Go fast, turn left. Novice to Stage 2 in one month.

When the three subsidised Velociposse track mornings at LVVP were announced before Christmas, Yewande asked me if I was going to do it. I said ‘yeah, definitely, it’ll be cool to try track’. She said it would be good to get cheap track time in-between accreditation sessions for practice. I was like, yeah whatever, track is so prohibitively expensive, I’ll just wait till I can afford it i.e. probably never. My previous track experience had been several women’s sessions at Herne Hill, where the hire bike’s saddle had been so unsuited to my anatomy that by the end I was struggling beyond words and any enjoyment of riding round had been overshadowed by sharp, insistent pain that I probably don’t need to describe to you, dear reader.

Cue the first LVVP track morning, on my way there at a ridiculously early hour I get a puncture at the other side of the olympic park. I’d left my saddle bag at home. What should have been a two-minute cruise up through the park turned into a 20-minute walk of shame, in my cleats, to arrive with only a few minutes spare to grab a hire bike, adjust the saddle and assess my cleat damage for rideability. They were serviceable, but prematurely mashed. I was not in a great mood.

We’d been split into two groups based on track experience: those who’d been on the track before were in the first group, and the rest of us were up second, which was convenient as I was still faffing around after my debacle. After 15 mins watching some warm up drills from the girls on the track, it was our time to get on the boards for the first time. We lined up at the barrier, Matt talked us through how the bikes work (whatever you do don’t stop pedalling) and what the deal was with the lines. A couple of laps on the flat bit and then the cote and it was time to pick up the speed and ride on the black. I was quite far back in the line and the pace wasn’t changing. As we passed the start line Matt was signalling for us to go faster and get higher on the track. No one was going any faster in front of me so with a quick glance over my shoulder I started overtaking.

As I was on the red line going round someone I felt my back wheel slip a bit on the banking so I put in some extra speed. I was up on the blue line pretty soon after that, and it wasn’t long before I was taking things up to the barrier, getting as much height as I could before swooping down and picking up speed into the straight. Bloody hell this is great! My foul mood lifted; the bike fitted, I wasn’t in pain and I had fresh legs. It felt like I was flying round the track.

We had three 20-minute blocks to try out different stuff and on one of them we had to ride in pairs on the blue. I’d done this at Herne Hill before with Sophie so we paired up together again and lined up. Before long we were just smashing it round the outside of the track together, practicing staying parallel even when the outside rider had to push harder to stay in line. I think Matt was laughing at us cos we were just lapping everyone like crazy.

I wasn’t ready for the session to be over even though I was knackered. I was having so much fun.I guess the last five years commuting and riding up hills exclusively on heavy steel bikes was worth it after all. Had to borrow an inner tube from Andrew (I still O U!) and tyre levers from Hayley, to fix my puncture so I could get to work in time. Couldn’t believe it was still only 10am. With elation and adrenaline still coursing through my veins and Yewande’s advice in mind, I booked my Stage 1 as soon as I could and got a place on a session the very next week! £40, ouch, this was exactly the reason I hadn’t done it already. I guess I’ll not be doing anything else fun for a while then. Fuck it though. Track is fucking brilliant.

I turned up so early for my Stage 1 session, the embarrassment of en-route punctures weighing on my mind. I brought my saddle bag with me this time, just in case. Fortunately I had a clean ride in so I had to loiter around track centre for half an hour before anyone else turned up for the session. I got told off for being on the bike in track centre when I was trying to figure out if my saddle was the right height. The vibe was so different from the VP session, where we were just joking around in track centre the whole time. Only two others turned up for Stage 1, both guys. One was a fitness instructor (nice guy, we chatted loads in-between track time) and one was a sullen-looking guy, clearly at home on a fixed gear, who was show-boating on the bike the whole time we weren’t going round the track. This guy clearly thought a lot of himself. I won’t pretend I didn’t get a bit of a kick from overtaking him.

Stage 1 was fairly easy, we just had to show that we could ride round on a given line, get high on the banking, and always remember to observe before moving up or down the track. The only bit I’d never done before was riding out of the saddle on the track; the instructor would blow the whistle and you’d have to get out of the saddle and ride like that ‘til he blew the whistle again. The first couple of times were short but there were a couple where we were out of the saddle for a lap and a half. I kept being told to slow down, that I didn’t have to sprint, but what’s the point of being out of the saddle on the track if you’re not gunning for it? I wanted to see what it felt like. I could definitely tell that I needed practice; I felt a bit clunky and unnatural on the fixed gear – it was hard to get the right cadence and with the banking I couldn’t sway the bike to my feet consistently. I looked round and both of the others had given up on their out-of-saddle efforts way before the whistle, so even though it was killing me I was determined to do the full effort, though I did manage to keep the pace down towards the end of that block. Before I knew it the hour-long session was over and we’d all passed Stage 1.

It was an agonising few days before they processed whatever it is that they need to do and I got the email telling me I’d been cleared to pass to Stage 2. I booked it immediately, getting a place on a session on a Saturday evening, exactly one week before the second Velociposse track morning. I got there and track centre was swarming. The session was full: 16 riders lined up and only one other woman was there. I’d had a heavy week on the bike and my legs were feeling tired but I was confident that I could do what was needed to pass the stage.

First up was pace line changes, where everyone rides single-file and on each lap the rider at the front swings up the banking, rejoining at the back. I’d also done this before at Herne Hill so it went fine, and I reckon even if I hadn’t, it’s not that hard, especially as there were so many riders that it took practically a full lap before the end of the line was in sight, plus no one was judging you on how smoothly you rejoined. One of the things we had to bear in mind was to keep within 1 metre to a bike length of the rider in front. I had ended up behind a small child who couldn’t get anywhere near the guy in front and whose pace was wildly inconsistent, but I was chilling and just made it my business to keep on his wheel. After our 15 min break I made sure not to be behind the kid again.

Next up we rode in parallel lines on the blue; each pair had to keep roughly parallel but you also had to keep a pace line either inside or outside. The pace was kinda difficult to manage: people kept really slowing down up the banking but then also not picking up speed when they were going down? I was lucky to be paired with a guy who seemed confident on the bike and we were pretty vocal — we were encouraged to talk to each other and shout ahead if the front riders weren’t doing a good job. Our last block was changes on the blue, also something you learn in the intro session at Herne Hill but requires a bit more power and confidence on a 250 metre track. I’d say that this was where most people struggled, either with bike handling or the confidence to vocalise what they & others needed to do. I’d definitely say that you probably don’t wanna risk failing stage 2 because you’ve never done this before.

Anyway, Matt took a picture of me looking suave on the bike and said nice things to boost my confidence. I can’t believe that it’s less than one month since I rode the track at LVVP for the first time, and I’m going into the experienced group tomorrow having completed two of the four stages of accreditation! I hope that this blog post will spur anyone on who has tried track for the first time this year at one of the Velociposse sessions, if you wanna take it further then definitely go for it! I’m so glad I get to try things out in a supportive environment and get advice and encouragement from everyone. I know I won’t get accredited in time to race at LVVP this season, but I’ll be up on the track next winter like 💥🔥☄

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