We’ve had over a year of the wonderful new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the facility has already had a major impact on the sport of cycling in Scotland. It’s succeeded in helping to develop our young talent & has been the catalyst for some very interesting clubs to appear on the scene. Track cycling, and cycling in general is on the up, the previously barren winter cycle race scene in Scotland is now incredibly rich, dominated by a hugely vibrant & well supported cyclo-cross race scene, plus track league’s & commercial events at our new indoor track cycling venue.
Cyclo-cross has one major advantage for winter participation, you can find great courses all over the country. This is the big downside to track cycling, it requires a very expensive venue for year-round use, which if we look around the world, are mainly built for Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games or other major events. An expensive facility requires a mixture of funding & political will, along with the much vaunted ‘legacy’ aspect, it needs the full package.
Another big issue is accessibility, a velodrome can’t be moved, we have a situation where we now need more than one indoor track in Scotland. More opportunities obviously exist for riders who live close to the centre point of training, coaching & facilities, while other talents from further away maybe never get the chance to develop at the same rate, or perhaps never even visit the venue. For some time, there has been talk of a replacement indoor track for Meadowbank, or another indoor velodrome within the University of Highlands & Islands in Inverness, these are completely unconfirmed & currently unfunded ideas, but could make track racing one of Scotland’s most successful & popular sports, with regional centres & the focal point of the Commonwealth Arena with its spectator seating & big event capabilities. If only Aberdeen Council realised that the whole Union Terrace Gardens debate could be fixed by filling it with a 250m indoor velodrome, it kind of looks like it would fit in there nicely to me & provide a great sporting legacy at a fraction of the cost of some ideas.
Like it or not, track cycling helped all this cycling popularity take place, in a way that other more internationally recognised areas of cycle sport couldn’t, by grabbing the attention of an uninformed British public. They were programmed to understand the transferable complexities of sports like Track & Field or F1, those viewing skills transferred ideally to track cycling for the general public, they came to understand it. The public are only now coming to terms with road racing, but I still wonder why downhill mountain bike racing hasn’t grabbed a much wider UK audience, viewers know all about those transferable sporting complexities from watching Ski Sunday for years, it’s made for TV (we’ll not go into how Graeme Obree’s position was as a direct result of watching Ski Sunday just yet).
Having a velodrome makes a big difference, it provides a centre piece for a sport like no other cycling venue can, as happened in Manchester. It can create it’s only mini centre of industry, with coaching, governance, racing, training, sports medicine, anti-doping, all under one roof, then expands into not just a track cycling facility, Manchester also now houses an indoor bmx track. We can safely say, that without the Manchester Velodrome there wouldn’t be a succesful British Cycling presence at the Worlds & Olympics, leading to no team Sky & still no British Tour de France win, we’d still have our ‘mavericks’, but there wouldn’t be the strength in-depth & guaranteed medals at every major track event. Imagine a scene that never had Hoy, Wiggins, Cav or Pendleton, the successful use of a venue led to all these riders competing at their best on the world stage, it led to high level sponsorship & the popularity of cycling to the masses in the UK. We’d all still be considered more of a bunch of oddballs & the car driving masses would view us in even less esteem than they currently do, without the figures of Hoy & Wiggins to cloud their judgement.
Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome is still in the development phase, with the Commonwealth Games taking understandable preference, take London for example, it’s still not open to the public after the 2012 Olympics & never was before, so we’re quite lucky really. There was initially a big question mark over public usage, with absolutely no previous data available for this specific type of facility in Scotland, the resulting demand was massive & perhaps unexpected by the authorities. The UK cycling boom was only just beginning when plans for this velodrome were written, so nobody really expected how it would take off, unless you were a cyclist & had seen the effect at Manchester, you knew all too well.
The accreditation slots were getting booked in crazy numbers, vastly more than expected, by most accounts the systems in place couldn’t handle it. By now it’s smoothed out a bit more & thousands of riders have gone through an accreditation process, to either get a taster of track racing or continue on through the accreditation to become a ‘qualified’ track rider, allowed to ride in competitive events take part in open training sessions.
