A triathlete's guide to track cycling
If you want to take your cycling to the next level, the velodrome is a great place to start. And with six indoor tracks now open to the public in the UK, there may be one closer than you think...
If you’re serious about taking your cycling to the next level this winter, at the top of your list of priorities should be becoming a regular rider at your nearest velodrome (go to page 3 for details of the six indoor tracks open to the public in the UK)
The high-cadence fixed-gear riding is the perfect way to ingrain a smooth and efficient pedal stroke; you just can’t get away with pedal-mashing on the track and, not only will your bike leg improve from refining your pedal stroke, your run off the bike will benefit from
the savings on your legs too. The mixture of efforts, from all-out half laps and sprints to sixty-lap-plus mock races, that you’ll experience during a typical SQT (Structured Quality Training) session, will tax and develop every aspect of
your cycling fitness.
If you're targeting age-group drafting races next year, it's important to learn how to ride amongst others. Image: jpephotography.com
With the announcement that in 2016 the ITU Sprint Age Group World Championships will be draft legal, being comfortable and proficient racing in a pack is going to become a necessity for more triathletes. And riding on the track is probably the best way to develop the confidence to closely follow a wheel and to learn the key observational and positional skills essential for safe, bunch riding.
For maintaining your sanity and a little top-end zip through the winter, the track is a hands-down winner compared to the soul sapping drudgery of hours spent on the turbo. There’s a real social element to the riding too, allowing you to meet and learn from impressively accomplished riders.
“The track has been the foundation of British cycling’s world domination and it’s no coincidence that arguably Britain’s most successful cyclist, Sir Bradley Wiggins, came from a track background,” says Jeff Winstanley, resident track coach at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester. “It gives you the fitness, technique and skills that will seamlessly transfer to any type of competitive riding. For triathletes, especially if you come from a non-cycling background, there’s no better way to learn the skills that’ll make you a safer and more successful competitor on the road.”
As a triathlete, learning to ride on the track can equal more skill and success on the road. Image: Jon Sparks
Getting on track
All indoor tracks offer public taster sessions where you can usually hire a bike and, with instruction from a coach, take your first few laps around the track. To progress you then have to work through an accreditation system. The exact accreditation process will differ slightly from venue to venue but the end result of making you a safe and competent rider will be the same. Once you’ve passed, you’ll be able to take part in SQT (Structured Quality Training) sessions.
Gaining accreditation takes time but is a thorough and exacting for a reason – you have to be safe on the track. You’ll be sharing the track with up to 40 riders in an SQT and they and the coach have to be confident that you know what you’re doing. Also, in the event of an accident, the track may be held responsible for your actions if it’s shown that you weren’t sufficiently trained.
Be patient and, even though working through the accreditation process might not deliver the high octane and high-intensity workouts you want, you’ll be learning invaluable bike handling, bunch riding and observational skills.
Expect to take at least a couple of months of regular sessions to become accredited. You’ll find you’ll progress much faster if you listen to the coach and take on board all of their feedback. Leave your ego at the door. Just because you can ride a lightening bike split doesn’t make you a great track rider. You’ll also find it beneficial to work through your accreditation with a group of friends, guaranteeing riders on the track of a similar skill level and making it easier to demonstrate the required skills to the coach.
Finally, look to see if there are any local cycling clubs affiliated to the track. They’ll often book club sessions where you can work closely with a coach and get valuable tips from experienced riders.
Go to the next page to learn some top track tips and find out what gear you'll need to get you started!