For most there was a carnival-like atmosphere accompanying the return of competitive cycling to the Olympic Velodrome last weekend. The sun shone unseasonably brightly on the crowds who made their way to the fifth and final round of the 2013-2014 Revolution Series and they were also treated to some magnificent racing in the superb building affectionately known as The Pringle.
But not everyone left the venue with that familiar rosy glow brought on by a combination of the sunshine outside and the artificially high heat inside. One person left the venue pale and shaken on a stretcher. Cycling is a tough sport and the heart-pumping thrills are often matched with heart-stopping spills.
The Lee Valley VeloPark / The Pringle
Since it’s inception 10 years ago, the Revolution Series has become a staple of the British track scene; expertly mixing the best home-grown talent along with the up-and-coming next generation of riders. A sprinkling of international superstars completes the recipe. A familiar affair at Manchester and Glasgow, the Revolution finale was selected to be the first event at the Olympic Velodrome – now officially named the Lee Valley VeloPark – since the gold rush days of 2012. The Olympic connection brought out a host of top names all of whom would be riding the boards for the first time since their gold medal runs. Trott, King, Kenny, Clancy, Hines and Burke were all in action whilst Jo Rowsell was doing TV work and Sir Chris Hoy took a guest spot alongside Hugh Porter in the commentary box.
As you would expect, the velodrome was full to capacity for all 3 sessions. Massively oversubscribed during the Olympics, tickets were only a little easier to come by this time. People came to see the racing, to see the building, and just for the occasion. The VeloPark is the second purpose-built Olympic site to be re-opened – the Aquatic Centre welcomed the public last month – and will be open for public sessions from the beginning of April. The Bespoked UK Handmade Cycle show – normally held in Bristol – will come to VeloPark on April 11th and the venerable Good Friday track meet will also be transferring to the East London site after 110 years at it’s traditional home at the outdoor Herne Hill track.
Laura Trott set the scene for a very special weekend in the first session on Friday night. She won the three Ominium events held that night – the Flying Lap, the Points Race, and the Elimination Race – to take a perfect score into the final three events which were to be held on the following afternoon and evening. With Jason Kenny looking to take on the in-form World Champion Francois Pervis in the Men’s Sprint and Ed Clancy and Ollie Wood trying to wrestle back control of the series-long battle between their Rapha-Condor-JLT team and the German Rudy Projects team, there was a palpable sense of expectation from the start of the Saturday session.
Jessie Ansell missed the early part of the afternoon session. The 17 year old Wolverhampton Wheeler was still travelling down from the Midlands to take part in the evening session in the Hoy Future Stars events. Riding on the junior Rudy Projects team, she has been track racing for seven years, having picked up the bug after watching her father compete. Work commitments meant that her family couldn’t come with her this weekend, so she travelled with her good friend, WD40 rider Paige Milward and her family. Favouring the endurance side of track racing she was looking forward to the two longer races of her three race night – the 5km Scratch and 5km Points races. They could hear the crowd cheering as they arrived and right away knew that the atmosphere was going to be very special. “The atmosphere in the Velodrome was like no other.”, she told me later, “The crowd were so loud that it really got me excited to race. I absolutely love riding the Revs, they are by far my favourite event and I’m just so happy to have got the chance to ride them the for past few years.“
Jessie Ansell & Paige Milward. Photo courtesy of Jessie Ansell
Trott duly won her one Ominium race of the afternoon session – the Pursuit – and then set about the possibly more daunting task of signing many hundreds of autographs at the hosts’ stand at the back of the velodrome. There were far more people wanting her signature than could be done in the available time and the 8 year old girl in the row behind us – the daughter of a friend of a friend – came back in tears after she missed out on meeting her idol by the narrowest of margins. Meanwhile Kenny garnered the biggest cheer of the afternoon by making it into the sprint semi-finals after going 1-0 down. Clancy stayed behind after the session to talk with people trackside, clearly loving both the event and the venue. Christian Grassman of Rudy Projects had lapped the field during the 40km Scratch Race, making Rapha-Condor-JLT’s goal of overhauling them very difficult but Clancy didn’t seem to be giving up just yet.
Jessie spent the afternoon like most of the visitors; enjoying the sunshine outside the velodrome and exploring the Olympic Park. Whilst some areas are still obviously building sites, the park is beginning to gain a feel of completeness again. There are lots of nice touches around the public spaces; play spaces, planting and sculptures which link the now widely spread remaining venues. It very much feels like a work in progress but one which is suffering only from it’s newness, not a lack of ambition or plan.
We also spent the couple of hours between the afternoon and evening sessions sitting in the sun; watching our kids climbing around on the excellent play area next to velodrome before heading to the Westfield Stratford shopping centre at the Southern end of the park for a quick bite to eat. Whilst we were there we met Trott and Kenny, who were having a brief look around for themselves, and we were able to secure the missing autograph to pass on to the tearful daughter.
The stars aligned for us to get all 3 autographs
The evening session brought about a noticeable change in tempo. Races were shorter, wins came more often and they had the added spice of knock-outs and elimination. The Future Stars also took to the boards for their races. Their first event is not really a favourite for Jessie. “The 6 lap dash isn’t exactly a race which suits me, but I gave it a good go and tried to get away from the other girls early on. That took its toll on my legs and I rolled in at the back of the bunch! I was happy to get it over with though and get on to the longer races, which suit me a lot more.”