Traditionally, the Scottish track scene has been dominated by the ‘City’, the all-powerful City of Edinburgh Racing Club. They were also a major power & influence on the whole UK track scene, virtually every successful Scottish rider wore a white, black & blue skinsuit at some point. Their roster has included Olympic, World, Commonwealth & UK champions, to name a few you may have heard of, Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean, Jason Queely, James McCallum, Kate Cullen, Anthony ‘Jocko’ Stirrat, Charline Joiner, Jenny Davis, Peter Jacques, John Paul, Marco Librizzi, Bruce Croall etc. The club currently contains one of the biggest cycling talents Scotland may have ever seen, Katie Archibald (although we expect her to move to the Wiggle Honda team or similar in 2014), the current European Team Pursuit champion & looking like a potential world champion in 2014, possibly in more than one event. Their domination was centred around having the facility at Meadowbank available to them & having the support & drive to push themselves forward, without that they would never have reached those levels, let alone even existed. Another example of a facility shaping destiny, where would we be if Chris Hoy had taken up rowing instead if he didn’t have Meadowbank to train on?
We now have some opposition to that domination, we have some new clubs popping up, which can only improve the race scene for the better. It may mean that Scottish medals are now well out of the reach of the ‘clubman’, with well supported specific race clubs using more advanced coaching & securing track time, things will be getting faster & faster.
We have the ‘Glasgow Life Track Cycling Team’ making waves in the UK scene too. They came about in a conversation between Kevin Stewart & Jake Lovatt, Stewart being a young rider previously on British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme & ex ‘City’ rider, Lovatt the Cycling Development Officer for Glasgow Life, also a cyclist & a coach. The motive, ‘find the next Chris Hoy’! A focus specifically on track sprint events, looking to identify & develop that talent, now leads them to progress the setup for 2014 with additional under 16-23 aged riders & a search for sponsorship to allow some travel to events outside the UK. This group of riders could really be ones to watch in the coming years, especially if track time is more available to them. A rider to watch is Jonathan Biggin, who putting out world-class ‘man-one’ times for the Team Sprint, remember that name, you may be hearing a lot more of it in the future, along with some of their other riders who are looking at Commonwealth selection.
Paisley Velo are another club making waves in the Scottish track scene. This one is a little different to those above, as it also caters for normal club riders alongside its star riders like Ben Peacock, with riders racing in all the categories at track league. ‘Big Ben’ is a pursuit specialist, after realising his talent in the Scottish time trialling scene, he’s quite wisely switched his focus to 4000m, I’ll be writing a separate blog on the Scottish riders who could meet the world-class qualification time for the Commonwealth Games, of which Peacock is one. They announced on twitter that a new signing is David Daniell, who you may have seen on TV in a GB skinsuit, posting kilo times almost on par with Sir Chris Hoy himself.
The Racers are a track cycling development team (@The_Racers on twitter), with a constant presence at the new velodrome. The experienced Allister Watson is at the centre of this, having helped developed riders such as Katie Archibald in the very recent past, we can expect plenty of fast young riders to come from this setup. Gavin Murty suddenly appeared & took a bronze medal in a highly competitive Scottish pursuit championship this year, so we’re not going to just see sprinters. Plenty of these riders have been involved in other sports, so don’t be surprised if there’s some sudden top performances from crossover athletes.
This is just a snapshot, the tip of the iceberg, but for those outside of track, you’re probably unaware of what’s going on. I’m not ignoring the vast amount of youth riders racing, I’ll be profiling them at a later point, lots going on.
The Jist Of It
A well-managed & supported venue with a development programme & governing body support can have a major impact on any sport in the country. The Chris Hoy velodrome is in its infancy, but the rider development opportunities have appeared from some clubs, those who have made a decisive effort & implement a plan of action. It’s a really exciting place to be, if we can secure some other indoor ‘training-type’ velodromes around Scotland in the next few years, we can gather talent & expertise in track cycling, as we’ve seen in the past, once the facilities are in place, the talent gets its chance.
The next few years are going to be incredible for the sport, which will feed into other disciplines in cycling. A big shiny venue helps the entire sport in time, not just track cycling, embrace it & have a go. The Pista has been delivered, a few years ago you had to eat it outdoors, now it’s consumed inside & the crust is absolutely stuffed.
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