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Revolution and evolution on the Manchester boards

As the inaugural Champions League gets underway, what is the secret to Revolution's success - and what does the future hold?

Track cycling’s Revolution entered another new chapter in Manchester last weekend as the inaugural Revolution Champions League kicked off at the National Cycling Centre.

The Revolution Series, which first launched in 2003, has become a key fixture of the British track cycling calendar, combining big-name riders with stars of the future, and has helped nurture many of Britain’s recent Olympic champions.

Following three rounds of domestic Revolution action in September and October, the arrival of the Champions League sees the series’ leading domestic teams – namely JLT-Condor, Team PedalSure, Team Wiggins and Maloja-Pushbikers – joined by seven WorldTour teams for two weekends of high-octane racing action in Manchester (November 25/26) and London (December 2/3).

With the Revolution Sprinters Omnium, Elite Women’s Championship and HOY Future Stars competitions also in full swing alongside the Champions League, it meant a packed programme of races for the first instalment of the Revolution’s newest innovation. We joined the sell-out crowd for the final session in Manchester on Saturday to find out the secret to Revolution’s success – and what the future holds for the series.

Where it all began

To understand Revolution’s importance, you need to go back to the start, when Fran Millar, sister of David, paired up with James Pope to form Face Partnership, the company also behind the London Nocturne, and launch the series.

  • WorldTour teams at Revolution

  • Cannondale-Drapac
  • Lampre-Merida
  • LottoNL-Jumbo
  • Orica-BikeExchange
  • Team Giant-Alpecin
  • Team Sky
  • Trek-Segafredo

It was nearly 13 years to the day when Revolution began, on November 29 2003, with more than 3,000 spectators packing into the Manchester Velodrome for the first instalment of an event which has grown and grown since.

David Millar, then world time trial champion, and world individual pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins were among the ‘Best of British’ stars to claim victories on the first night, dazzling the crowds in their rainbow skinsuits.

And, capturing the talent-nurturing spirit of the series from the off, ‘Future Stars’ to race on the day included the now double Olympic gold medallist Steven Burke, six-time Olympic gold medallist Jason Kenny (who won the 10km scratch race), and current Team Sky duo Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.

That’s entertainment

Then 18 years old, Ed Clancy was also among the riders competing with Wiggins and Millar, and in the 13 years since the three-time Olympic champion has enjoyed huge success at Revolution. The series has also been instrumental in the career of a rider considered one of the finest team pursuiters ever.

“Thirteen years is a long time. I can’t believe it’s been that long to be fair,” Clancy jokes as he tells RCUK about his time at the event. “I remember back then we had music blaring, and a big spotlight on the superstars. It was cool to see when you were just a kid, waiting up on the fence.

“It’s been really important to me. It’s hard to get a good standard of track cycling competition and the Revolution’s been the best at promoting some form of track cycling.

Ed Clancy has become a Revolution favourite and, fittingly, won the first Champions League race (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)

“You have the World Cups, the worlds and the Olympics but it’s not entertaining – it’s all focussed on the Olympics, and qualification or selection.

“This has been the best attempt by far at promoting track cycling as entertainment in the same way professional road racing is seen in that way.

“It’s done a lot for the riders, and hopefully the spectators have enjoyed it as well.”

Clancy says Revolution is the only event to have sold track cycling as entertainment (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
  • Revolution Champions League: round one – top four

  • 1) JLT-Condor
    (Ed Clancy/Jon Mould) – 199 points
  • 2) Team PedalSure
    (Iljo Keisse/Andy Tennant) – 172
  • 3) Maloja Pushbikers
    (Nick Stopler/Max Beyer) – 127
  • 4) Team Sky
    (Peter Kennaugh/Elia Vivani) – 98

Clancy’s first Revolution victory came in the madison kilo, alongside Tom White, in the first round of the second series, before he paired up with his British Cycling Academy team-mate Mark Cavendish to win the same event in rounds two and three.

Clancy went on to set a record in the discipline with the Manxman in 2005, and in 2014 paired up with Ollie Wood to claim the record again. Victories in between have been plentiful, though it’s his earliest successes that Clancy is most proud of.

“Thinking right back, the first time me and Cav won the madison kilo stands out – before that we were just getting our heads kicked in,” Clancy admits. “We were doing pursuit training that winter, and to win the madison kilo was quite a big thing.

“These days, we get up there and – I wouldn’t say we’re expected to win, but if we don’t win then we’re disappointed.”

It was fitting, therefore, that Clancy should win the first ever Champions League race – the 20km points race – outsprinting Andy Tennant on the final lap to claim victory. Clancy’s JLT-Condor team also topped the Champions League standings at the end of round one in Manchester.

