National Velodrome of France: Baptême du Feu

This is something I’ve had my eye on for years now and finally had enough time in Paris last week to do – a visit to the National Velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. And not just any old visit either, but a track baptême (introduction course), followed up by a lesson. This is me looking for the changerooms. Tip: don’t follow these signs; they’ll just take you to the track, which is not a great place to change.

It turned out that I was the outsider here in several ways. The first one is obvious; after telling the coaches my name, I was regularly yelled at from across the track as Thierry and Sherry. The second was because I was the lone beginner who wasn’t part of a local MTB club. Here some of them are, all confident-like before some of their track dreams were good and shattered.

Because track riding turns out to be not very simple, even if the bike is.

That’s right, this a fixie with no freewheel or brakes, meaning you slow down by either putting reverse pressure on the pedals, grabbing a railing, or falling over, which is probably not that difficult to do, considering the track peaks at a 44 degree angle.

The ‘baptism’ started with an overview of how to get on and off the bike. How to start, how to stop, and some rules of the track: pass on the right, escape to the grey zone if you are getting freaked out on the boards, DON’T STOP PEDALING!.

And then we rode, first on that magic grey zone (flat), then on La Cote d’Azur (the blue line below), which is your semi-safe zone, and then at the colored lines at the bottom end of the boards, trying our damndest to stay on the wheel of the rider in front. This, I found, was a real trick, because if you put too much effort into it you’d end up half-wheeling him/her because, yo, you have no brakes.

The lesson afterwards was similar, except that we learned the new trick of staying in a group and peeling off at the beginning of the turn (by rocket launching towards to top of the boards). I ended my two hours with a countdown of 10 laps en file indienne then one lap where you could let ‘er rip and pass whoever you were able to – they even rung a bell!

Some random takeaways from 2 hours on the track:

  • I understand why track riders have huge thighs. You need lots of watts just to get started!
  • If you don’t have vertigo, it’s a lot of fun.
  • Getting passed by a peloton is a truly strange experience. They are next to you and right above you at the same time.

If you want to see this velodrome in action, it’s the one they’ll be using for track events at the Olympics next year. If you’d like to try for yourself, here’s a link to their reservation engine. You’ll probably need to at least understand French. A name they can remember and pronounce might help, too.

4 thoughts on “National Velodrome of France: Baptême du Feu

  1. Gerry, this is a great report! How do I convince Patty that this would be a good idea to try next October? I loved reading this! Thanks for recording your experience

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