Rio 2016 – Track cycling

Before the track cycling started at Rio I was worried. I should have listened to Chris Hoy, or, as I’m now calling him Guru Hoy. He was SO upbeat about the prospects of the British team prior to the Olympics and I doubted him. I will never doubt Guru Hoy ever again. He knew. The performance of the whole track cycling team was so head-tighteningly, life-affirmingly fantastic that I haven’t been able to write about it until now because I have spent most of the last couple of weeks like this:

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I started to believe when I saw Phil Hindes come out of the starting gate in the qualification round of the team sprint. This wasn’t what I had seen at the Wirld Championships earlier in the year. The GB cycling team have a tradition of keeping their innovations secret until just before the Olympics. Many of the other countries had trialled out their Olympic equipment in competitions before. Not GB. In the lead up to the Olympics details of the work of Room X (how very Turing!) at British Cycling began to emerge: new bikes, skinsuits and the recruitment of Tony Purnell, formerly of the Jaguar F1 team to oversee innovations.

Back to the team sprint. Guru Hoy had tipped Jason Kenny to get three gold medals in Rio. I doubted he could get even one medal of any colour, because I am an idiot who knows nothing about anything. Having watched the start of the team sprint competition in the Sports Bar (because I was on me ‘olidays), Mr FtW and I watched the final in bed. I can’t actually tell you very much about it because, as Mr FtW pointed out, I was more excited about it than he has been about anything in his entire life. I had to express my excitement in a silent, arm waving, tense sort of way because the Junior FtWs were asleep in their room on the other side of the lodge. I contained myself (just about.) Callum Skinner was a bit of a revelation. Many have tried and failed over the years to be the next Hoy and Kenny. Skinner looks like he might be the real deal AND he gently told off a pro-Brexit group on Twitter for using his image without permission. Good lad.

That was just the start. The men’s team sprint victory was followed by the men’s team pursuit. During the final of the TP I honestly thought I was going to stop breathing and pass out. It was SO close and excruciatingly tense. One of the things I love at the Olympics is the brain-combusting joy of first-time gold medalists. Callum Skinner experienced it on the podium during the TS medal ceremony, as did Owain Doull, who, for all of his good hair and ‘Yeah I’m off to ride for Sky’ coolness, looked like he was going to start sobbing when the national anthem started playing. Luckily Bradley Wiggins stepped in to gurn like a fool on camera and reduce the rest of the TP boys to giggling wrecks. Once you’re a Sir you can do what you like.

The women’s Team Pursuit! Oh how I love them. Four more contrasting characters you couldn’t dream up. The Jane Austen-y younger Bennett sister looks of Elinor Barker. Katie Archibald, an actual real-life version of Julia Stiles’ character from Ten Things I Hate About You. Jo Rowsell Shand, a TV presenter in waiting and the elegant, grown-up lady I will never be. Laura Trott who defies description, although she reminds me of those plucky girls from the WW2 Pathe newsreel footage: ‘Well, the Germans bombed my street so I pulled everyone out of the rubble, grabbed the family dog and cycled ten miles to get help. I’m not a hero, I just really like dogs!’

Post-event interviews are always fun. Handled by the wrong interviewer they can be mind-numbingly awful:

Interviewer: ‘You’ve won a gold medal!’

Interviewee: ‘Yeah!’ [Then spends two minutes answering the statement that has been presented to them because the interviewer is too witless to ask them a question]

Luckily Jill Douglas is pretty good at getting the post-race interview right. She even handled Katie Archibald well when she was asked about her hair after the TP final (I’m paraphrasing slightly but this was the gist of it):

JD: Will you be dyeing your hair gold after this?

KA: I dunno, I might have to ask you for tips.

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I swear you could see Katie Archibald inwardly thinking OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHY DID I SAY THAT WHY OH WHY KILL ME NOW immediately after she’d said it. I felt her pain because it’s exactly the sort of thing I would have said after winning a gold medal. In fact, it’s the sort of inappropriate thing I say on a daily basis and I’m more than old enough to know better and will never win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Then there was Becky. I’m totally #teambecky. Earlier this year I was chatting to someone (no names) who had done some media work with Becky James and apparently she is an absolute sweetie and a pleasure to work with. Being a dreadful English person, my reference points for Welshness are: 1. The Welsh rugby team 2. Gavin and Stacey. This is handy because there something very Stacey-ish about Becky and she’s going out with George North. Obviously he’s not Gavin, but… Even Dame Clare Balding got a bit overexcited when she interviewed George after Becky’s first silver medal because 💪💪

So to Jason and Laura. They just work don’t they? As sportspeople. As a couple. They complement each other perfectly. Laura’s all competitiveness, giggles and pluck and Jason is outwardly ‘Whevs’ and by his own admission a bit grumpy. She cheers him up; he keeps her grounded and they evidently look after each other. I reckon they’d be fun company at a dinner party and they love dogs. They just happen to have ten gold medals between them and are young enough to get more. The whole comparing them to reality tv couples is a bit overwrought, but they are just the kind of people that children and young people should have as role models. Brilliant enough to win gold medals but also practical enough to keep their kit in a bag for life. What more do we need from our heroes?

