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chrishoyvelodrome

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.

Facilities

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.

Public Perception

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.

Users

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.

If you want to get involved, you can register for accreditation HERE. But calling the velodrome is also advised, as sometimes you’ll need to speak to somebody to get a slot.

Interesting Clubs

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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National Leagues (Elite League)

[I’d advise to first read the other post from Race Development before this one, so you know where we are. Accessed from the menu or link]

If we can stimulate the lower categories to develop regionally via the ‘Entry League‘ & ‘Advanced League‘ models, to produce higher category riders & instigate a bit of basic team riding, then we’re well on the way to developing a successful ‘Elite League’ across Scotland. The main difference with this league is not just the higher categories that compete, but that this will be a true National League, with the lower ones existing regionally & feeding higher ability riders into a competitive environment. Essentially, the lower league’s identify & nurture the talent, the ‘Elite League’ brings all the talented riders together to compete together, further raising the standard of Scottish racing. This is the only league where individual rankings will work, we can also assume that this is where the racing teams will play a part, they can’t really operate in the lower leagues as they would have to run events, so it raises the level where these teams compete & allows clubs to develop & hang onto riders for longer.

Structure

We don’t currently have enough Elite, 1st & 2nd category riders to fill regularly fill an 80 rider race field in Scotland. If the lower league models work correctly, this shouldn’t be an issue in two to three years, we should have plenty (have a look at the ‘Implementation’ blog for an idea on how many licence points will be allocated). So we have a solution immediately, to start all leagues in year one. The solution is simple, open the ‘Elite’ league to 3rd category riders, on the understanding that once there becomes a critical mass of E/1/2 riders that will change & 3rd category riders will be excluded. The ‘Elite League’ events should have the support of the one Scottish Cycling photo finish team & a full complement of NEG riders (National Escort Group moto marshalls). These should be placed as the premier road events in Scotland, but with that comes a higher cost, and a higher standard, to put across a good image for the sport & attract sponsors, this is our showcase for road cycling.

So far we have:

  • Year 1: Open to E/1/2/3 categories, with all E/1/2 riders being given a start, regardless of their residence (we’re not doing regional bias in this, we’re going for the best quality field, talented 3rd category riders have more opportunities to upgrade via the two lower leagues).
  • Year 2: Open to E/1/2/3 categories. Hopefully a much larger number of 2nd category riders have progressed through the lower leagues from Scottish clubs who promote events.
  • Year 3 (and onwards): Open to E/1/2 categories. We should have enough higher category riders by this point to remove admittance to 3rd cat riders. This will allow a higher BC ranking event, allocating more points to qualify our riders for BC Premier Calendar events (Star Trophy to the old timers)

Which Events and who will run them?

At the top of a three-tier league structure, with the other leagues designed to feed this one, we can let our big events flourish. The Scottish Classics can have a solid location, where they are guaranteed entries & in no danger of being removed from the calendar, alongside that, we can add fast, new events on manageable circuits. This is where Scotland can get innovative, there are individuals & clubs who want to run events of this type, they need encouragement & support, we could even revive some fallen classics. Away from the Classics, we still need to develop modern, fast, competitive racing, we need events without the massive hills to aid rider (and team) development, this league is for the future more than it is for anything else, we need to teach our young talent how to race, not just how to win races in Scotland, we need to start looking further afield.

There’s going to be a prestige attached to this league, so I’m very sure that initially there will be a bit of scepticism in year one, but once the higher category riders start getting processed through, we should have a good road race structure to build our talent on. The main point of running a league structure, is that each league compliments the others, the ‘Entry League’ directs new talent into the system & feeds both the higher leagues. A rider can start the season in the lower league & end in the highest league, with the club rankings in the lower leagues there is no incentive to try to hang about, it’s all about moving onwards & upwards.

Trophies & Points

We need a trophy for this one, it’s essential, not a memorial trophy or anything like that, this needs to have its own trophy, something that defines it. A trophy does not have to be named the same as the league, the league name may change.

I’m not going to go into detail on the points allocation for this, or the race format, everybody knows what they’re doing with this, it’s much more important to define things in the lower leagues to aid development. The purpose of this is to provide a high level of road racing in Scotland & as a stepping stone to a higher level outside Scotland. Certain riders often dominate road racing in Scotland, so adding a non monetary & non medal prize is going to be a huge carrot. What if we have a Scottish team riding big events again, maybe a team in the Ras, what if the winner of the Scottish RR Champs & the winner of the Elite League were offered a place on that team. For riders with ambition, riding a big event is a much bigger prize than a trophy & some money, it would ensure the league is hotly contested.

My ideas for a road race league, will promote club membership.

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