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By De Soto Athlete Debbie Vanner

“What!” I said to the instructor. “Up there?” 

I pointed up at the 45% percent banking on the track. It was terrifying.

I had never been to a Velodrome and never cycled on a bike without any brakes! The singular gear was fixed to the back wheel, meaning that I couldn’t freewheel once on the bike, something that is quite natural to a conventional road cyclist….

This was going to be a challenge!

But a few weeks later we pulled together a (novice) team and entered a 24 Hour Race! Some might say MADNESS – none of us had ever ridden at a Velodrome before!

My first experience of track cycling came in April and I have never been so terrified in all my life BUT after an hour of concentration and perseverance I did it; I was probably the least confident person on the track but the following week we went back and I passed my Stage 1 ‘with confidence’. 

Triathlon season was now upon me and I decided I didn’t want to risk having a crash on the track where you are pretty much guaranteed to break something if you come off. So with 4 months before the Event I was back at the Track in December and January with my team mates ( and opposing team mates ) and succeeded in passing Stage, 2, 3 and 4, each time learning more and more! Every session I was absolutely petrified but I came off buzzing and wanting more.  The Coaches were absolutely top class and whilst very strict they gave praise when it was due – they certainly taught me how to look after myself and watch out for others when you are riding a bike with no brakes and NO freewheel.

So now armed with my very own track bike I was completely hooked. The days of hiring a Velodrome bike a long and distant memory with the focus now firmly on how to cope with riding for 24 Hours on a bike that is only normally suited to no more than a number of quick laps. Our team of six would share the track, with each one of us ‘handing over’ after 20 minutes. 

Well I picked the right weekend to be inside. Storm Ciara raged outside, with all of the riders totally unawares – all of us focusing on the challenge ahead. Back at home all of our Club rides had been cancelled!

The Velodrome was full of riders with a sense of trepidation, nervousness and excitement, but for me this was a totally new challenge and so different from my triathlon background and a huge hurdle to overcome riding my ‘new’ bike, hoping that I wouldn’t make a mistake and end up splicing myself on the unforgiving wooden boards. I just really wanted to enjoy the whole experience.  Once our team was registered I headed off to find where our HQ was going to be for the next 24 hours. Our small Team area was about 12 foot squared so space was limited for our team of six. We named ourselves ‘The Sprockets’ since our other Club Team (who had entered the event the previous year) were named The Rockets – and we wanted to adopt a similar name but with reference to the singular sprocket of the track bike. Armed with a couple of turbo trainers to warm up on (and cool down) we each had our own way of ‘down time’ – whether it be a comfy chair or sleeping bag. My own choice was to try and stay awake and get a few power naps here and there. 

We’d done all the prep, we had all chosen our food, drink and nutrition. We all knew what to do now. It was just a case of putting it all together.

The spreadsheet read that we all had 20 minutes of track time. The 3rd rider would change the transponder / baton and that was the plan.

That all changed 7 hours in! Pete, our No 5, at the end of his fifth session got cramp! His leg locked up and because of the nature of NO freewheel he came to an abrupt halt and hit the boards! Bang! Other riders narrowly avoided him but he was then in the hands of the medics. True to form our 3rd rider was there to swop over the transponder and there was very little time lost! Sadly for Pete it was race over as he had ruptured his collarbone – something we learnt the following day when Pete went to his local A&E after feeling sorer and sorer. But back on the track Pete was still a part of the team and took the mantle of the 3rd rider, meaning that we didn’t require that rider on the track to help. It also meant extra laps for the remaining 5 riders. They were Angus, Chris, Dave & my husband Gav. 

At that point we were 10th (out of 20 Teams) with even more to do if we wanted to make a real go of competing.

By nightfall, they dimmed the lights in the arena and it was only the team riders who occupied the Velodrome. Family and friends well wished us and headed home or to a hotel for a nice hot meal and to sleep in a comfy bed, for the rest of us it was business as usual and all down to teamwork. By the early hours of the morning it was as tough as ever. Fellow riders and teams tried to catch as much sleep as they could and get as much nutrition as they could. I never appreciated egg sandwiches so much and the porridge was a very welcome boost to energy as I readied myself for the final push to midday – when the race finished. We were now getting competitive and despite being one rider down we were fighting for 7th place. Team orders were still the same; 20 minutes on the track, then handover. Our other (more experienced team) was jostling for 4th position, but we knew we had endurance in our team with many of our riders used to big mileages and long distance events.

When the lights were raised  (or should I say daylight and storms began) our team vied for 6th position as we tried to up the pace and stay attached to the faster riders on the track. I was focused, I was concentrating and I was being verbal. The rapport with other riders on the track was building and I was still fully awake. With less than 4 hours to go we took 6th place. Elated, our team never looked back and it was up to Angus, Gav and Chris to complete the remaining time. I watched from the viewing balcony with my friends and family and saw Chris cross the line. We had secured 6th overall position. Our first ever endurance track race – our opposing team took 4th.

As the awards were being handed out I was shocked to hear that we had secured 2nd place for the Mixed Team Prize. No sooner as we’d collected our prize we were being presented with 1st Place for the Veteran Team.

For many years I have competed solo, with my ambitions firmly in triathlon. It was so refreshing to enjoy something new and it was wonderful to be a part of a team of riders all of which were completely new to Track Cycling a year ago. Later this year there is a similar 12 Hour Event, that I am very keen to be a part of! One thing is for definite though, I will be a part of the 2021 event and maybe striving for 5thposition with my fellow teammates, including Pete!   

And as if that wasn’t enough, being a triathlete I had to jump in the pool and smash out 1500m before finally heading home and falling into bed and sleeping for 13 hours.

I should also mention that I wore my Desoto Femme Riviera Tri Suit for the whole 24 hours, absolutely love it.

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