I was genuinely worried for Mark Cavendish when I saw him at the World Championships. He’s brilliant but I felt that the decision to focus on the Omnium was made too late; there surely wasn’t enough time for him to master the disciplines to a sufficiently high level to get a medal at the Olympics, let alone gold. Once again, I love it when I’m wrong. Gold was indeed a step too far but his silver medal was a wonderful moment. He could come back in four years….

I was genuinely sad when the track cycling finished. Dame Clare looked a bit lost standing out in the rain on her own after six nights in the company of Chris Hoy under the bright lights of the velodrome. The Olympics kind-of ended for me (triathlon aside) on the second Tuesday. I tried to get into the BMX, I really did, but it wasn’t for me. It felt too Whacky Races and random for me.

A quick note on the comments made by cyclists from other nations. Aside from the USA, very few countries bought their A-game to the velodrome. Bauge and Pervis, both great over the years, are fading forces for France. The Australian team looked dependable but not stellar (men’s team pursuit aside). There are promising signs from the teams from the Netherlands and New Zealand but the other nations looked under-par. If Sarah Hammer could have cloned herself three times and taken up all the places in the team pursuit, I feel sure that she would have done. I loved the GB whitewash in the Rio velodrome, but I hope that the other nations really bring it to them in Tokyo. The GB team funding is fuelled by Olympic achievement. World Champion jerseys are a ‘nice to have’ but they don’t fit in with the plan and they don’t  get c.35 million pounds in funding to win them.

Next: the Paralympic cycling. GB should be pretty good at that, too although I won’t be making an predictions because I’m rubbish at them. However, I fancy a couple of people to turn their London 2012 silvers and bronzes gold in Rio….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olympic cycling preview – the road races

Well, I say preview. This is more of a random collection of thoughts and vaguely relevant Gifs that I’ve chucked together. Are you sitting comfortably? The let me begin. 

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The Olympics. Massively corrupt? Yes. Run by a bunch of people that love money and power but hate sport? Oh yes. But. BUT! The sheer scale and spectacle of the thing. Lots and lots of sporty people coming together (mostly metaphorically, some literally) to showcase their life’s work. The hope! The achievement! The agony! The ecstasy! All human life, etc etc. I adore the Olympics like a constantly straying yet seriously hot boyfriend. I know he’s probably going to cheat again (and again) but when he’s with me…its just the best thing in the entire world and he even looks beautiful in those sunglasses that he always wears indoors.

What’s better than the Olympics? CYCLING AT THE OLYMPICS *breathes into a paper bag* Best of all, there’s track cycling AND road cycling. Show me a sporting event that can do both…

Road Race – Men

On Saturday the cycling begins with the men’s road race. My loyalties are a little bit divided. I should be supporting the GB team as it is full of incredibly strong riders. Geraint! Froome! Cummings! (A) Yates! Stannard! However, my heart has been a little bit stolen by the Netherlands team which looks incredibly strong. I’m a little biased because it features two of my favourite cyclists: Wout Poels and Tom Dumoulin, plus Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema.

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Behold this incredibly terrible composite, not at all photoshopped picture of the Dutch  cycling team for Rio!  

However the Olympic road race always seems to be a bit of a lottery and in the absence of Peter Sagan (going for glory in the mountain biking event) the following candidates seem to be as good a bet as any: Alejandro Valverde (sigh), Dan Martin (if only he was 94% less grumpy than he always is), Vincenzo Nibali (he cruised around this year’s Tour as he’s specifically targeting the Olympics), Wout Poels (he’s been racing and winning this year like he’s really, really trying to impress someone and has managed to impress everyone in the process), Chris Froome (not a one day rider, but never rule him out), Julian Alaphilippe/Romain Bardet (maybe), and finally Richie Porte (the dream podium: Poels, Porte, one of Froome/Cummings/Thomas in any order you like.)

