Leaving it all on the track


Leaving it all on the track

Patrick O’Keeffe


It is a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne. I am at the Hisense Arena, standing in the middle of a recently constructed cycling velodrome, watching competitors from numerous countries preparing for the 2012 Track Cycling World Championships. The championships will be commencing in Melbourne on Thursday night, across the road from an empty MCG.


The activity at training is intense. At any time, there might by 25 to 30 riders on the track, with countless others on the inside of the velodrome working away on rollers, performing exercises, talking with teach coaches and physiotherapists.


The all-conquering Australian pursuit team is away first. Jack Bobridge, veteran of the team at 22 years of age, leads the way. What seemed like barely three minutes before, he was chatting to media, calmly answering questions about the threats posed by the British team. Now he is on the front of a group of five riders who are clocking in excess of 60 km per hour. It is a sight to behold. So streamlined and so powerful, this team is to be watched. A world record could conceivably fall on the weekend. Judging from the times they were setting at training, the question would be, by how much? Bobridge, with teammates Rohan Dennis and Cameron Meyer will lead Australian cycling, once the likes of O’Grady and Evans end their illustrious careers.


I love it when I overhear an Australian coach say “This is it. This is it. Training. All on the line.” The coaches love these boys. There is consternation when Bobridge slips on a advertising sign on the track. The slip causes a loud bang. The team loses shape and the boys come in. At both ends, the signage has caused riders to slip. There is tension around the track, as coaches call for the signs to be removed. I fear that this could rattle the riders. After a break, they return to the track and launch into 14 lightning fast laps, at, dare I say, well below world record pace. I am staggered by their composure. The boys have no fear.


Anna Meares looks so focused. Meares is an absolute professional, looking so cool as she rolls around the inside of the track, staring straight ahead. She is the undisputed queen of this track. A little slip at disrupts the start of her work set. This would have unnerved a lesser competitor. Meares simply aborted the rep, rolled around for another lap, set up again, and exploded from the set position. Her contest with British sprinter Victorian Pendleton will be a feature of this competition.


Two American sprinters are in the middle of a session. From the other side of the track, I hear coaches screaming “Punch! Punch!” followed by “Up!Up! Up,up, up, up, up, Up!” This is followed by a spectacular New York accented “Keep workin’! Keep workin’!” The US coach is helping a multinational training group consisting of Irish, Turkish and Mexican riders, both male and female. If only the real world worked like this.


The Dutch pursuit team are next up – after clocking times well above the Australians, I have dismissed the team as not being in contention. In their next set, they move with extreme pace – not quite matching the Australians, but not far off. An orange flash rings its way around the track at high speed and I start to think that the Australians will have another contender to worry about. However, I realise that what I have seen so far suggests that these riders don’t get worried. They either have no fear, or they hide their fears well.


This chaotic nature of the sport is underscored minutes later, when the US sprint team plough through a small gap in between a big group of riders on the track at 70 km per hour, nearly cleaning up a slight Mexican rider. I wince, though she acts as if nothing happened.


On the inside of the track, it is a hive of activity. The energy generated by all the riders on rollers and wind trainers could power Melbourne for a year. The New Zealand team are very prominent. With a contingent of at least 20, they are a force in track cycling. Some of the male sprinters are very dangerous looking characters, who could easily slot into the front row of the All Blacks. The term ‘tree trunk legs,’ wouldn’t do these riders justice.


A Dutch sprinter rips into a hard effort with unbridled aggression. He gives the impression that his wheels are about to put a hole in the track. For the next 15 minutes, he rolls slowly around the inside of the track, blowing very hard. The intensity of exertion is really something to behold. Even from this vantage point it is so hard to imagine just how much energy is being expounded in an effort which barely lasts ten seconds.


For raw human power in its purest form, not many sports can match that of track cycling. As a spectacle, it really has everything. The danger, the pressure and the tactical manoeuvring. Boasting a contingent of riders that will be stronger than that on display at the Olympic, this Championship will be all about adrenaline, excitement and high class competition.

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