Trying to get to grips with the sport of track cycling, I took a wee trip to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow's East End to find out more about the track.
First of all, when stepping inside the arena I was amazed at how warm the place felt. The day I went was typical Glasgow weather, boasting all four seasons in a matter of minutes, so the heat was a surprise. Like everything else in there, it's not an accident. I am told that everything goes faster in warmer conditions. The air is thinner, so there is less drag for the riders to overcome, and the riders muscles work better in the warm.
Now to the actual track, and by far the most surprising thing that you learn when stepping into a velodrome for the first time is how steep the banking is on the curves. The curves at the Sir Chris Hoy are set to a massive 44 degrees at their steepest point, which is enough to give any newcomer vertigo. Try and imagine tottering around on your own bicycle and leaning into that corner!
The track has been designed with speed in mind, much like the classic Formula 1 circuits of old, and this steep banking gives the riders the best chance of getting the fastest times in the various events.
I use Formula 1 as the comparison to this because truly, it is the closest thing I can get to compare. One look at the bikes these athletes use tells you that they are about as similar to the bikes that you or I ride as a Red Bull is to a black hack. Essentially the same; wheels, something to steer with, forward motion is sort of the plan, but there the similarities end, and all you have left is pure engineering clout, no stone unturned for the marginal gains that can make all the difference when it comes to the start line.
Incidentally, you may be wondering, as I was, what all those lines mean on the track. Well, for the track cycling novice, all you really need to know is that the black line designates the track length, (in this case 250 metres). The blue area, or "Cote D'Azur" line is no man's land for bicycles, basically steer clear of it. Lastly, when pursuing another rider, you must go outside the orange line to make your pass. In any form of racing, track cycling, F1 or if you're late for a train, the shortest route is nearly always the quickest, so hug the black line as tight as possible.
The atmosphere in there is sure to be electric. Not least because of the heat, but in the same way the such hallowed arenas of speed as Silverstone or Monza have an aura around them, the velodrome has this in spades. 2000 seats (plus a further 2000 temporary one) for the Games will offer prime view position looking down into the cauldron of the circuit, and the noise will surely be something to behold.