Long cycling post ahead – energy gels or a cafe stop are recommended!
London 2012 completely changed my outlook on sport, it made me into the tournament whore (my sisters lovely name for me!) I am today. I’d even go as far as to say (and if you ask my friends and family, I think they’ll agree) it changed my life, deep I know!
I found every sport interesting during the olympics, things that I never would have watched before, Men’s Double Trap anyone?, we’re suddenly the highlight of my day (posting 1,000 tweets in two weeks kinda proved I was keen!) I think Team GB’s unprecidented success may of had something to do with this, but not everything. It seemed like the Olympics suddenly opened my eyes to how incredible sport could be. I stopped fighting this irrational fight with myself that I shouldn’t enjoy it and I well and truly caved and this outpouring of excitement happened and truth be told, almost 4 years later, it’s still happening. I’m already working out how much time to take off for Rio, only 114 days to go people and got to beat that tweet target!
As much as I love sport generally now, cycling became ‘the one’. Before the games, I’d been vaguely interested in it, I knew that Sir Brad winning the Tour was a big deal, that Victoria Pendleton was on course for medals, that Mark Cavendish (Cav) won a lot of sprints on the road and that Sir Chris Hoy, was a Sir because he won three golds at Beijing. I knew that back in 2008 we had dominated the Laoshan Velodrome, but I didn’t know that we were about to do the same again at a home games. At the moment I’m an avid watcher and before you shout at me, I will actually get on a bike again soon – I’ve got to, it’s on the list!
For the last couple of years I’ve been able to experience road cycling up close by volunteering at Le Grand Depart in my home town and the inaugral Tour De Yorkshire but never had the same opportunity on the track. When I accepted my new job offer last summer, the first thing I did (before even looking for flats!), was sign up to volunteer at the World Track Cycling Championships. They were taking place in the Olympic Velodrome in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and I just knew that I had to be there in some way to experience them.
Initially I was put on the reserve list and was gutted when I thought I might not get in, however my sister quickly made it all better by getting me a ticket to watch the action for Christmas. Then, in February, I got the email to say that I’d been allocated a place and that I was going to be a Doping Control Chaperone. Now for a sport that is so heavily plagued by doping claims, I really felt like I was going to be doing something important, not only that but I was going to have direct contact with the athletes, excited doesn’t come close!
As it turned out, I was at the velodrome for 6 days in total and so much happened that if I was to write about it all, this post would be far too long, so I’ve tried to sum up my best bits as much as possible.
Since 2012, the Olympic Park and especially the Velopark have become one of my favorite parts of the capital. I know this sounds soppy but when I walk around it, it feels like home and that dreams really do come true. However I’d never actually managed to set foot inside the velodrome, until now, and wow is it impressive!
The whole building was decked out, bringing back the wonderful memories from 2012 and highlighting what was to come over this special championships.
After an Olympic medal, the rainbow stripes are what everyone aims for and the entire place was a wash with colour, from the athletes pens to the approach to the Velodrome, it really made you feel like you were about to watch something truly special.
I think I was a ‘tad’ excited before my training!
Often when volunteering at an event like this, you can be on any number of roles, many of which may mean you don’t actually get to see much sport, thankfully this couldn’t of been further from the truth for me, I well and truly lucked out!
My job was simple really, for every final, someone would be assigned to chaperone the winner and someone else to a rider picked at random. Once the race was finished, you had to make yourself known to the rider, and then follow and watch them until they reported to doping control.
During my four shifts, I chaperoned two riders, one who had just won a medal and one who had missed out on one. Both experiences were quite different but equally special. We would wait for instrctions, just 2 metres away from the Team GB pen, with athletes warming up all around you and when were chaperoning a rider, we could be stood in the middle of their nation’s pen, with the rest of their team just getting on with their jobs around you. One thing that struck me was just how friendly and how accomodating the teams were to us, I really thought that we would just be seen as a nusiance, but it quickly became clear that doping control is just part of the norm of racing now.
In my last shift, there were no finals and so I was given the opportunity to try a Track side role. This meant putting out some rectangular sponge pads on the bottom of the track round the bends, to stop riders cutting off parts of the track on the timed events. It doesn’t sound like much but it was amazing and I was terrified that I would either get something wrong or get hit by a passing rider, thankfully neither of which happened! Once the pads were in place, I had to stand on the track side and replace any that the riders caught as they went past. Being stood on the track as the time trail and flying lap of the women’s omnium were taking place, was just insane. To see Laura Trott and the very best female ominium riders in the world whizz past, just made me appreciate the sport even more.
The level of access that were given as volunteers was unlike anything I’d experienced before. We were made to feel like a vital part of the action and got to see and experience a whole other side to the sport.
For me, a lot of why I love sport, is down to the atheltes who are a part of it, so to witness so many British legends of cycling up close, was just increadible. Particular moments will stick with me, like how as one occasion as I left the doping control room, I almost opened the door into the face of non other but Sir Bradley Wiggins! I dread to think how that could of gone! Also being around the team warming up and cooling down, seeing the passion and emotion post race, like Cav after the Elimination race, was just such a rare opportunity and something I’ll never forget.
I know many will say that Team GB’s performance at these champs wasn’t up to scratch and that the dominance of Beijing and London are over but even so, I witnessed something truly magical during those 5 days of competition.
Not only did I have my ticket from Lillibet but I was also lucky enough to win tickets in a draw for volunteers, so got to sit and watch another 3 sessions, in addition to the 4 sessions I volunteered at, that meant a lot of cycling and a lot of champions, with not a bad seat in the house.
For me there were some real standout performances – Jon Dibben taking a lap early in the points race and then winning with such a burst of speed at the end, Jason Kenny coming back from 1 down to claim gold in the Sprint final, Becky James’ comeback from injury to secure Bronze in the Kieren being the stuff of fairytales and the world class talent of Laura Trott in the Ominium, she truly is a machine.
There was however one man who had me in tears twice during the competition, once with sadness and once with absolute joy – Mark Cavendish. An olympic medal is the one thing missing from Cav’s much decorated palmares and the Ominum in Rio is his (some say final) chance. However to secure the highly sought after spot (much coverted by Ed Clancy and Jon Dibben), he was told he needed to secure a top three place at these championships. As we came into to the final Point race, one that should favour him, he lay in 5th place and try as he might during the race, it just wasn’t to be and he ended up in 6th overall. As much as I tried to hold them in, the tears came as the thought of a spot at Rio might be slipping away, I guess we will just have to wait and see if that’s the case.
Then less than 24 hours later, everything changed. The madison is an event I’ve always struggled to follow but this time something just clicked and it was incredible, with some saying the atmosphere was even better than the Olympics. I went in to the race trying to not get my hopes up for the British pairing of Cav and Sir Brad and as the race went on they were steadily racking up the sprint points but that magical lap gain was proving a challenge. And then after about 45 minutes of racing, it all happened in a bit of a blur -they partnered with Spain, gained the lap, Cav came off his bike, got back on and they won! The crowd went insane, I was in tears, and just like that they were World Champions. No one could really believe it, to see them win together after the dissapointment in Beijing and 8 years after they last won together in Manchester, it was one of those sporting moments I’ll never forget and I was so glad I got to experience it live.
When all is said and done will Team GB’s performance be enough for Rio, who knows, only time will tell. Either way, I got to witness world class performances by some of my favourite athletes, in one of my favourite places that left me on a high long after I left the track.