Newport Track - Road Cycling UK

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Newport Track

Courtney Rowe explains how it works

Our monthly meetings are taking us out of the office to meet up and talk shop. But we’re throwing in a cycling trip too so it’s becoming the monthly Busman’s day out, a chance to try a new riding experience. Last month it was mountain biking but this month we booked Newport Velodrome and it turned into a grand day out. The good pictures are by Mike Davis.

Courtney Rowe
Courtney works full time at the track. He’s a fully qualified coach, although he’s certainly not the shouty old skool type. He’s very friendly and keen to get everyone having a go as soon as possible. First up he explains clearly and simply what’s required to get onto the track. Safety is paramount. The two non-trackies were quickly riding around the ‘Cote d’Azur’ (the blue non-banked bit at the base of the track) and after a few laps they made it onto the boards proper. They are both Mountain Bikers which usually means fear is well down the list of emotions and before too long they’re up onto the banking and lapping pretty fast.

Simplicity is beautiful

No brakes!
A track bike is the simplest, purest form of transport. A fixed wheel and no brakes. The bikes have changed very little for decades and there is something very pleasing about the whole thing. It’s an almost spiritual cycling experience when you master the art for the first time and before too long you learn how to ease up and brake with your legs and pedalling. It sounds crude but it really is the perfect machine/man interface.

Most of my track riding has been ridden at Herne Hill, which is a great track but nothing like an indoor velodrome. At Herne Hill the emphasis can be on group riding, massive groups of riders can comfortably cruise around the oval and you can get 4 or 5 dernys motor pacing 20 odd riders. There’s loads of space. Newport is slightly different, Courtney sets up a few cones for us to weave around and we all have a go, it’s all about control easing back on the pedals and trying to predict when the pedals are going to allow you to turn. It’s actually pulling on muscles in a way I’m not used to – a bit like riding backwards would I suppose. I, for one, was glad of this type of drill and it certainly makes sense when coming to match sprinting and positioning when riding in a bunch.

The RCUK team ‘hit’ the boards

We also learn weaving through the group, where the last rider rides through a line of riders two bike lengths apart, under and over until they reach the front. It’s good for trusting your riding chums and adds more skill to turning and judging gaps.

Experience counts – sort of
Riding the track is great fun but it’s not as easy as it looks. Three of us had ridden the track before and therefore we knew the ropes… or that’s what we thought. I was the first to deck it. First corner on the first lap my tyres gave out, I hadn’t realised in the rush to get on the boards that the tyres I’ve had on my track bike were shiny and grip-less after spending the majority of the summer un ridden. Much laughter as I picked myself off the floor. How stupid does that feel?

Team Sprint
OK so you’ve seen Chris Hoy, Jason Queally and Craig Maclean. They’re really fast riding a fag paper’s distance apart and at speeds that would make Mario Cippolini wince. The Olympic or Team Sprint is one of the fastest and breathtaking events in cycling. The rules are straight forward, the first rider leads off and the others tuck neatly into his slipstream the lead rider pulling away after the end of each lap until the last rider rides alone to the tape.

Dave starting to look the part

Nervously we lined up on the straights holding the grab rail Mike Davis (’s editor) Dave Arthur (editorial assistant) and yours truely lined up against Rebecca Charlton (editorial assistant) Mike (new ad man) and Simon Whiten (publisher). It was a matter of honour and who bought the coffees. OK so our teams weren’t quite drilled and ready, Dave didn’t even understand the rules and Mike was looking worried.

So this was hardly going to be Germany v GB. My team went for the slow and steady build up with leading off Mike saving his dig for the second half of the first lap. We were down as Rebecca had put the others into an early lead. Dave took over a bit too keenly and (nearly dropping me in the process) but his leg speed was a great match for Mike H (who’d only just arrived) then it was up to me to bring home the Gold against Simon who just had too much to do. Well anything to avoid having to pay for the bevvys. Cheers all round as the Mountain bikers are starting to impress. Even Courtney raised an eyebrow.

Meet Michael our new ad man

Match Sprinting
First up Rebecca showed her sprinting credentials by holding off a ‘just about warming up’ Mike H. Then Mike D showed me a clean (but somewhat hairy) pair of mountain biker’s heels. He swooped down the banking with 250 to go and although I got on level terms by the home straight there was no way past the super spinning single speeder. Damn these dirt riding boys are getting the hang of it. Then normal service was resumed as Dave Arthur was given a lesson in sprint postitioning by Simon, who slowed Dave down to a worrying speed at the top of the final banking, forcing him into a lead and coming around him “like taking sweeties from a baby”.

Laps to destruction
Now we’re getting down to business. Courtney wanted us to build the pace and ride half a lap each until there was one rider left. Using my hard earned roadie fitness and not having to rely on my powder puff sprint, I had the chance to get my own back on the Mountain bikers who had started to get way too confident for my liking. Rebecca and Mike H threw the towel in early, and after 6 or so laps Mike D started to flag. By now Dave was going “Lickety-Split” as Duffers would say. Each time he hit the front the pace increased but his shoulders started to roll and he was looking toasted. Too bad he couldn’t shake Simon and I, who know too well there’s no point driving that hard if you can’t save a sprint for the line.

A great day, smiles all round and plenty to talk about – Courtney showed us a few tricks and managed to make the racing feel real, which is saying something seeing as there was only six of us on the track. But he also made sure that our novice Veena had a chance to get onto the boards too, so we all went home feeling we’d learnt something. Now I just have to get that splinter out of my backside.

Veena smiles

More tracks please!
What is remarkable is how a facility like this can create a production line of champions, very quickly. Manchester has created a stream of talented riders and Newport has also contributed it’s fair share. When they can ride the boards so regularly and with coaches as encouraging as Courtney Rowe, that looks set to continue. There needs to be more velodromes in Britain, London needs at least two and the midlands could do with a covered facility, in the mean time there will be more trips from this office to Newport, it’s well worth the trip.

Newport is in Wales, just the other side of the Severn Bridge approximately 3 hours from London and easy to find from Junction 24 of the M4.
There are drop-in sessions throughout the week at Newport and, unlike Manchester, plenty of opportunity to hire out the track for a morning. It’s basically the same track as Manchester but a lot less busy, so getting onto the track isn’t as much of a problem. You could always have a great couple of days riding locally, with perhaps some Mountain Biking at Cwm Carn which is literally minutes away. The road riding is good too so why not make a week of it!

We hired the Track from 9am til 1pm which is plenty of time to get up and running, Veena (who by her own admission is no cyclist) managed to exceed her expectations and everyone who tried it out for the first time has vowed to return. Mike even metioned buying a fixie. We’ll bring you the thoughts of the track ‘virgins’ later.

Wales National Velodrome
Newport International Sport Village
Velodrome Way
South Wales
NP19 4PT
Telephone: (01633) 656 757
Email: [email protected]

The editor stacked it

one gear, nowhere to hide

Simon our publisher, an old hand


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