Amateur Age Group Triathlete
Amateur Age Group Triathlete

Cycle Track Training at the Herne Hill Velodrome

roborobby roborobAug 18th 2012
I wanted to write a quick post on track cycling as an effective means of training for triathlon, as i think it an excellent session to incorporate into your plan in place of one of your usual rides. It's often disregarded by triathletes (well, some that i know anyway), and i think they are missing a great opportunity to make serious improvements to their cycling through this. I, for one, need to remind myself to go more often!

After an absence of, well - far too long, i returned to the Herne Hill Velodrome on Saturday for their intermediate training session, which runs from 10am-12pm every week. This was in fact the first time i had ridden on the resurfaced track, which was one result of a huge amount of fundraising for this last remaining venue from the 1948 OIympic Games. The day was forecast to be the hottest so far this year, and the mercury was rising steadily throughout the morning. Definitely a day to keep an eye on proper hydration, if any serious training was to be done.

The session kicked off with about half an hour's steady riding, where everyone gets a chance to warm up ( or reacquaint themselves with brakeless fixed wheel riding in my case). The new surface is so much better to ride on than the old, crumbling concrete one ever was, and would be much easier and more confidence-inspiring for a novice. Once we had got into a rhythm, and had grouped up into two lines riding as tightly as possible together, we were sent off from the front in groups of 4/6, with the aim of sprinting to reach the back of the line, working together in order to help achieve this. This kind of riding is great for helping you understand the physics of drafting - much more so than road riding can. When you take away all the things that affect your pace, such as road furniture, cars, junctions, potholes etc, you can focus completely on the other riders around you. Add to that the fact that none of have brakes that you can suddenly slam on, and you are around to ride much closer together than you may be comfortable doing anywhere else. The closer you ride, the greater the advantage you get from drafting, so you can really start to play around with this phenomenon and see how it influences your ability to conserve your own output at different speeds.

After the paced efforts, we then had a Masterclass on track sprinting - the one where two competitors crawl around the track playing cat and mouse, before one makes a break for the finish line and the other tries to get there before them. Although there's a whole host of tactics and skills required, there are two main skills that you need for this type of racing: the ability to ride fast (which is fundamental really), but also the ability to ride whilst looking behind you. The likes of Vicky Pendleton and Chris Hoy make this look really easy, but we soon found out that it is anything but, as we circled the track in a long line, taking turns to look over our left shoulders, then right in turn, on the blow of a whistle.

Just before this dizzying drill caused anyone to veer off the track or plough into the rider in front of them, we moved onto the next drill, where 2 riders at a time would take it in turns to sprint from the front of the line to the back - in doing so putting the final segment of the sprint race into practice. Whilst being a good chance to open the throttle, it also gave everyone the opportunity to see who the faster riders in the session were for the final drill, which was a scratch race. This is where a race is called, with the number of laps decided at the time, with the classic 'first over the line' being the winner. The key to this type of racing is to work out where best to place yourself in the group, so that as riders take their turns on the front and peel off, you find yourself near the front on the last few laps so that you have enough energy to outsprint the others at the line. It dawned on me pretty quickly that my non-drafting triathlons had left me pretty rusty in this way of racing, but still managed to come in just behind the winner. It's definitely a skill that needs a lot of practice if you want to improve.

Despite wanting more, the combination the heat and the energy expended meant i had nothing more in the tank (so much so that a quick rest stop in Dulwich Park on the way home resulted in a 3 hour nap!). In any case, we had to make way for the hordes of newbies who had packed out the venue waiting for the novice session start, which runs from 12pm. No doubt many of them were drawn from the culmination of Team GB and Sky's success leading up to the Olympics and the Tour de France, and the explosion in media attention and subsequent popularity of Bradley Wiggins (among all the others) after his victories in both settings.

In summary, i'm going to aim to hit the velodrome at least twice a month, and maybe a few Tuesday night sessions on my TT bike as that is a non-fixed wheel session. Here's hoping for HUGE improvements in cycling prowess!
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