So, finally, all the parts of the plan came together. After a couple of months of training on the road and in the gym I finally had a track bike – thanks to long-time trackcycling supporter Tony Brooks of Brooks Cycles – and some indoor track time thanks to Palmer Park Velo, who kindly made time for me in one of their sessions at Newport.
I pinched the aero bars off my son’s bike and got the position as close as I could on a turbo in the living room, then we loaded it in to the back of the car and set off for Wales.
The first shock of the day was when I was reminded of my mechanical ineptitude. Having spent all that time setting the bike up, as soon as I got up on the turbo (I’m getting there with the rollers – but not competent enough to ride them in public yet), the seat post collapsed back into the frame. A slight panic and some frantic hunting for an allen key and it was all back where it was supposed to be – but I didn’t really get the warm-up I had planned before my first session on the track.
Alex didn’t want me to do a full 3km practice run – and, with hindsight, I’m very glad he didn’t – so I planned to start with a flying 1250m. Things got off to a bad start when, having built up a bit of speed and made my way on to the track and into the turn for the first time, the front wheel lost grip and I slid back down on to the côte d’azure. I was always – just about – in control, but it shook my confidence a bit. Still, it was a good reminder that this wasn’t the same as riding Palmer Park.
I came back round to the back straight where PPV coach Andy Pitt and Cam – the donor of the aero bars – were waiting and we debated, briefly whether it was new tyres, cold tyres or just my lack of speed that had caused the slip – and then I was off again. No problems this time and I was up above the blue in a couple of laps, ready to dive in for the first effort.
We’d discussed the right place to transition to the skis but, in the end, I just settled in to them before I started the effort and transitioned down to the black line. Or close to it, anyway. To say the first few laps were wayward would be an understatement, but they it didn’t feel too bad and I didn’t scare myself silly.
Alex arrived at the track before the second effort and we discussed a few things before I went up and did another flyer. The pace was off where I’d hoped it would be – but not far off – and it was, at least, pretty consistent.
The next step was a standing start – held, for now – and that went without major drama – or any significant speed, come to that – but the consistency was still there and as I put in a few more laps it was becoming easier to hold the line. I wouldn’t get much more track time before the Nationals – lots of road miles and Wattbike sessions in the plan – but we were aiming to do one Newport drop-in session and I was booked on to Pete Mitchell and Dave Le Grys’ start gate clinic the weekend before my track debut, which would hopefully mean I went into the competition with at least some sort of clue as to what I was supposed to be doing!