Verifying the Velodrome
At face value, watching Track Cycling is - in the same way that folk say football is a game of grown men chasing a ball - a sport where grown men and women ride around in circles for a bit. That is of course a brutal assessment. For many decamping in the East end of London on Friday, attending the Track World Cup event at the Olympic Velodrome was their first taste of Track Cycling. And while they may have entered as cynics, very few would have left unconverted to the sheer fever of the sport.
Track Cycling has tremendous support in Britain today. Chris Boardman, and his magical Lotus bike perhaps ignited the modern love affair with the sport in Barcelona ’92. Fast forward twenty years, and stars of the sport such as Chris Hoy (who through his exploits in Beijing became a Knight of the Realm no less) and Victoria Pendleton are household names. Curiously, cycling en masse is tapping away at the second tier of popular sports in the country; Track aside, Mark Cavendish’s wins over the last eighteen months has moved Road Cycling into new heights of popularity. In having a summer Olympics in your own backyard there is a very timely fillip to boost interest and engender even more goodwill with an eager nation of sports fans.
Attending the finals night on the Friday, I witnessed several fantastic races involving Britons, with World Records being smashed and Golds being won. The UCI-endorsed World Cup series plays a significant part of the Track Cycling calendar, but like most people attending I was here as much to see and be part of the magnificent Velodrome. It is undoubtedly the most striking venue of all on the London 2012 Olympic Park.
Nicknamed the ‘Pringle’ (owing to the roof’s shape being similar to the popular, sometimes moreish snack), it is a dazzling array of Siberian pine and lights. It is a wonderfully intimate and accessible cathedral of sport. And here’s the best bit: there is not one bad seat in the house. For those fortunate to have higher category seats for the Olympics or Paralympics, you are going to be able to touch the riders (almost); for those sat in the proverbial heavens, you’ll have a fantastic view of the action and enjoy the incredible acoustics.
Pendleton was quoted on Friday after her win as saying “It is unbelievable, the crowd just roared… I was shaking on my bike”, and that is not flattering talk. As her and Jess Varnish powered through the straights, the crowd noise was eminent in its strength and support. Even with Hoy, Kenny and Edgar racing for a Bronze, the noise and the passion did not let up. And in true Olympic spirit, when it was announced Ugandan rider Patrick Lawino was based in London ahead of his race, the crowd took him in as one of their own. It was a fantastic moment, which spoke much about the support of true British Olympic fans ahead of the Games.
British Cycling is in rude health, and you can see why tickets for the event are amongst the very hardest to get hold of for the Olympics. Dave Brailsford and his team have created legacy and longevity within the group. Matt Crampton rode very well in the 1km TT and Laura Trott looks certain to assume Pendleton’s mantle of media darling (either that, or I’m a sucker for a cockney accent and big eyes). There’s much to admire about the group and their future, and the sport deserves a much greater share of coverage in the broader media. The BBC have been covering the evenings here, and maybe Track could be an heir apparent to the hole left by F1.
One hopes as many Team GB fans as possible get hold of tickets for London 2012 - as one user mentioned on Twitter last night, there is a fear that the partisan numbers could be lost as sponsor and IOC delegate numbers in attendance swell. It’s bitter-sweet for the organisers knowing that the Velodrome could be twice the size (it’s currently 6000) and still be a complete sell-out. This much is certain: anyone with tickets now should consider themselves extremely lucky, following the reception to the test event. It was heartening too to note the enthusiasm and professionalism of all the support staff and security manning both the venue and transport around the Olympic Park. Uses too of Social Media at the event itself was a very good touch and an interesting precursor to coverage ahead of Games time.
I Tweeted at the end of the night that as far as hype goes, people should believe it when it comes to the Velodrome. The venue is a staggering achievement and a testimony to the brilliant sport it is now home to. The road to London 2012 is increasingly homeward-bound and straight. And on tonight’s evidence the British public - the real fans and supporters - are ready for it.
Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish set a new world best of 32.754 seconds as they beat Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares of Australia in the team sprint.
Shot on an iPhone 4 at the Olympic Velodrome, London. Friday, 17 February 2012.
Read more about me and London 2012.