Road Race – Women

Until Tuesday of this week I was willing to bet quite a large quantity of chocolate that Lizzie Armitstead would win the women’s road race. She still might but the three missed tests…she’s never been a rider that has worried my doping antennae but to miss one test is fairly common…two can happen but three missed tests without a sanction is incredibly rare. I suspect there’s more to the story than we have been told and I’m not convinced that she deliberately missed the tests to avoid providing a positive sample. She’s very much an alpha female but when the family proverbial hits the fan, Type A personalities can find it hard to deal with life (I speak from experience.) However, cycling has such a chequered history of lies and liars that for many people, anything Armitstead achieves in Rio will have an invisible asterisk next to it. Christine Ohuruogh missed three tests, served a suspension (one rule for one…) won an Olympic gold medal in the 400 metres and some people still have suspicions about her.

Again, the Netherlands team featuring Marianne Vos and Anna Van Der Breggen looks incredibly strong (I might just wear an orange top and have done with it), as does the US line-up that includes Kristin Armstrong. It depends on Armitstead’s state of mind. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t so she may as well try and win and seek to be as honest as she possibly can be about her testing hit rate (the number of tests she’s missed versus the number she’s actually had), biological passport and other factors that may enhance or impair her performance. I’m sure she wishes more than anyone that she could change the situation she’s found herself in.

Coming up next week: the time trials and *fanfare* the track cycling. Hurrah!

Mr FtW rides the track

First, some background. Four years ago I couldn’t ride a bike. Inspired by a trip to the velodrome during the 2012 Paralympics I resolved, at the age of 32, to learn. Not only that, I set myself the challenge of getting good enough at cycling to ride in a velodrome and set a time for the ‘Kilo’ event. Mr FtW said he’d come along and do it as well. The fool.

I duly learnt to ride a bike, but nearly four years on I’m simply not confident enough to go anywhere near a velodrome track. The problem is that we live in London (#firstworldproblems) and the thought of riding on the road absolutely terrifies me. That limits my bike riding to parks and there’s a limited amount of time in my life for me to get to the park and….you get the idea.

Mr FtW learnt to ride a bike as a child, as most normal non-clumsy people do. He could be very, very, very good at cycling but he doesn’t have the a. Interest, b. Time and c. Money. He uses an exercise bike at home as part of his workout routine and very occasionally cycles to work, but his road bike is ancient and was gifted to him by a friend after his (admittedly quite cheap) bike was stolen a few years ago. In short, it ain’t exactly a Pinarello.

A couple of months ago we popped into the Lee Valley Velodrome to grab a drink and snack with the FtW juniors during a trip to the Olympic Park. I said I’d buy him a taster session as part of his wedding anniversary present. He *may* have rolled his eyes at this point…it’s not like I’m living my dreams through him or pretending like he’s a pro or anything to fulfill some kind of twisted fantasy of mine *ahem*.

So, last Sunday afternoon Mr FtW lined up with 11 other nervous-looking novices and took to the track. The taster session was an hour long and introduced the participants to the concept of riding the track without falling off, with the aim of going progressively higher up the banking so that the braver people could get near the top by the end. We were sitting on the seats adjacent to the back straight and (admittedly from a distance) he certainly looked the part despite refusing to wear Lycra and not hiring cleats (you can do the taster session in trainers.)

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The group did a couple of laps of the bottom of the track (the pale blue section) first, followed by the dark blue line, then up onto the boards between the black and red lines. At this stage the more confident participants were told they could overtake. Most managed to do this successfully but one person misjudged a manoeuvre and clattered down onto the track, ripping his shorts and denting his pride.

Mr FtW’s progress was more serene. He wasn’t exactly ripping past people (he’s too naturally cautious to do that) but he didn’t ever look like he was struggling. He even managed to give us a couple of cheeky waves as he sped along. Towards the end of the session the instructor (who was brilliant) encouraged the group to ride near the top of the track. We were delighted to see Mr FtW rise higher and higher until he was riding over the advertisements. Junior FtW no. 1 pointed out excitedly that he was higher up the track than anyone else. They might have been faster but they weren’t as brave…

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Every time Mr FtW passed us his grin got bigger and bigger. He’d been nervous beforehand but it didn’t show. At the end of the session each participant got a certificate and it was only right that we got a photo of him proudly holding it with the track in the background. We felt insanely proud of how far he had come in an hour-long session. I think he should go back and do the accreditation course but he has to *want* to do that and I’m not sure he does….

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I’ve watched A LOT of cycling at the Velopark but seeing my husband, the father of my children, the sun to my moon (etc etc etc) ride the track was really special. I felt oddly emotional at one point. He did so well and I felt very proud.

Apparently if you’re thinking of doing a track session you absolutely should as its great fun. Also the bikes are ‘Really light and really cool’. Mr FtW is now trying to get me to sign up…maybe not for a while yet…