*Photo by Sam Bagnall*
Upon entering the centre of Manchester Velodrome, I was instantly overwhelmed at the size of this venue. A true pantheon of greats, the track marks the home training ground for Team GB, arguably the most accomplished and driven track cycling team in the world. Two hours of a very different type of bicycle adventure lay ahead for me, having travelled with a group of friends to play in the gladiatorial playground of riders such as Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and many more.
The Siberian pine admittedly took some getting used to, as we gingerly rode our way around for the first time. I found myself cursed with a bad road riding habit of leaning off each corner, scuppering my chances of maintaining a fast and direct line.
The bank centre towered out at a gut wrenching 42º, its vertical loftiness seemingly there to taunt those below who dares not ascend such heights. An hour into the session and the seven novice trackies were holding a well drilled pace-line, albeit lacking some of the pace of the devastatingly quick Wiggins-Manning-Thomas-Clancy train.
Each cyclist had their own private eureka moment, and with this the track confidence came; climbing higher, attacking faster and holding a steadier line as each lap came and went, told with the direct correlation of faster times and more increasingly bedraggled looking faces.
Up next came the individual pursuit, with each rider battling to catch their opponent starting from the opposite straight of the velodrome. I waited nervously, my stomach already feeling peaky, my body used to long, slow efforts, not these maximal output intervals seen on the track.
I slowly rolled to the starting line where the coach instructed me to take the fastest line and keep pushing when I heard the bell, signifying the end of the first gruesome lap. The sounding alarm rang, and off I shot. I attacked and pushed harder than my legs had pushed before, jumping out of the saddle to exert every ounce of energy into a fast first corner, my tyre religiously adhering to the black line.
My mind went black. I envisaged the ladies of the track I so admired, riding away with a façade of casualness, as they powered their way around this arena at lightspeed. I grit my teeth and press on, the faster I finish the faster the pain will subside. I ride aggressively, “perhaps a little too much effort this early on” I think to myself as the track guides me around.
I approach and fly onto the home straight, I can hear teammates cheering me on. The last lap bell rings and seems to imply the death knell for my legs. The effort becomes toilsome, and I plead with myself to maintain the effort I had pushed on that first lap, to keep the screws on. I accelerate through the corner, my arms becoming tired from straining the handlebars. Once again I am out of the saddle sprinting with every fibre of my quads, heading into the last corner at maximum velocity. Almost there, one last effort out of the saddle as I sprint about 120% of my perceived maximum effort. Finally the line is crossed, as I pant and ease off around the track…
I had won the pursuit race, I had battled with mind and body to maintain the power output and now I shakily roll around, my body screaming at me for such foolhardiness. Barely able to muster a smile, my accomplishment hurts like hell. I stop, unclip precariously and double over feeling nauseous. The lactic in my legs hit my stomach. Yet a smile spreads across my weary puffed up face… I had never truly ridden ‘full gas’ before tonight.