Velodrome Challenge: Vertiginous, Precipitous and Exhilarating

This is how IAN PARKER, Director of Henchards, described his Olympic Velodrome Challenge! Ian gives us a real taster of what it is like to cycle on the Velodrome, a very different experience from any other cycling he has done in the past (and he has done a lot!). He talks us through the differences in the bike, the track, and what he learnt during the brilliant coaching session. After being on the track, Ian met Dani King – three time world champion and Olympic Gold Medalist in Cycling. 

Vertiginous, precipitous and exhilarating: My experience on the London Olympic cycling track 
by Ian Parker

“If you have been to a velodrome and stood above the banked curve, you will have experienced a sense of ‘how do they do that?’ At 42 degrees, it’s a slope that you’d struggle up on all fours – if you could get sufficient grip. So to ride a bike around the top of a velodrome is a challenge that attracts equal excitement and trepidation.

Initial Impressions

I had the opportunity to experience the track at the Lee Valley VeloPark (the London Olympic Games indoor cycling arena) during a fundraising event for Kids for Kids and GB Olympian Legacy 300, a charity that’s raising money towards good causes and further UK Olympic success. Henchards has chosen Kids for Kids as our charity of the year because of the essential sustainable work they do to help families in Darfur that no one has ever helped before. Kids for Kids builds grassroots projects in villages that are identified and run by each community. This was a ‘taster’ half-day session for those with little or no track cycling experience, and a great way to raise money for an important cause.

Just two weeks earlier, I had been to the same velodrome as a spectator at the Six Day London event. This is a high-energy evening of cycling, featuring music, lights and top athletes like Mark Cavendish. It was hot, exciting, packed with noisy spectators, and the standard of cycling was world class. As a contrast, this time, I arrived at the velodrome on a cool autumn morning with only the sound of a few cyclists on the track doing some training laps. No spectators, no jazzy lights, and an echoing, rather than roaring, atmosphere. Nonetheless, the excitement was still there.

I cycle quite a bit and have raced a few times, so I thought doing a few 250-metre laps on a perfectly smooth surface wouldn’t be much of a challenge. I was wrong. Leaving aside the banking for a moment, even the bikes are very different. Yes, they have two wheels, handlebars, pedals and a saddle – that much is familiar. But they also have no brakes, no gears, different dimensions and, most alarming of all, you can’t stop pedalling – you can only slow down very gradually.

The Coaching

A group of 12 of us changed into our cycling gear and a British Cycling coach introduced us to the bikes and the rules of the velodrome. These rules ranged from a code for starting and stopping the bikes (did I mention there are no brakes?) through to not being allowed to carry anything in our pockets (no cameras, no phones, not even a tissue that might fall out onto the track).

The coaching progressed through basic bike handling to building pace around the track and then starting the process of going faster and riding higher up the banking. It was fantastic. From starting out thinking ‘how do they do that’, just a couple of laps later we were moving up from the safe area onto the lower slopes. A few laps after that, speed and confidence had built and a few of us circulated higher and higher until we were at the top of the track, looking down the 42-degree slope at cyclists much lower down.

You must keep your speed up to maintain height and balance at the steepest points of the track, and with such a smooth surface and none of the adverse weather you get riding on the roads, we were able to achieve speeds of 35–40 miles an hour. Exhilarating!

The final part of the track experience was a timed lap: one warm-up lap, then give it everything for one lap to see how fast you can go. With the clock showing on the giant scoreboard, times for each sector and your name on the leader board, it’s a little taste of what the fantastic gold medal winning, world record holding and world champion athletes of British Cycling have experienced on this same track.

Meeting Dani King

And then we got to meet one of them. Dani King, London 2012 Olympic gold medallist, world record holder and multiple world champion, hosted a buffet lunch and a very relaxed and revealing Q&A session. I love cycling, admire Dani’s achievements and feel proud of what she and her team mates have done for British sport. My small taster of riding on the track was all fun, with a bit of hard work; however, getting an insight into the sacrifices, the rejections, the athlete–coach dynamics and the singular focus of a world-class performer put it all into perspective.

Business advisers often look at sporting analogies to highlight good or bad practices in business. One excellent example from Dani concerned motivation and taking responsibility for your own achievements. In the Q&A, she was asked about her parents’ influence on her success. And the answer could translate to any business owner’s experience. Dani pointed out that, whilst her parents were always supportive, the drive had to come from within her. As a young teenager with early-morning training sessions, it wasn’t her parents who took responsibility to set the alarm and get Dani to training; it was her responsibility to set the alarm, wake her parents and get everything ready. She wanted to perform at her best and was motivated to ensure she did. As business owners, we want to see the same – that is, for our people to take responsibility for their own performance, not wait to be pushed. Having said that, there were a few times that I could have done with a push around the track that day!

Ian Parker is the Director of Henchards, a business advisory company: “At Henchards, we believe you are the hero in the story of your business.  If you aren’t yet in that role, we’ll help you achieve your goals, enjoy being a business leader and, in the process, create business wealth for you and your loved ones to enjoy in the future.”

Are you interested in taking on an Olympic Challenge with Kids for Kids? Learn more about the different challenges in Rowing, Rafting, and Cycling here!