjoyed it and learnt a few things and that was what I was aiming to do.  I think that racing is probably the best training, so hopefully it’ll help to be racing once a week if I keep getting entries and it would help to eat before the event.  It’s not like a TT where you’ll be home for dinner by 8pm so I was pretty hungry by the end.  I did feel like I was spinning out on an 88 inch gear (49×15) at 120rpm, so will probably go a bit higher next week, as most are on 92.5 inch (48×14) gears.  I’ll probably try a 90.5 (47×14) first.  By way of comparison, the hire bikes are an 84 inch gear (50×16).