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Feeling Olympic? Channel your inner Pendleton at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, where groups of up to 10 can play Hoy on one of the fastest board tracks in the world.
Words: Annica Wainwright Photos: Rick Bronks
‘Whatever you do, don’t stop pedalling, or you’ll crash,’ says our coach. Just the words you want to hear when you take your first tentative spin on a bike without breaks (or a freewheel). Sure, Team GB made this look effortless last summer, but our only experience with amateurs on track bikes was watching some of the BBC Breakfast presenters clutch desperately to the railings as they failed to pedal fast enough to even set off – let alone make it up the steep banks.
Their antics may have made for fun TV but here in the Manchester Velodrome, our no-nonsense coach clearly doesn’t consider failure to take off an option. Clearly and calmly, he talks us through how the bike works and what we need to do to keep it going (keep pedalling fast, basically) and then we’re off. Just like that. And, to our surprise, it’s not that hard.
After a couple of practice laps, we’re out of the ‘Côte d’Azur’ (the turquoise starting zone at the base of the track) and up on the ramp, going faster and higher than we thought we’d be allowed to. Surely, this could all go horribly wrong?
As the nerves settle, we start understanding what one of the coaching team meant when he described Velodrome cycling as a ‘zen-like’ experience. There are seven of us on the track but we’re all focused on our own breathing, the sound of our own tyres on the polished wood. Tranquil.
Next stop: time trials. We’re done meditating. Having your name flash up on the Velodrome’s score board is part of the package and the adrenaline’s pumping as we all try for a decent time to go with it. An hour on the track passes in a flash and, with no time to improve on that first trial, we all resolve to book a two-hour slot next time.
A cycling package for eight to ten participants starts from £199 for one hour or £245 for two, including lunch with views of the track and – if you’re lucky – a Team GB training session. BMX and mountain biking packages can also be tagged on.
Keith Prowse, tel: 0845 415 0628, squaremeal.co.uk/kp
This article was first printed in Square Meal Venues & Events, summer 2013