I press the lift button to take us down to level 5. There are two of us in the lift and each with a bike. I’ve brought along my Cilo track bike as I’m not anticipating the need for brakes in this event. If I do need brakes, things have gone badly wrong. The other lift passenger has a carbon road bike, Matt black in colour, and just like most other carbon road bikes today. We are unacquainted and smile weakly at each other whilst regularly glancing at the control panel at the descent progress of the lift, and by each level.
We reach our destination and the doors open. We both can’t wait to get out fast and first, but do the honourable thing of each wanting to let the other out of the lift first. I go first. Someone in a fluorescent waistcoat greets us and checks our race numbers. I am sent to the end of a short queue and the other rider is told where he can warm up in preparation for his turn in the queue.
The atmosphere is memorable. A big, dark space that has been very well lit up to maximise sponsor logos and to create an electric atmosphere. Music is pumping, a competing commentator excites, and there are the competing smells of hot unidentifiable food and new paint. There is also the chatter of people, some of whom I can see, and some I can’t.
I get to third from the front of my queue and watch a rider leap away from the start line. He is a big man that looks like he has the power to seriously bend his bike in half before he gets any speed out of it. He’s dressed in a loose fitting tracksuit with the right trouser leg tucked into yellow socks, which match the colour of his helmet AND gloves. He clearly thought about his own contribution to the fashion of the event.
The rider in front of me now moves to the starting area. She is from the Netherlands, I know this because she was speaking Dutch to her helper/mechanic, and I know what Dutch sounds like even if I can’t understand it. She is tall, strongly built, but in a very feminine way, dressed in a black Racing skinsuit and with orange (surprise, surprise) shoes. The starter person takes hold of the rear section of the frame and the handlebars so that she can clip her feet into the pedals and sit upright, ready to go. Just like the start of a time trial. Her bike is an orange framed carbon thing, with 3 spoke carbon wheels. She is wearing an aero helmet. There is a small camera attached to the handlebars and there is a powerful, flashing LED light attached to her Saddle. This is probably to dazzle me in the event that I catch her, which is unlikely. She activates the onboard camera, the starter counts down from 10 to 1 and she explodes from the start. In a couple of seconds, she’s covered the first straight and has turned left out of site.
Now it’s my turn. Same procedure with the starter, same countdown, I scratch my nose when the starter gets to 3 and then I push off down the straight, which is 75 metres in length. The track is marked out with well branded plastic tape on both sides and the track is about a car-&-half wide.
I swing out to the right and then sweep into the first of several, left turns. This one is uphill for about 10 metres, then another left onto the flat again. The floor has been painted grey with a shiny, and grippy surface, so the tyres squeal a bit on the corners. The next level is another 75 metre straight and the whole place smells of curry. This is due to the Indian food which is being sold and consumed, along with appropriate beer. There are quite a lot of people watching, eating, taking selfies and just having fun. The music is Indian as well! The commentator isn’t. I get cheered on and take the second, left uphill turn. Even if I feel like a professional, I’m not solely the centre of the crowds attention as I might imagine. The Dutch rider is nowhere to be seen and is probably 2 floors up on me by now. I’m enjoying taking the left cornering, particularly as my track bike has a fixed gear, so no freewheeling into the corner. I have to try to time my pedal strokes with the lean angle, or I’ll dig a pedal into the newly painted green floor and I’ll be off the bike doing some ‘concrete diving’.
My accompanying friends said that they would be on the third floor, but miss me as they’re buying pasta and Prosecco. This is the Italian floor. I’m starting to lose count of which floor I’m on. There isn’t much air to fill the lungs inside and I can hear cheering behind me, so that must mean that the rider 15 seconds behind me must be catching me. Must try harder.
The fourth floor smells of beef and has Argentinian flags everywhere. I notice a rider who had fallen by his ripped shorts and bloodied knees, but he’s got a beer in his hand and is taking a big bite out of someone’s beef sandwich. I notice this very quickly as I pass.
I give it everything on the last two straights and bends to ensure I don’t get caught. I take the last left hand bend and blast down the straight, out of the saddle and with the back wheel skipping from left to right. I’m not strong enough to bend anything on the bike with my strength, but it does feel fast. I hear the commentator encouraging the crowd to cheer me into the finish line, which they do. I cross the finish line and a track Marshall immediately directs me to the finish and holding area, which is made up of car parking spaces 14-19. The Dutch rider is there and has already removed her aero helmet. I didn’t catch her, but I didn’t get caught either. 5 short straights and 8 sharp left hand corners, 4 of them uphill, all sounds a bit complex, but it’s great fun!
It’s the first time I get to see the different bikes that have been used, and which are now parked up in the finish holding area. There’s everything from vintage to ultra modern. There’s even an electric bike. Apparently, the owner turned up to race her daily electric bike and was told that there wasn’t an ‘electric category’, so she asked them to create one for her, which they did. As the only person in her category, she was in both first and last places.
My wife wanders over and offers me a mouthful of her beer, which I accept as appropriate post-race hydration. There is a big digital screen that shows the crowd in the finish area what is happening on each floor as it takes place. Someone has cleverly rigged up the security cameras on each floor and displayed their images on the big screen AND included the live timing as well, so there’s a lot going on. I also notice that each car parking space has a small LED light over it, which is used to let people know if the space is available. The light is green for empty and red for full. These lights are all flashing alternate green and red for extra atmosphere. There is only one car in the car park and it’s a small electric car, which is part of one of the many event displays.
There are 85 riders in the event and I came in at number 37, so not bad, AND continues my life long ‘mid-pack-placing’ in cycling events. The Dutch rider who started just in front of me came in 23rd, so I stood no chance of catching her. Bizarrely, the winner was a professional motorcycle racer, who cycles regularly and is obviously, monumentally fit!
I get changed, meet up with our friends and watch the awards being handed out whilst eating the most amazing post-race delicacy, a pizza.
I didn’t get an award, but I did get an ‘event t-shirt’. We leave the event at about midnight and leave the partygoers to continue well into the small hours. We brace ourselves as we prepare to step out of the underworld. One of the security cameras on the big screen was also providing live weather images and we could see it had been snowing hard, so we knew what to expect, and we weren’t disappointed. Paths were being kept clear from snow by some appropriately dressed (no skin suits out here) workers, so we made our way to the train station, 5 minutes walk away. We’d anticipated a beery night, so had left cars at home, which was a good idea in hindsight, because car parking would have been a problem. Mainly because someone had turned the bloody car park into a bike racing circuit!
All photos by the author
Homemade pizza courtesy of the authors wife