Cycling at the VeloPark

Fast track

When icy roads and dark evenings threaten to send cyclists into hibernation, indoor track cycling offers a fast and fun winter tonic. We visit the Lee Valley VeloPark to sample the best indoor track in the world

Audi A1 with bike rack

I’m swirling around the Lee Valley velodrome on a bike with no brakes, roared on by the rumble of the Siberian pine boards beneath my wheels. The iconic indoor track, where Team GB cyclists stormed to seven Olympic and five Paralympic gold medals at London 2012, features two fast straights plus bends with vertiginous 42-degree banking. The latter ominously evoke images of a motorbike stunt rider-style ‘wall of death’. Blasting around the inside of the track, I wonder how any cyclist can pedal around the top of this human-sized roulette wheel without tumbling off – but soon I will be up there too.

The futuristic building, with its elegant double-curved roof and wooden facade, is the hub of the Lee Valley VeloPark in East London, which also includes a BMX track, mountain bike trail and 1.6km floodlit road circuit. On arrival I unclip my bike from the Audi bike rack fixed to my A1 and enjoy a spin around the Formula 1-style outdoor circuit. It’s an understandably popular winter training facility where I can ride at pace without fearing slippery leaves or wayward traffic.

Cycling indoors at the Lee Valley VeloPark

Blurred artistic shot of speed at the Lee Valley VeloPark

A lone cyclist on the indoor track of the Lee Valley VeloPark

When I head to the velodrome I am greeted by coaches Nicolaas Jansen Van Rensburg and Rory Bain, who guide me and 15 other guests through our hour-long track taster session. The track bikes have no brakes, only one gear and don’t freewheel, which ensures riders maintain a consistent speed and don’t slip. ‘Always keep pedalling or your bike will give you a helpful little kick,’ suggests Nicolaas. ‘To slow down just add some resistance with your legs.’

We begin with some wobbly laps around the inside of the track. It feels odd to cycle without brakes but it delivers a deliciously smooth riding sensation. Soon we move up to the blue band on the inside of the track, known as the Cote d’Azur, before nudging up to the black line 20cm higher. As I hit the blue line 2.5m above the inside of the track I experience a slingshot sensation as I get sucked around the bend at speed. But reaching the top of the track feels impossible. ‘Build up your pace and don’t get tired up there,’ suggests Nicolaas. ‘It’s twice as hard to ride halfway up the track than at the bottom and twice as hard again at the top.’

Lone cyclist on the outdoor track at the Lee Valley VeloPark

With extra pace comes extra momentum and, to my own bewilderment, I am soon dashing around the top of the slope, glancing nervously down at riders far below me. Balancing on 22mm-wide tyres, I wonder what magical blend of centrifugal and centripetal forces are enabling my bike to stay almost perpendicular to the steep slopes as I fly around them.

The effort torches my leg muscles but to race around this prestigious arena at blistering speed is exhilarating. The 6,000-seater stadium may be empty – and there is no gold medal on offer – but I already know this is the fastest I will ride all winter. Words by Mark Bailey. Photographs by David Powell.


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