Road Cycling Skills

Track Cycling Tips from Katie Archibald

We play 'What Katie Says' with the Olympic Gold medallist

Words: Maria David, with Michelle Arthurs-Brennan and Katie Archibald

Fresh from medal winning success at the Rio 2016 Olympics, gold medallist team pursuit rider Katie Archibald has shown no sign of slowing down. After a short break (during which she spent 10 days driving around Iceland with her ever changing hair of colour and a friend), Katie put on a strong contest along with her Podium Ambition-La Santa team mates at the Revolution Series in Manchester towards the end of September.

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Katie is set to appear on the boards again at the Revolution Series, Glasgow on October 8, at the Six-Day London event on October 25-30. She’s also hoping to make selection for the Glasgow World Cup and the European Track Cycling Championships in Paris.

And as if that’s not enough, Katie has been busy doing Madison training in time for when a women’s event is held in future major competitions. So track cycling is very much on the menu for Katie Archibald over the winter.

Track cycling can be quite daunting for new riders, so Katie gives her top tips on how to get by and avoid looking like Jack Whitehall in the Samsung ad…

Track Cycling Tips: Getting Started

Job one: learn to start and stop

Thinking of getting started on the track, but not quite sure where to begin? Firstly – DO IT! As TWC’s editor found out this season, taking up track cycling is an excellent idea. So – how does Katie advise you go about it?

Start, stop, keep pedalling!

Starting and stopping on a fixed gear takes a little bit of practice and you always need to keep your wits about you. To start, you just need to be decisive and apply enough pressure to get the gear up to speed. To stop, you’ll apply pressure against the pedals, gradually bringing the bike to a halt.

Katie says: “When setting off and stopping at a barrier, always look behind you before stopping, starting or changing direction.”

You can’t stop pedalling on a track bike – the freewheel will keep going and give you a nasty jolt. It’s likely you’ll only feel this once or twice, as pretty much everyone learns quickly after the first ‘oops’ moment. Katie says: “Keep pedalling. Pedal in circles rather than just pushing down. Doing high cadence drills on the rollers can help with your pedalling smoothness at high speeds. Smooth pedalling also helps when applying backward pressure to the pedals to slow down.”

Wear to put your hands?

Most coaches will tell you to keep your hands on the ‘TOPS OR THE DROPS’ – they’ll be able to advise you as to their best practice in training.

Olympic cyclists, of course, will develop their own methods. Katie says: “I rest my hands snugly in the U of the handlebars, meaning my knuckles are facing forwards not down, because it helps me relax my elbows and keep my upper body aerodynamic.”

Use the track

Yes, it looks steep – but the banking is there to help you! When you ride down it, you accelerate and can join on to a fast moving pace line more easily. And yes, you can ride up it to get out of harms way or pull off the front, too.

Katie says: “When riding on the slope use the ups and downs of the track to your advantage. The best way to attack is to use the height of the track to swoop down and give yourself some free speed to get a gap on the bunch.”

Riding in a group

The track provides a very safe and controlled environment for practicing group riding. At first, coaches will let you leave gaps as you get comfortable, but to pass accreditation (and be allowed into more advanced sessions) you’ll need to learn to be comfortable riding ‘on a wheel’.

Katie says: “When riding in a group I keep my head down and out the wind by looking at the very top of the rear wheel of the rider in front. I know Elinor [Barker] looks at the front wheel of the person in front of her and Laura [Kenny] looks at the very back of the tyre right in front of her, so it’s personal preference where to focus.”

Track Cycling Tips: Getting into Racing

Racing doesn’t need to be scary once you’re well practiced!

So – you’ve passed you accreditation, done a good number of training hours – and now want to race? Let’s go!

Of course, Katie is an endurance specialist – so we’ve looked at the Points, Scratch and Elimination Races. These are the races you’ll do most as a beginner – if you find yourself to be a quad demon, you can enroll into your local sprinters league too…

Plan to Ride Track League

Most tracks hold weekly racing called ‘track league’. There are no British Cycling points on offer, and these regular events are almost like a training/racing hybrid. Katie says: ” There’s a chance you live within an hour of an indoor velodrome that runs a track league (Glasgow, Derby, Manchester, Newport, London) so you can race pretty often and that’s way easier than training!”

Time Trials

On the road, time trials are usually 10, 25, 50 or 100 miles long. On the track you’re looking at 500 metres to show the world what you’re worth! That takes practice.

Katie says: “In a 500m time trial you want to go flat out for the whole thing. Let the gear do your pacing for you. Choose a gear that is big enough to carry you through to the end without you dying before the finish.”

Bunch Racing

There are several styles of bunch races – but regardless of the  race format, you need to be aware of who is around you! Katie says: “For bunch racing I’m looking all over the place because you need to see what’s going on several riders ahead of you as well.”

She adds: “Watching races online can also help to gain extra tips on strategy.”

Points Races and Scratch Races

Both of these are bunch races – but they’re very different. In a Points Race, riders are awarded ‘Points’ for intermediate sprints throughout the race – the rider with the most points at the end wins. It’s a bit more of an endurance game. The Scratch Race will be a given number of laps long, and the winner is the first rider over the line at the end. It’s still an endurance discipline (eg it’s not for pure sprinters) but the result comes down to one really strong effort in the final lap.

Katie says: “In a points race or a scratch race, where you position yourself depends on what’s happening. If it’s quite cagey and bunched up it is likely that there will be an attack so don’t slip to the back and give yourself the furthest to chase when things kick off.”

She adds: “If you want to attack, it’s good to go straight after another attack has been brought back (if you’ve got the legs) because the bunch will be tiring and may not be as coordinated in trying to pull you back.”

And if all attacks are futile, and it comes down to a bunch sprint? She says: “For a bunch sprint, don’t leave it too late to start coming round people because unless you’re sitting second wheel, everyone else will try the same thing and you’ll be forced out really wide and will have to go the long way round.”

The Elimination Race

Also known as ‘The Devil’ – this is a truly cruel race. Every lap, the rider at the very back of the pack is ‘eliminated’ The last rider left on the track wins.

This race is about having good endurance, and being tactically smart – not easy to do if you’re riding on the red line of your heart rate!

Katie says: “In the Elimination race (“The Devil take the hindmost”) every single second is important and you have to be paying attention for every single one of those seconds.”

She advises you splint the race into two – saying: “In the first half of the race stay near the front and avoid getting trapped on the bottom of the track without an exit: if you feel someone on your hip trying to come round you just riding slightly harder early on can help you avoid a maximal sprint later.”

She adds: “In the latter half of the race you need a good awareness of how many people are left, which is why some people like to ride from the back and target one unsuspecting rider to overtake at the last moment (“roll” someone) every sprint. This can be tiring though.”

Always Warm Up!

Track races are short. That means intense. Therefore, you’ll be making your life incredibly difficult if you get onto the boards cold – you need to warm up.

Katie says: “In terms of warming up I use a turbo trainer for big events because I can do a more pressing warm up routine, but rollers are easier to travel with. I also like to always replicate a bit of what I’ll experience in the race during my warm-up sequence.”

Thanks Katie! You (the reader – Katie probably doesn’t need our tips!) might also like…

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