Newport Velodrome: On Test
Katty Skardon takes a spin on Wales’ official National Velodrome. But is it a case of thrill or spill? We find out more…
The trio of Laura Kenny, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell were the epitome of velodrome prowess when they wowed the world with their gold-medal-winning women’s team pursuit at the London Olympics, thrashing it around the deafening velodrome at an average speed of 34.5mph. Mind-boggling speeds, insane angles and awesome adrenaline.
If you fancy a slice of that action, there are velodromes around the country that run beginners’ courses, skills coaching and training sessions so you can get your Kenny on.
Of the UK’s 28 cycling tracks, six velodromes are indoors: Calshot, Derby, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newport in Wales, where Katty Skardon took on a taster session. Here’s how she got on…
We arrived early and went to look at the track. At a stonking 42-degrees, I was already terrified by the steepness of those banks!
Once we were kitted up and had been introduced to our coach, we walked our way over to the railings on the inner part of the velodrome and received our first instructions.
The plan was to get on our bikes, clip in and then push off from the railings and do two slow laps on the area inside the track - called the apron - to get used to the bikes.
Velodrome jargon busted
For anyone new to velodrome riding, you’ll notice a number of different coloured stripes around the track.
Starting from the wide stripe closest to the middle of the velodrome, the apron is the flat area between the infield and the track. This is where you will start to ride before progressing onto the boards.
The cote d'azur is the start of the velodrome proper and is signalled by light-blue painted boards.
The black line is 20cm above the cote d'azur. Riders will try to stay glued to the black as they seek to find the shortest and therefore fastest way to cover the distance.
The red line - also known as the sprinter's line - is 70cm above the black line and exists for competition. In a sprint, if the lead rider is in the sprinters' channel (between the black and red), the challenger must come around them and can only cross their path to get in front and become the leader themselves once the overtake is complete. As the overtake is being made, the lead rider cannot come out of the sprinters' channel.
The blue line - also known as the stayer's line - is for use in Madison races. The resting riders will circulate above the blue until they are handslung back into action.
I’ve never ridden a fixed gear before and was reminded that you can’t just stop pedalling when I was nearly bucked over the handlebars trying to adjust my position in the saddle! The big learning is that these bikes don’t have brakes. To stop, you slow your pedalling pace. It’s simple once you get your head around it, but it takes time to retrain your brain and get used to it.
With two laps done, I slowed my pedalling as I came into land where we’d started and grabbed the railing to stop myself. As my hand skimmed along the metal rail to bring the bike to a standstill, it became eminently clear why you DEFINITELY need gloves.
The blue line
We then took on a number of exercises to test our bike handling skills, which was loads of fun - negotiating cones, speeding up on the straights and then slowing down for the corners. With this nailed, the coach was ready to let us hit the track proper.
Starting off on the Cote d’azur, we completed a few laps. So far, so good. Then came the fun bit as we moved up the track towards the steep edge. First came the black line, 20cm above the Cote d’dzur and the shortest part of the track.
We did a few more exercises, checking over our shoulders when moving lanes and returning to the black line on the banked corners. We then moved 70cm up to the red line. I could really feel the gradient now and gripped the handlebars so tightly that the coach kept shouting for me to relax.
Now it was time for the blue line. Things were starting to get seriously high, with my momentum and nerves building as I was flying round the corners. Just as I was starting to get into the rhythm of the track, the coach then moved me to the high boards. This was a totally new level of pace and fear, but bloody awesome!
In the pack
After much-needed energy bars, we started our next challenge - The chaingang. We started off in a queue formation one after the other and wheel to wheel, building up speed, moving up the track, then settling between the red and blue line at a steady 18mph.
Each time the coach blew his whistle the leading rider would drop down to the black line, then sprint round to catch up with the back of the group. The concentration as you travel in a pack was really intense and I was worried that if I blinked I’d miss something crucial and mess up the formation. We managed to hold it together and started to feel fairly professional after a few laps.
Now for the final challenge of the session: the time-trial – two laps of the track from a standing start. The coach led me over to the track, then held on to the back of the bike, lifting up the saddle and moving the wheel to get my legs in position.
Embarrassingly I freaked out at this point, convinced I was going to fall. He asked if I was ready, I squeaked ‘no’.
Then, on the third time of asking – and despite me still saying no – he said, ‘you’re going anyway,’ and pushed me forward. Despite my fears I didn’t keel over, I headed for the black line and thrashed my legs as fast as I could. Legs pumping and lungs heaving I crossed the finish line with a time of 54 seconds for the 2 laps, I did the second lap in 25 seconds, not quite Becky James’s Olympic Record of 10.721 seconds but not bad for a first attempt!
My first experience of track cycling on an indoor velodrome was awesome. I really pushed myself, got to try a totally different form of riding and didn’t fall off! It’s definitely one for the bucket list and I would recommend that everyone give it a go.
Fun rating: 10/10
Duration: 2 hours
At Newport you can only book slots over the phone up to three months in advance and you have to take what’s available. Be warned: it gets booked up fast.
You need to bring all your own cycling kit, including gloves.
You can only use track bikes and these are available to hire for £10.30 a session.