WorldTour riders to feature across the two inaugural Champions League rounds include Stannard, Swift, Geraint Thomas and omnium Olympic gold medallist Elia Viviani from Team Sky, former Tour of Britain winner Dylan van Baarle and Classics specialist Sebastian Langeveld from Cannondale-Drapac, Olympic silver medallist Jack Bobridge from Trek-Segafredo and Giro d’Italia stage winner Roberto Ferrari from Lampre-Merida.

The Revolution Champions League sees seven WorldTour teams join the action in Manchester and London (Pic: David Pearce)

And, with the arrival of some of the sport’s biggest road teams at Revolution, Clancy hopes the new format will encourage more  fans to come check out the action on the track.

“There are a lot more fans of road cycling than there are of scratch racing,” Clancy says. “I think it was great for the crowds to see the road stars. They appreciate us Olympians, for sure, but it’s good to get a bit of variety.

“But it’s right in the middle of their off-season. Guys that have rode the track a lot – Pete Kennaugh, Viviani, Iljo Keisse – are coping pretty well, but there are others who have never rode the track before. [But] they’re doing a good job to hang in to be fair.”

Revolution Champions League

Pathway to success

Clancy has been one of Revolution’s most successful riders, but the Revolution Hall of Fame, which lists the former champions of the Future Stars competition, is also a veritable who’s who of British cycling. Burke, Kennaugh and new Team Sky recruit Owain Doull have all gone on to win Olympic gold medals on the boards, while Dan McLay, who shone on his Tour de France debut this summer, and Simon Yates, a stage winner and sixth overall in this year’s Vuelta a Espana, have made their name on the road.

Meanwhile, Emily Kay, a three-time back-to-back winner of the Girls Future Stars title, between 2009 and 2012, is now knocking on the door for Tokyo 2020 having claimed two UCI Track World Cup golds in Glasgow earlier in November.

At last weekend’s Revolution, Kay joined Olympic champion Elinor Barker – one of five Rio 2016 champions in Manchester, alongside Clancy, Doull, Dame Sarah Storey and Italy’s Viviani – to ride for Matrix Fitness.

And the 21-year-old admits it was the experience gained at Revolution as a young rider which helped to propel her to the upper echelons of the British Cycling Academy.

Emily Kay gained valuable experience as a young cyclist at Revolution and is now making her name as a senior rider, winning double gold at the Glasgow round of the World Cup in November (Pic: Alex Broadway/SWPix.com)
  • Elite Women’s Championship (after four rounds)

  • 1) Podium Ambition – 424 points
  • 2) Voxwomen – 368
  • 3) Great Britain – 346

“It gives you a window to elite racing,” she explains. “You get to race through the winter, and you can watch and learn from the elite riders.

“There’s also a clear progression through to elite racing. When I was a young athlete I was getting the opportunity to race against Laura Trott and Marianne Vos, for example.

“There aren’t many other countries who can give an opportunity like this, and the opportunity to race against such experienced riders.”

Alongside competitive racing, Kay also believes regularly riding in front of a crowd paid dividends when she raced in front of the fervent Glasgow supporters at the World Cup.

“Revolution was a massive learning curve for me as a youngster, and when I stepped up I was used to it and I knew how to deal with it,” she adds.

“To be able to learn to perform in front of a crowd, and to embrace it, is something you don’t get very often in sport.

“The crowd [in Glasgow] were phenomenal. It can be both good and bad – it can create pressure, so you have to learn how to embrace it.”

Girl power

Kay has also benefitted from being the right age to capitalise on Revolution’s promotion of women’s cycling – something she admits did not always seem likely when she visited Manchester as a fan.

Having first added sporadic women’s races to the programme, and now codified it with the launch for this season of the Elite Women’s Championship, women’s track cycling is in rude health when it comes to Revolution.

“I came here before I was old enough to race and there wasn’t really much for women, apart from the Future Stars,” Kay concedes.

“Now we’ve got women’s racing every round, the Elite Championship, and three races every session.

“It’s pretty amazing and, I think, reflective of the direction women’s cycling is going. We can put on just as good racing as the men.”

The Elite Women’s Championship is also a new addition for the 2016 season (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

And Kay’s verdict is backed by Dame Sarah Storey, whose Podium Ambition team continue to lead the overall standings ahead of the final round in London.

Britain’s most successful female Paralympian returned to action at the Manchester round – her first time back racing on the boards post-Rio – and the 39-year-old is full of praise for organisers Face Partnership.

