Racing in front of a capacity crowd at the Olympic velodrome sounds like a crazy dream right? Well that’s exactly what young Sotonia riders, Ben Hames and Red Walters did last month when Six Day racing came to London for the 1878 Cup – the pair making their debuts in the under-21 competition that consisted of a 40km Madison event over three nights of high octane track racing. The duo told us all about their incredible experience…
“I’ve not seen you guys before, are you new?”
“Yeah, it’s our first time. Got any tips?”
That was our first proper conversation with our opposition. It was pretty funny to watch his jaw drop to my response. But it was true. We didn’t have a clue what to expect or what we were doing, let alone how we got through the entry in the first place.
We bluffed our way through the rider meeting, gratefully accepted our free kit and headed into the velodrome. A spectacular place it was too. We found a competitor’s pen and set up, remaining amazed at everything that was going on around us; even the free bottled and coconut water made us feel spoilt!
A quick practice on the track was a privilege in itself, being able to ride such a smooth and quick track; however this didn’t distract from the fact that we would be racing on it with no race experience whatsoever.
The race director gave us the cue to head to the track and as we rolled around we tried to discuss as many tactics and plans as we could, however this would all prove fairly pointless, on night one anyway. To give you an idea of our situation we didn’t even consider who would be riding the opening stretch and decided on it as we were split up.
I held the rail with my fellow racers slightly tense, not knowing what to expect, my mind rushed at a hundred miles an hour, so much so that the whistle blow took me by surprise. Great start! I was at the back of the pack. The starting gun sounded and it was on. At least it was for the other, more experience U21 national champions we were against. The adrenaline helped me through the first laps to our hand sling, something we had practised and felt comfortable enough with. But these practice sessions were on the empty outdoor track at Bournemouth, not at the velodrome that hosted the exciting action of the 2012 Olympics in front of 5000+ people. I think it’s fair to say the success rate wasn’t as high as we would have liked it to be. Turn after turn the dry aired velodrome took its toll, the race leaders took 14 laps on us, which was plastered on the large screens around the track and also on the paper that was handed to us on day two, which was hastily screwed up and removed from our minds. That first day was a baptism of fire. However, meeting Mark and Brad that evening left me felling inspired to improve my performance for the remainder of the competition.
The second day would be different. Having watched the big boys show us how it was done after our race on day one, I made note of some key tips, the most important of which was the length of the turn we should have been taking, which was about a third of the length that we were taking.
Whilst waiting for Red outside the changing room Cav walked past: “Alright mate, how’s it going?” He said.
I nearly burst with excitement. Not only had I met my cycling hero and pestered him for a signature, but he recognised and remembered me. AND STARTED TALKING TO ME!
“Not too bad thanks and yourself? Great racing last night!” I replied.
“Thanks. Good luck for tonight.”
We knew what to expect on day two so planned accordingly, energy gels consumed and plenty of water taken on board beforehand. My start was smoother, getting in the bunch from the off. I felt pretty good. Legs were feeling strong and I was keeping up with ease. That was until the madness of the change overs kicked in.
Riders were being flung left, right and centre. Some slowing up on the inside and others accelerated hard over the top. I saw Red eagerly awaiting the first sling of the race, but there was no hope of me actually getting near him to execute it. Again out the back I went as fresh legs churned the front of the group, it would seem a repeat of yesterday was about to occur. We stayed strong though, riding hard and fast in our own little race. Even made some overtakes as we hammered round which lifted confidence back up to a peak level. A big shock was when I was slung in at the back of the group, but ended up powering past it! From the back to near the front in one fowl swoop. But when you don’t belong there, they don’t half let you know about it. That stint of awesome was short lived and backwards I went.
We received the results from the previous night’s action, and following some quick maths, determined that we were only one lap behind our nearest rivals! We were amazed that our first attempt left us only just behind the experienced and competent riders. This gave us great determination to make this final ride the best of the three. And it was. Our changes were smooth and successful and again the occasional overtake boosted our spirits further. When the race came to a close a big feeling of relief and of pride overcame me. Relief that it was all done and the torture was over and pride that we had made it without showing ourselves up. Afterwards we heard news of another pair pulling out due to a crash causing injury, which is never nice to hear, but it meant we weren’t last. That was victory enough for us.
Heads held high we left the velodrome in the knowledge that our first ever track race was a success especially as it was at the top level. I think it’s safe to say that we will both treasure this experience for years to come, the time two rookies took on the best and came out joyous and proud on the other side.”
“It started with a simple post from Ben asking if anyone from Sotonia would want to sign up for the U21 Cup at the London 6 Day. I’d never ridden track before but I love to race and it sounded like a cool experience. What a coincidence, Ben has a spare bike! When we signed up, I didn’t really have any expectations as we were Cat 3 and 2 and the ad was looking for “Elite riders”.
A couple months before the event however, we were kindly emailed our acceptance at which point I thought I’d better learn how to ride track! A couple of training sessions at Portsmouth and a final practice at Bournemouth later, we were ready. We had “mastered” the hand sling and I’d taught myself that when you try to stop pedalling on a track bike, things go terribly wrong!
At the event, it was brilliant to go in with zero pressure, so we got to enjoy it even more. Considering the other riders were incredibly experienced and some had gone to the world champs, I’m really pleased with our result. It was so cool to race around the Olympic velodrome with the lights and music; the crowd was awesome – I look forward to doing more!