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…

 

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Duty of Care

When your children leave you, at whatever age that might be, you hope that someone will look out for them.  As a mother of two eight year old daughters, that day is (hopefully) unimaginably far away. However, you can never know what their future may hold. It’s with that in mind that I have been keeping an eye on recent events.

How do you deal with the moment when your talented cyclist daughter tells you that they’ve been released from the British Cycling setup four months before the next Olympic Games? Moreover, she tells you that a senior manager told her to ‘go and have a baby’ after previously telling them that they had ‘a fat arse’? It subsequently becomes apparent that other people claim to have been on the receiving end of the sort of comments that would lead to instant dismissal in most modern workplaces.

Imagine receiving the news that one of your twin boys, one of a pair of brilliantly gifted young cyclists has failed a doping control test? Then it emerges that the team doctor failed to submit the required TUE form. Your son’s team has accepted full responsibility for the test failure but you know that cycling has a massive image problem that it is trying to shake off. Moreover, you believe and hope that your sons are making the right informed choices about their lives.

You go with your teenage daughters to a football game. They don’t want to sit with you because they want to do their own thing. You let them go because…what choice do you have?  You’d rather that they sat with you in the stands, or with their dad on the terraces, but you can’t force them. They don’t get to go home that day.

In all of these cases, the people involved were not protected by the bodies and authorities designed to do exactly that.

Jess Varnish’s position in the GB cycling team became vulnerable when the women’s team sprint team failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. In a setup where medal winning potential is the most important criteria and with Becky James making an excellent comeback from illness and injury, Varnish was always going to be fighting her team-mates to win a place in the individual sprint and keirin events. However, why spend a considerable amount of time and funding on someone only to kick them out with a couple of months to go? The politik course of action would have been to keep Varnish in the team and take her to Rio see if Shane Sutton would be proved right, or if she could prove him wrong. As for the comments that he (allegedly) made, professional sport is a relentlessly tough environment, but there can surely be no place for that culture.

Sutton is undoubtedly a brilliant coach with a proven track record and British Cycling would not have achieved its phenomenal successes without him, but he’s not exactly Gene Hunt. Hopefully the outcome of this debacle will be a better, more balanced structure in British Cycling that values female cyclists as equals to the men and provides them with access to appropriate role models.

When the news broke late last night on social media that an unnamed British cyclist had failed a drugs test, there was a small amount of hysteria and despair. Not Geraint Thomas. Not Pete Kennaugh. Not Hugh Carthy. A few minutes later, it was reported that Simon Yates was the unnamed cyclist. It felt unbelievable…and yet…with the history of the sport, who could really know? It appears that Yates has a well-documented history of suffering from asthma.  There are calls for transparency around prescription medication in professional sport but does the public really have a right to know when a rider is receiving treatment for an STI, or is taking a course of antidepressants, for example? In this case the system worked in one sense because the test found a suspicious substance. However, if it is merely a paperwork error and Yates was taking medication prescribed by the team doctor, his reputation has been tarnished for something that was not his fault. One could argue that he could have checked the status of the medication himself, but if it’s prescribed by a medical professional, how much are you going to question them?

Hillsborough. 27 years to clear the names of the 96 people that died and the countless others whose lives have been adversely affected. Sarah and Vicky Hicks were let down by every single body that was supposed to protect them. Moreover, the continual lies, smears and cover-ups that took place did not allow them to rest in peace.

As a parent, all you can do is let them go. You can’t protect them from discrimination. You can’t tell them to double-check every single medication they’re prescribed. You can’t tell them where to stand. All we can do is hope that those who have a duty of care will protect them as we have done.  When the systems fail them, we have a duty to challenge the status quo. Only then will meaningful, positive change be achieved.

World Track Championships 2016

The World Track Championships happened last weekend, six miles (ish, as the crow flies) from my house and I went to one session. One. What an idiot I am.

When the tickets went on sale I looked at the dates and times of the sessions, looked at when my husband was working (we have children, I’m not needy enough to require his presence at all times) and (grumpily) concluded that I couldn’t go to any of it. It was fine. I could watch it on the telly. It didn’t matter.

However, once the WTC started I knew I had to go along to *something*. Of course, most sessions had already sold out but I managed to bag a single ticket, right at the back in the corner of the Lee Valley Velodrome and went along. I attempted to (non-threateningly) stalk The Cycling Podcast but I think they were hiding. Perhaps they spotted my binoculars. I’m like the woman that Frasier Crane thinks is stalking him but actually turns out to be a little eccentric but essentially harmless.

I’ve been to a lot of Revolution sessions in London and I went to the Velodrome to watch the Paralympics in 2012 but nothing had quite prepared me for how different a World Championships would be. [Side note: I fail to understand why the LVP hasn’t hosted the World Para-Cycling Championships yet. It’s the perfect venue, the racing would be incredible and it would be the perfect access point for school kids to go and watch some cracking competition.] The session I attended featured the women’s team pursuit and Mark Cavendish in the Omnium.

Laura Trott is box office. She’s the Kylie Minogue of cycling – tiny, brilliant at what she does and everyone adores her. Jo Rowsell Shand is quietly authoritative and seems extremely calm. I’d be amazed if she didn’t become a TV presenter/pundit once she retires from cycling.  I hadn’t seen the team pursuit ‘live’ before but it’s such a beautiful discipline to observe when it’s done right (no, I wasn’t there on the Thursday).

I hadn’t seen Mark Cavendish in the flesh before but he reminded me of a boxer. He’s got the same swagger as my boxing trainer (clarification: I don’t fight, I just train like a boxer). Its the inner fire that makes them brilliant. The paramedics at the track looked bored for most of the session (no accidents for them to attend to, luckily) but a couple of them leapt to their feet when Cav took to the track and roared him on with the rest of the crowd. If Cav ever thinks that the British cycling public don’t love or understand him, he only has to think back to this weekend and remember the collective power, energy and noise provided by thousands of people willing him to do well.

I managed to watch the rest of the TWC on TV. I worked out that I could have gone to more sessions and would have seen John Dibben win the points race (jumping up and down in front of the TV in my pyjamas was really not the same) on Friday, and Jason Kenny win the sprint the following evening (hiding behind a cushion muttering ‘He won’t win this. He won’t…OH YES HE HAS!’). As for Sunday (which, for complicated reasons that are not worth explaining, I was finally able to catch up with on Monday evening) when Kylie…sorry, Laura won the Omnium and Wiggins and Cavendish won the Madison… I’m fine about it though. FINE. It’s not like the WTC won’t happen in the UK (or, specifically, six miles from my house) in the next 10-20 years or more. Did I mention I was fine? Good.

The WTC forcibly reminded me how much I love track cycling. I love it for the same reasons that I love buying clothes from Oasis, hot chocolate from Starbucks and go on holiday to Center Parcs. It’s safe, aesthetically pleasing, controlled, familiar, reliable, clean and never lets me down. Am I a boring person governed by routine and predictability?  Oh yes. Proud of it, too. At least the racing isn’t adversely affected by the weather – see today’s Paris-Nice stage for evidence of that. I have promised the girls that we will take them to Revolution and the London 6-Day later in the year.

Of course I’m watching Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice now, but there’s a little piece of my cycling-loving heart that belongs to the velodrome in Stratford.