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:

lqdyivhhureci

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.

😱😱😱

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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

No more heroes

I have a policy of not having individual sporting heroes. Not these days. Certainly not current sportspeople. Frankly, I’m too old and cynical to indulge in hero worship of anyone.

When I first got into cycling, we were watching the highlights of a race one evening (I forget which one) and my husband piped up from his end of the sofa ‘There’s no-one in cycling for you to fancy really, is there?’ I thought about it for a bit and concluded that it wasn’t relevant and didn’t matter. There may have been a bit of ‘How very dare you!’ for good measure.

Of course, there are some members of the peloton that are generally considered to be quite fanciable: Adam Hansen (clever, hard as nails, 13 consecutive grand tour finishes and counting) and Tom Boonen (reformed bad boy, dad of twins, Classics specialist) immediately spring to mind.

Others stand out for different reasons. Marcel Kittel has magnificent hair (see also Owain Doull.) Esteban Chaves is adorable and I’d like to adopt him. Taylor Phinney (also has good hair) is too cool for school but you’d be glad if one of your children bought him and/or Alex Dowsett home. Peter Sagan is an absolute gift to cycling and probably one of the few characters along with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott to transcend the sport.

As I’ve got older I find that I value solidity over flashiness. I’m convinced that once you have children you’re more impressed by someone that can get shit done rather than one that spends more time getting ready to go out than you do. I’m referring to Tony Martin, along with the Sky quartet of Wout Poels, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. So impressed was I by the latter’s contribution to the success of Sky that last year I did a presentation for the Group Dynamics and Leadership module of my Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology course in which I argued that he was the prototypical team member and was therefore the future of the team, along with Richie Porte…

…who now rides for BMC. Awkward. Anyway.

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour finished in London. My sister and I decided to watch the Tour at the Olympic Park in Stratford. My sister wrote Va Va Froome in chalk on the pavement and we spectacularly failed to nab any of the freebies that were flung in our general direction by the Caravan. By the time we realised that the arrival of the peloton was imminent I was slightly hysterical, to the amusement of my husband who had come to join us. It was the first time had been to watch the Tour – deliberately at least. It came right past our flat in 2007 but I was pregnant, sick and grumpy and didn’t really understand cycling back then.

The noise increased. The motorbikes came by and then the peloton was rushing towards us. I held up my phone to take photos. In my hysteria I screamed. In fact, I threw my head back and screamed at ear-splitting volume:

COME ON RICHIE!

To this day I cannot explain why I did it. It’s become a meme in our house. Every time there’s a bike race on and Richie Porte is participating I wait for my husband to screech COME ON RICHIE in a shrill approximation of my voice. It’s become A Thing. It is absolutely hilarious apparently. I find it significantly less funny.

However, I have no cycling heroes apart from the ones mentioned in this post. Maybe a few others. I’m sure there are plenty of people I’ve forgotten to mention. At some stage I need to do a whole separate post on the female cyclists that I find inspiring. This is definitely a ‘to be continued’.