Carbon car? Is good. Wedge shoes? Is good. Conical helmet? Is good. brakes? … Brakes ??? Too late. From the central area, I cautiously climbed into this strange machine, for what seems much more like a balancing act than a ride in a Vélib’. Breathe, and here we go.
In the velodrome of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, which will host the Olympic events in Paris 2024, several curious people have come to make their baptism in track cycling. A first that, contrary to appearances, is far from turning in circles as I see myself.
Don’t panic on board, just follow the instructor. Feet well anchored, it’s no longer a question of going down. Unlike a conventional bicycle, track cycling is practiced with a fixed gear: the pedals rotate continuously on the 250 meter ring, until the machine comes to a complete stop. Not really reassuring.
“I feel like I’m boarding a fighter jet but without a driver’s license”, says a neophyte, socks pulled up to his calf and nervous eyes. For my part, I am beginning to wonder how we will be able to withstand the vertical walls that serve as bends in the track.
Without being the discipline most expected by the public, track cycling has been present at the Olympic Games since its origins (1896) and has been on the program of all editions, with the exception of Stockholm in 1912. On the other hand , meit took until the 1958 world championships to see the first women on the court.
Get back on track. They all line up in a single line, the trainer at the head before hurtling down the track in the right way and at the right speed.. First stage: exit the gray ring, kind of “emergency lane” of the ovalto actually enter the inclined plane. Serious things begin. The parquet floor is surprisingly quiet. The bike slides, swallows the lengths, as if trapped in the layout. “We stay in the traaaaace, stay tuned”, shouts an instructor in the distance. Torn between apprehension and determination, I contract my calves and pull myself in line on the bike.
Ahead, the first bend is announced. A real wall. With 45 degrees of inclination and a radius of 23 meters, there is something to impress. “Aim for the red line, inside the bend!” 85 cm from the inside edge is called the first colored band that runs along the track the “sprinters’ line”. In competition, when a double runner, he must cross this line and can only go back if he has a certain advantage. “It’s not that easy to keep the line on this machine,” pants one cyclist on the back of the backpack, zigzagging across the floor. I try to control the bike, without getting too tense.
But there is no time to catch the entrance to the wall because the wheels, light and stiff, are already stuck in the bend. The whole body leans in, first timidly, then more markedly. A glance towards the center of the velodrome reveals the power of kinetics: the ground moves almost horizontally. LThe sensation of speed is multiplied tenfold.
Calves suffer at a frantic pace. The bike eats up the slats, rushes into the banked turns. “We’re picking up the pace, keep pedaling,” shouts the instructor. “The risk of falling comes from people who forget to pedal. But without speed, you don’t hold on to the bend and you fall. So you have to make an effort to continue the movement,” the instructor explained in his preliminary speech. At full speed, things will get more difficult.
“Aim for the blue line!”. HAS each round we gain intensity by sclimb higher on the Siberian pine parquet (which favors speed). Ants in the calves, you need to accentuate the effort. This time, head towards the “line of those left”, the furthest from the inner rim. Slocated at a third of the width of the track, she is used for the average distance: runners must be below during the race except to advance. The extra few meters make the effort more intense.
If there are so many lines, it’s because the 17 Olympic track cycling events are particularly different. Some are aimed at powerful and very fast runners (individual sprint, 200 m), others at more resistant runners (middle distance). So everyone, at any age and size, can find something for them. Launched into a mad race, I already have the impression of being at the maximum of my speed.
“Sixth Round” The sense of height is essential in block. It would almost make you dizzy. What was a brief sensation of speed a few meters above the ground turns into a long journey where only inertia keeps the riders balanced. “Once launched, we depend on each other. We have to let go and trust each other. If one falls, we all risk it.” agrees at the edge of the track a regular of the place. Breathing is shorter. A drop of sweat was running down his forehead.
“You get off, it won’t last.” No speed, no spin. Slower riders abandon the instructor’s warning shot. What seemed like a sprint turns into a long distance race. “We have to reach 30 km/h to hold the turn up there“. It’s not about breaking, I’m holding on. The gaze fixed on the convolutions of the parquet, no parasitic idea seeps through the helmet. Vision becomes blurry. The infernal cadence sucks all concentration.
“Last lap, let’s go up, go, go!” You have to try hard over the calves to reach the “top” of the velodrome, almost eight meters high. There is no time to enjoy the view, you have to redouble your efforts. We only have two cyclists left. The last bend promises to be tough and the moment is over for the economy. Like a fighter jet, the bike flies over the launch pad before embarking on the immense descent. Flyaway locks come out of the helmet, as the wind whistles through the ears. The slope is shocking, two tears run down my cheeks reddened by the effort. The sensation is similar to that felt on a roller coaster, but this time we will be careful not to raise our arms.
Having reached the top, now you need to slow down. “In, blue line, slow down!“ One lap, then two steps before, little by little, the speed decreases. The bikes stop one by one at the center rail in the stifling heat. Everything is calm. A ray of sunlight filters into the stands and neon lights cast a warm light on the white parquet floor. “I take a break, drink a pint of water, change my calves and I’m ready to ride again!”, jokes a sweaty 30-year-old.
When they get off the bike, the calves thrash, surprised to find flat ground. Even though my lungs are spitting fire, I try to put on a good face. I walk purposefully towards the equipment area.
In the chair! @Paris2024 yesterday he organized the first stage of his Tour to the Place.
24 members of Club 24 discovered the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Velodrome. Environment… @FFCycling @UCI_ciclisme @UCI_Track @swisscycling @BELCyclingTeam @CyclingCanada
— Olympic Games (@jeuxolympiques) April 29, 2022
He had barely left the track when the French team, domiciled in the brand-new center since 2014, rushed to the oval with a thud. “I know every slat, every angle of the track. Its design is very specific with very long turns. It is one of the most beautiful tracks in the world!”, enthuses Florian Grengbo, bronze medalist in Tokyo in the team sprint. For now, it must be said that I suffered much more from the layout of the track than from the development of a race strategy. The next time, after placing in line, for me the adrenaline of the race, the real one, handlebar to handlebar. Until then, everyone can exercise their calves on the amazing parquet floor of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. On the track!