I’ve ridden lots of different bikes, in lots of different places. But this is the first time I’ve ridden fixed gear. With no brakes. On a wooden track that slopes to over 40 degrees in the banking.
But this isn’t just any wooden track - this is the Olympic Velodrome. It’s immediately familiar. I’ve spent hours watching Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton, Trott and many more speed round. Only a few days before my ride, the world championships were filling the place to the rafters.
It’s a different feel today. No crowd and instead of sitting in the gods cheering I’m stood in the middle of the track. Watching the big screen, waiting for my turn to record a flying lap time.
We’ve already had an hour or so of coaching. Learning how to move across the blue boards of the ‘Côte d'Azur’ and speed round the track. Taking just enough speed to hold an improbably high line near the top of the vertiginous banking. I adjust my seat again. In my mind channelling the great Eddy Merckx, though in reality it’s just nerves.
Then I’m off. Slowly at first. Building up speed so I can take the bend as high as possible and then swoop down to the start line. Legs pumping, gripping too tight to the bars.
Down over the line and into the first bend. I’m trying to hold the black line and ride the shortest distance. In my excitement and enthusiasm I’m way above the line. Up near the red, riding too far as I catapult into the back straight. Then round the final bend and I’m already facing the finish line, one last effort and I’m done. I’m breathing so hard that I’m not able to look up and see my time. I slow down and drift back into the middle of the track, as the next rider starts their charge.
My time is pretty terrible, but that’s ok. I’ve ridden the Olympic velodrome and I’ve got a few pointers about where I went wrong. I’ll be back to take some laps soon.
Nearly 15 years ago I got my first ‘digital agency’ job in an old warehouse conversion just off Upper Street. The commercial web was still pretty new (we also did interactive CD ROMs, remember them) and Angel wasn’t quite the urban trend fest it is now. There wasn’t too much to do over lunch so a few days a week a couple of us would head to Vegas and play time-crisis or CrazyTaxi. The industry, games and Angel have changed almost beyond all recognition in that time. Today I went for a stroll round some of those old places and amazingly Vegas is still there.
I haven’t climbed a tree in years, probably not since I was about 14, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be much choice. The crowd is 10, maybe 15 deep on Constitution Hill. The police are stopping anyone getting closer to the finish to avoid overcrowding so I’m stood by the flamme rouge assessing my options. From the PA system I know the riders are leaving Richmond Park, they’ll be here in a little more than 10 minutes. There’s nothing for it, if I want to see anything I’ll need to climb the tree.
I ask the woman in the Italian cycling top if she can step out of the way so I push up off the lampost. I grab one of the low branches and then I’m scrambling up, pushing a grasping until I’m sat high up in one the trees that stands on the run in to the finish.
The PA announces that Wiggins is on the front trying to pull back the breakaway - a huge cheer goes up and the tree shakes a little, but my arms are wrapped around the trunk, and I have a perfect view onto the road waiting for the riders to swing round the bend and on to the finish.
As the riders fly round the corner, an almighty roar leaps up from the crowd - it’s not the British on the front as most of the spectators would want, but the atmosphere is electric. Even from my tree I can see the steely confidence in Vinokurov’s eyes, there’s no way he’s going to let Uran win this one.
Sunday afternoon. Under the silent gaze of the Thames Barrier and the few remaining sites that make it possible to avoid describing Greenwich Peninsula as post industrial, dinghy racers make their maneuvers. Greenwich Yacht Club is a hidden gem, tucked away near what is corporately known as the O2. It’s a friendly, welcoming place, with a cracking bar and amazing views, especially on bright autumn days.
It’s also another example of how London and especially SE London is hard to categorise. The mainstream media routinely fail to understand or connect with this part of London. In a couple of years the Olympics will be taking place just over the river from the yacht club. The rowing and sailing events will be taking place a long way from the east of London (at Windsor and the Solent). It probably wouldn’t be possible to hold all of the Olympic events on this stretch of the Thames - but I’m sure some of the events could take place within the M25.