Kenny lost out on his sprint semi-final to Pervis who was having another magnificent weekend; sweeping all before him in the Keirin on Friday night and setting up a Sprint final against Scotsman Calum Skinner, which again he would dominate. Kenny had delighted the crowd once more by going for a long one in the second match sprint and holding off the powerful Frenchman to take it to a decider. But it was not to be a winning night for him. Trott rode cannily throughout her 10km Scratch Race and took the win once more. Five out of five and only the Pursuit at the end of the evening to chalk up a remarkable clean sweep. The crowd loved it and the diminutive rider could probably have done another 10km in victory laps before the applause let up. As it was she retired back to the infield for her long wait and let the Rapha-Condor-JLT men retake the stage for two wins: first in the Elimination Race and then in their specialist event – the 1km Madison Time Trial. Clancy and teammate Ollie Wood had set a world record in this discipline in Revolution’s Round 3 and once again blew away the opposition to take the win and keep Rudy Projects honest to the last race of the series.
Germain Burton, Chris Lawless and Ed Clancy ready to race
Jessie Ansell’s Scratch Race began well enough. “I was rolling through doing my turn on the front as I usually do, feeling comfortable with the pace of the race and how it was panning out. I was around 4th back in the line when Monica [Dew], from Madison Genesis, clipped wheels with the rider in front and fell right in front of me..” Jessie was in the home straight when she hit Monica’s bike and went over her handlebars. In the blink of an eye her race, her night and much of her season was over.
Ansell’s high speed crash in the home straight. Photo by Neville Styles
“I knew I’d done something serious to my shoulder straight away, and I wasn’t able to just jump back up and carry on like I usually would. I’ve crashed a few times in my 7 years of racing, and I’ve always got back on my bike and finished, but I just knew I couldn’t do that this time.” Monica was able to get up and limp away from the crash just as the peloton came around again but Jessie lay still on the floor for a long while. The commissaires chose not not to stop the race, even though Jessie was lying prone, 10 feet short of the finish line. “I could still hear the crowd cheering in the background so I knew the race was still going on and once the paramedics had sat me up I saw the riders go past me. They were pretty certain that I had broken my collar bone and were just trying to take my mind off it whilst they sorted out some pain relief.”
The racing continued whilst Jessie was attended to in the infield and it was a long time before she left the velodrome on a stretcher. Future Stars leader Grace Garner of Team Sky won the ill-fated Scratch Race but few people noticed Jessie depart for her trip to the hospital in an ambulance numbed by morphine and gas & air as the programme continued unabated.
Gas & Air in the ambulance. Photo courtesy of Jessie Ansell
In the Boys version of Future Stars events Joe Holt of Team USN had already taken a strong second place in the Points Race and would go on to take an emphatic victory in his own Scratch Race to seal overall victory. Jessie’s teammate Lucy Shaw lay in third place going into the last Girl’s race of the evening but neither she nor second placed Sophie Capewell could deny Garner from retaking overall lead and confirming the series win.
Spain’s Albert Torres, riding for Rouleur, won the Men’s UCI Scratch Race but really all eyes were already on Trott, dutifully warming up on the rollers with her headphones on. She donned her aero helmet early and arrived at the waiting area long before the two riders who were due off before her – a clear sign of intent. As leader of the competition she rode in the last race and, though no other rider had bettered the time set by the first rider, she simply wasn’t going to be denied her crowning glory. Six out of six and the clean sweep was hers.
Trott swept all before her, winning 6 out 6 Omnium events. Photo by Luke Webber:Revolution Series
The crowd left happy, even though the trio of Hines, Crampton and Kenny couldn’t deny Pervis and friends in the GB vs the Rest of the World Team Sprint, which was the closing event after the presentations. Clancy and Wood were the evening’s biggest points scorers but it was Holt, Garner and Rudy Projects who took away the coveted Series wins. Sir Chris presented the youngsters with their winnings and even took the time to tweet Jessie wishing her well.
The X-ray at the hospital showed no break in the collar bone but confirmed a nasty shoulder separation which will keep Jessie off the bike for about a month. Her friend’s parents took her back to Wolverhampton battered and bruised, with instructions to check in with a fracture clinic on the Monday. They confirmed the diagnosis of the shoulder separation, which will need physiotherapy to work it back into place, but they also noticed another injury. “They confirmed that I dislocated and also severely sprained my shoulder, and also made the new discovery that I had chipped my pelvis. They assigned me to a physio who explained to me that I will need to gradually manipulate my collar bone back to where it should be.”
The crash will have a big effect on the teenager’s short-term plans. “I have been told it will be around 3 – 4 weeks before I can start to get back on the bike, but I’ll definitely be looking to decrease that time so I can be back sooner. But for now it’s rest and physio for me, sadly no racing for the next few weeks.” Jessie is also having to cope with only having a working left hand for the moment and manages to gently mock her own plight, “Even tying my shoes is a hassle,” she jokes. Her intentions regarding cycling are clear though, “I plan to get back on my bike as soon as I can and get back to racing.”
The Revolution Series will return to the Lee Valley Velodrome next season to take it’s place amongst the many events that will bring this once hallowed space into more regular use. By championing the very best of the present and the future they have a winning model for continually building and rebuilding on the success of each consecutive generation. Now that is what I call a real legacy.