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.
Top track tips
Heed the advice of the National Cycling Centre’s resident coach, Jeff Winstanley…
Listen to the coach From your first session to when you’re a seasoned trackie, if the coach is speaking you listen and do what they say. If you’re unsure of a drill, ask them to explain it again and join the back of the line so you can see how it works before it’s your turn.
Look The single most important rule on the track is to always look before you move. Whether you’re rolling away from the fence, pulling off from the front of the line or looking to jump on a wheel in a race, look over your shoulder first.
Keep pedalling It’s a fixed gear so you have to keep pedalling, never forget that, especially on the end of a hard effort. You have to be going above a certain speed to stay up on the banking (about 30kmph) so bear that in mind when you’re joining or leaving the track.
Make sure to have a look before making a move on the track
Relax The near 45° banking and close proximity of other riders can initially be unnerving but try to stay relaxed. Look ahead, try to anticipate changes in pace or direction of other riders, ride predictably and make small corrections.
Hold it back Many triathletes come to the track with great fitness but poor skills. It can be tempting just to smash it off the front but you’ll miss out on learning the essential bunch skills and tactics. Ride in the bunch, learn some track craft and save the heroics for when you’ve got a number on.
For your first few taster sessions most tracks will be able to lend you a bike. Make sure you take the following, though…
Helmet There will be hire helmets available but it’s far more pleasant to wear your own. If you’ve got a mountain biking-style peak on it, this will have to be removed.
Glasses It can be hot and dry on a track and especially irritating on the eyes if you wear contact lenses. Glasses are a good idea but with clear or yellow lenses, not dark.
Shoes Most tracks will let you use your own shoes with the hire bikes as long as your cleats are compatible – they won’t let you swap pedals over though. Check before you go and hire if necessary.
Track mitts Tracks mitts are essential and usually compulsory.
Jersey and under vest Most tracks require you to wear two layers on top, usually a regular short-sleeved cycling jersey and a base t-shirt/vest underneath. Sleeveless tops aren’t allowed, so no tri-suits.
Water bottle It’ll be hot so don’t forget your water bottle. There will be somewhere for you to leave it in the track centre.
Bike If the track bug bites and you decide to work though the accreditation process, you’ll want to get your own track bike. With indoor use only, there’s a great second-hand market and many tracks offer on-site bike storage. Before buying, double check the bike standards at your track as most will have rules regarding gearing, crank length, bottom bracket height and tyre type.
UK track venues
With a handful of venues now open across the UK, it’s never been easier to find a track close to home…
National Cycling Centre (Manchester)
Taster session £12.40 (including hire bike)
Derby Arena (Derby)
Taster session £13.90 (including hire bike)
Newport Velodrome (Newport, South Wales)
Taster session £15.00 (including hire bike)
Calshot Velodrome (Southampton)
Stage 1 Trackstart £28.00 (including hire bike)
Lee Valley Velopark (Lee Valley, East London)
Taster session £35.00 (including hire bike)
Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome (Glasgow)
Taster session £10.80 (including hire bike)
Head to our training section for lots more tri tips