Words by Amy Sedghi
Photos by www.samholdenagency.com
It doesn’t have the changing scenery of a long ride in the Surrey Hills or the winding roads of the Yorkshire Dales. There are no climbs to tick off your list and you’re not really even getting any further away than where you started. But, don’t let any of that put you off, riding round in circles at a velodrome can be highly addictive, challenging and some of the best fun on two wheels.
So what is the appeal? Personally, a few reasons come to mind: focusing on the wheel or group of riders in front is very meditative - after a session, I feel my mind has cleared of any worries or anxieties I brought with me to the track. The speed and opportunities to race are exhilarating. It’s a pure cycling community with no other vehicles to worry about and there is both a simplicity and a complexity to it, meaning there is a variety of directions you can go with it (metaphorically that is, you’ll always be going anti-clockwise on the track). And, of course, it’s great for building up fitness.
Speaking to some of the women training at Herne Hill Velodrome, where I myself attend sessions, it’s fascinating to hear the reasons that draw each of them to spend hours going round in circles.
It was whilst watching a mixed fixed criterium last year, that Hanna Wheatley, 24, already a keen cyclist, was inspired to give the track a go. “There were only four women in it and one fell, got back up and kept riding with a bloody knee and I was hooked. I thought they were the strongest women I’d ever seen."
The progression Hanna’s seen in her riding is a key motivator for the hours she spends doing laps. “Other cycling friends can't believe I ride round in a circle for six hours a week, but I've learnt more about cycling and developed more as a rider on that 450m track than on any road."
For Jennifer Allum, 33, who medalled at the British National Derny Championships this year, there is a mindfulness that comes with her racing and training on the track: “The focus is simple: stay on the bumper - as close as possible without hitting it. I just need to concentrate and suffer."
Charlotte Cole-Hossain, 18, was hooked straightaway when introduced to track cycling at the age of eight by her father - himself a competitive cyclist in his younger years. “At the highest level, it requires immense speed and fitness, along with well-refined track craft," explains Charlotte. “On the other hand track cycling, in my opinion, is incredibly accessible to newbies."
She competed in her first race aged nine and won her first national track championship at 17. “One of the best parts of riding around the track is that each time you go you'll be just that little bit stronger, fitter, and faster, allowing you to enjoy each subsequent ride even more than the last."
Tabitha Conroy, 28, recalls feeling terrified the first time she rode at the velodrome. The height, speed and skills are now some of the very things she finds addictive. Her love of the track is so strong that since moving to Abuja, Nigeria for work, Tabitha and her partner have embarked on a project to get the local velodrome up and running. “There is never a dull moment in track cycling."
A regular for the past 15 years, Marian Tomlinson, 63, has seen the transformation over that time, not only of the track but the number of women participating. As well as taking part in the group exercises, Marian often breaks away to do solo laps at her own pace around the top of the track. Fitness is the main aim for her, having transferred from running to cycling to ease the strain on her knees.
“I really enjoy riding around. It’s very relaxing for the mind as you have to concentrate on what is happening around you on the track so no time to think about work. It’s amazing how quickly the two hours go by."
Charlotte sums it up best. “Track riding is often unfairly dismissed and branded as boring and repetitive, which any keen track cyclist would be quick to dispute. The feeling of riding a velodrome is unlike anything else you'll experience."
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