“Revolution and the Face Partnership – with the London Nocturne as well – are doing an incredible job,” she says.

“It takes a huge number of different people to make it change, and the Revolution has the Elite Women’s Championship now, which is a big step forward.

“It’s a really good event, and I’m glad I’ve found an opportunity to race in it, especially in the new format.”

Dame Sarah Storey, second right right, has praised Revolution for promoting women’s cycling – and her team, Podium Ambition, leads the Elite Women’s Championship standings with one round remaining (Pic by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Champions

Peter Kennaugh is a rider who has enjoyed success at Revolution as both a former winner of the Future Stars competition and now, riding for Team Sky, a full-fledged star.

The Manxman’s palmares includes two Olympic gold medals on the track, two national champions’ jerseys on the road, a stage win at the Criterium du Dauphine, victory at this season’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and, later in the year, the red jersey at the Vuelta a Espana.

But, despite all that success, the 27-year-old still has fond memories of coming to Revolution first as a fan, and then as a rider.

“I’ll always remember the first Revolution,” he recalls. “I wasn’t racing myself, I came to watch it with my Mum and Dad, and was just in awe of everyone.

“I then came and raced the Future Stars and I was there with guys who I’d been watching on TV and reading about in magazines.

Pete Kennaugh is a former Future Stars winner at Revolution, and was one of the WorldTour riders in action in Manchester (pic – Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

“I was getting changed in the changing rooms once when [Gilberto] Simoni walked in. I’d usually be watching him going over the Dolomites at the Giro d’Italia – that was always surreal.”

Now Kennaugh is riding at Revolution for Team Sky in the Champions League and the new format is a hit in his eyes, not least because of the level of support now provided by WorldTour teams.

“So far I’ve really liked it. In the last couple of years, I’ve come in off my winter break and there’s usually only two or three road riders, racing against a load of track riders who are flying – it makes for hard work.

“It’s been refreshing to have the road guys here. And obviously it’s nice to come here with the team support too.

“In the past, I’ve been on my own, not rode the track bike for a year and I’m rooting around all the Velodrome storerooms to try and find it.

“I haven’t had a new track bike in eight years, and then all of a sudden the team sign up to Revolution and I’ve got two new track bikes.”

International attraction

Revolution’s prestige is evident from the star riders it has always attracted, and not just British riders but international stars, too. Alongside homegrown talent like Kennaugh are riders like Viviani, who beat Mark Cavendish to omnium gold at the Rio Olympics, and the man who partnered the Italian to third place at this year’s Ghent Six Day, Iljo Keisse.

Belgium’s Six Day superstar is a Revolution regular and has been involved in the series for more than a decade – estimating his own appearances in the event at between 20 and 25. His first victory came alongside fellow Six Day rider Matthew Gilmore in the second series, while his latest success has been with Britain’s Andy Tennant on Team PedalSure.

“It’s always been good,” the Belgian reflects. “Normally it’s a very good atmosphere and a very high level of racing – I think you can compare the races more or less with the World Cups.

“Though there are a lot of Great British riders, their level is very, very high. I always like to come for the atmosphere, but also because it’s good, competitive racing.”

Having helped Team PedalSure reach the Champions League, however, Keisse was surprised to see a low turn-out last Friday, where many tickets went unsold for the first of the weekend’s three sessions of racing – the first time, he said, he had seen such a low crowd.

With a sell-out Saturday night, though, the Belgian believes a mantra of less is more may be best going forward.

“Revolution started with one night session, now it’s three sessions over two days – maybe that’s a little too much,” he says.

“Two sessions in one day, I think that’s OK, but yesterday [Friday] was not so well attended. Maybe it’s too much.”

It’s one fault also picked up on by Kennaugh, who admits to preferring the previous format of all events being on one day. “By Saturday evening, all the riders are wrecked,” he says with a laugh.

Nevertheless, Keisse – like Clancy – hailed the constant push for innovation from Revolution, adding: “I like the idea, that they tried something new. Of course, for the road riders, it’s off-season but it’s a little bit different.”

Six Day star Iljo Keisse is a regular star attraction at Revolution (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Vive la Revolution?

So what next for Revolution and track cycling in Britain? A popular fixture on the calendar, for fans and riders alike, and with a track record of producing future British stars, Revolution is certainly an vital part of the cycling landscape.

Low ticket sales for the Friday evening session suggest the schedule needs tweaking, but the Revolution Champions League got the seal of approval from the likes of Clancy, Kennaugh and Keisse in the paddock.

It’s early days but a sell-out Saturday evening at the home of British Cycling in Manchester points to a bright future. Vive la Revolution, indeed.

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