RSNG went to London’s Herne Hill Velodrome, the venue for June’s World Cycling Revival to learn how to ride track with JLT Condor pro rider Germain Burton – after a quick training session we were ready to fly around the course. The banked corners mean you don’t have to brake, and the racing lines mean you can take on other riders – it’s a liberating experience after sharing road space with London traffic. Here’s what we learned…
1. Know Your Lines The biggest differences between track cycling and the road are the fixed gearing (you have to keep pedalling) and the banked track itself, which is divided up with lines. The first, black line marks the length of the track, and is the shortest distance around the course. The red, sprinters line, is there because in a sprint, if the lead rider is between the black and red lines then challengers must come over the top of them, while the lead rider cannot move out of position. Resting riders can circulate above the blue line.
2. Make Use Of The Bankings The banked corners of velodromes are there to allow riders to hit higher speeds. ‘On the track it’s all about speed and using the bankings is part of what makes it fun,’ says pro rider Germaine Burton. ‘Always look over your shoulder to make sure no one is going to come flying over the top of you, but compared to racing on the road you can build up so much speed, and then drop down into the straight. It’s the flipside of riding on the road where it can sometimes be a real slog.’
3. Staying Up In the Banking While you’re getting used to how the bankings work you may not hit them very fast, so Burton has a tip for staying up there. ‘It can be an daunting feeling to get on a bike in a velodrome – riding around a banking is quite different from a road! So, apart from remembering to keep pedalling, tip number one would be to put a bit more pressure through your left foot when you are in the banking, if you are going slow, because it helps you to stay up.’
Riding in a group will save you 30% of your energy because of aerodynamics
4. Learn To Ride In A Line Riding in a group will save you 30% of your energy, so riders temporarily team up to take turns at the front and then rotate back down the line again. ‘There’s etiquette involved with riding in a line – often you will see riders look over their shoulder, flick their elbow and then swing off the front up the banking after half a lap,’ says Burton. ‘Being higher on the track, the rider underneath doesn’t have to slow down and then you can drop back down at the back.’
5. Be Aware Of What’s Going On Around You Because of the high speeds and race formats, where riders sometimes use hand swings to send their racing partners into the mix, you need to keep your head on a swivel. ‘A lot of track racing is just being very aware of what’s going on around you, particularly in Madison racing,’ says Burton. ‘It’s probably my favourite race on the track because it’s fun, there’s a lot going on, you have a partner and it’s a two-up effort so the speed is higher.’
‘It takes practice and you need to be confident already riding on the track, but it’s a good way to train being alert. It’s transferable to the road too, where some riders can be lax going into a sprint and looking at where other riders are, then you go and you’ve already got a gap on them.’
6. Leave It Late Once you’ve started to build up speed on the banking you won’t fear dropping down it, but you may find yourself going up it unexpectedly. ‘If you are doing a hard effort, on a steep track, then you’ll notice that the banking can slingshot you up its side when you hit it,’ warns Burton. ‘So, on your entry to the banking you’re up on the red line until the last second, and then come down into the black, and that helps you to hold the bike down.’
Look through riders shoulders or legs rather than staring at their back wheel
7. How To Avoid A Crash In order to get the 30% energy saving by riding in a group, you’re going to need to get close to the rider in front, but it only takes a moment of overlapping wheels to cause a crash. So stay alert but not by staring at the wheel right in front. ‘Look through people’s shoulders or legs rather than staring at their back wheel,’ recommends Burton. You can always go up the banking if you see someone slow suddenly. Don’t waste time trying to slow down, by resisting the pedals, just get out of the line of trouble.
8. Get Aero For Speed We’ve seen already that track racing is all about speed, and at higher paces the biggest force holding you back is the resistance of the air itself. Picture yourself as a bullet cutting through the air, rather than a big sail catching it, and get tucked in. ‘To get an aerodynamic position, keep your elbows tight and keep your head low – I was always being told to do that in Team Pursuit.’
9. Use Your Whole Body To Power Along Burton has sports science qualifications and has been working to activate his whole body when riding, something that he says even the top pros can get wrong. ‘It’s not just your legs, it’s your whole body working together. When I first started thinking about extending my back when I was riding, sometimes in a hard session I would feel more fatigue in my upper back, from being strong through it, than my legs.’
He also recommends doing some functional gym work. ‘Learn to utilise your whole body at the same time. Make it strong in rotation and anti-rotation by doing sling-like movements and try to learn step by step, learning to do them well to avoid injury. Pick movements that use your whole body so you are not lying on a bench, but on your feet to stabilise your own bodyweight.’
WHAT NEXT? Find out more about World Cycling Revival and Herne Hill Velodrome. OK, so it doesn’t always go smooth – here’s a wince-worthy compilation of track cycling race crashes…
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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The P&P World Cycling Revival comes to Herne Hill velodrome on 14-16 June 2018. Tickets are on sale now from £39 and available from www.cyclingrevival.com