Of course the 'lecture' wasn't exactly schoolwork, more a discussion with instructional videos. Today's subject was team riding in the peleton as you might have guessed; it's been an essential part of Team Apollinaris tactics and success this year so I wasn't paying too much attention.
"Okay ladies and gentlemen," Caroline started, "we've had a go on the road, we've talked about it, I think we are all happy with the mechanics of it?" she paused, getting no response she went on, "to finish we've got another video with some European racing taken this summer, this is the sort of action and tactical riding we are wanting to emulate in Team GB, Steve?"
Our other slave driver started the projection system; "Sorry about the quality, it's not exactly available in the shops!" he chuckled.
Someone had at least added a soundtrack that kicked off with 'Bicycle Race', I settled into my chair ready to do one of my favourite things - watch bike racing. Instead of the expected pro's on the screen the start of a junior race in what looked like Belgium by some of the jerseys that came up, well it's not the Tour but I'm sure they're showing this for a reason. There was a combination of static and mobile shots, I'm sure I've ridden against some of those guys.
It concentrated on the peleton and after a few minutes moved to another race, repeating this two or three times.
"Been there." I whispered to Manda beside me as a shot of Stuttgart came up.
There was a quick pan across the start, I recognised a few jerseys, it was probably last year's race. Then the action turned to the race itself, the usual chaos that marks the start of hostilities before things settle down. Something had obviously poked the hornet's nest, as the next sequence involved the car with the camera zooming past a very depleted and freshly split bunch – I'm sure that's where we attacked this year.
The car passed all the riders including the last more business like group, the camera barely pausing as it zipped past. Another small group of riders hove into view and the car slowed behind them, must be the leaders.
“Nice bum!” Mand opined, “wouldn't mind following that.”
That looks like; no it can't be, hang on, one, two, three, four – shit!
“Isn't that your team?” Jamie suggested from behind me.
Talk about embarrassing. The camera stayed on us as we settled into a workman like rotation, Josh – for it was his bum that Mand was drooling over, taking slightly shorter pulls than the rest of us on the climb. Do I really look like that?
“You not ride this?” Gethyn enquired.
It was painful to watch as at that moment the on screen me turned and pulled a face at the camera as switched onto Roni's wheel.
“I think that answers that,” Claire observed.
“I thought that was a girl,” Darren stated.
If I could turn a shade closer to post box red I would have. The footage jumped a little focussing, as much on our legs as anything, I had to admit that we looked well pro! There were a few frames of Josh going like a blue arsed what not down the descent, the rest of us tucked in neatly behind before that moron, Hans flashed through, slipping effortlessly into the newcomers slipstream. I can't really remember much about this bit, my memories seem focused on the finished, I subconsciously rubbed my ankle.
It was like watching Channel 4's edited highlights of the Tour, as first Gret then Tali attacked, the rest of us content to let Hans and co do all the chasing. Geez, do we really ride that fast? The last kilo was an eyeballs out effort as each of the girls took a pull on the front, our formation making sure that the opposition really had to work to stay in contention. Then it was just Josh at the front.
The following camera stopped to be replaced by a head on view, where am I? The hulking figure of Josh was giving it everything, Hans apparently on his shoulder. My lead out was almost perfect, Josh swung off to reveal me hurtling towards the line Hans almost laying on me. I was reliving every second now, heading inexorably towards the painful conclusion.
“Come on, Drew!” Mand shouted as I battled my adversary.
I thrust the bike forward, seeing it now I actually had half a wheel, then, yeah I win. I hit the floor with a painful thud.
“Steve?” Caro called out.
I'm not entirely sure what happened but when I opened my eyes it was to a sea of concerned faces staring down at me.
“Give him a bit of space guys.” Caro instructed, “You okay, Drew?”
Am I? I think so. ”Think so.”
“I think she got a bit carried away reliving the finish,” Claire giggled.
I struggled to my feet; make it a Ferrari rather than the post box.
“You sure you're okay?” Steve rechecked.
“Uh huh, I only slipped off the chair.”
“Well it was nearly the end of the vid anyhow, sit yourselves back down and we'll discuss what we've seen.”
After the afternoon session we headed to the ‘drome for a gym session which I have to admit did get a bit competitive, sometimes being small is useful.
“I'm glad you're on our side,” Jamie mentioned as we started on our evening meal.
“Certainly shut Paul up,” Darren added.
“Paul Redding? Junior champ?” Jamie prompted.
“She's not been in the country, dumbo,” Claire pointed out, “short black hair.”
“Oh right, so I guess he's pretty good?”
“Lucky more like,” Gethyn noted.
“He's okay but like Geth says, lucky,” Jamie confirmed.
“There's always an element of luck.”
“Yeah but for both me and Marcus to puncture in the last mile…” Gethin sighed.
“Lucky,” several voices chimed together.
It wasn't like it was intentional, or maybe it was, but the two groups from Sunday were each becoming separate from the other, we all sort of gravitated to people we know, even if it is only a recently forged bond. It wasn't that anyone was snubbing anyone else but like a dozen is too many to all get cosy whereas six can even all get around one table. That's how the circuit session got so competitive.
After dinner, a ‘healthy' salad, baked tater with tuna and fruit salad to follow, our time was our own.
“Anyone fancy Colin McRae?” Jamie enquired.
“I prefer younger men,” Claire deadpanned.
“You said – oh forget it, come on Drew, leave the boys to their games,” Mand instructed.
I am a boy!
“Yeah, I wanna know how you do your hair like that,” Claire added.
And so my first full day at the BC boot camp ended with me giving a demonstration of German hair braiding not just to Claire and Manda but Sally and Laura joined us too.
A pattern was set; each day we'd have a cycling session in the morning, a discussion after lunch, gym then dinner. Nearly forgot, there was a break from that on Tuesday for some of us.
“Can Paul, Gethin, Drew and Laura meet me in reception in ten minutes please with your riding kit.” Steve ordered as we cleared the remains of our dinner from the tables.
“Wonder what this is about?” Geth mused.
“No idea, best shake a leg though.”
Up in my cupboard I grabbed a set of riding togs, which joined my helmet, mitts and shoes in my new BC kit bag. I nearly made it out the door without the post ride essentials of wash kit and towel which delay meant I was the last one to front of the building.
“Okay ladies and gentlemen, you four are in for a bit of a treat, by personal invitation you are joining the track squad for their last session before heading to Greece, I'm not sure what Dave and his charges have in store for you but I'm sure you'll all learn from the experience. So hop in the car, Caroline's going to bring you some supporters a bit later.”
That conversation with Chris, wow, I never thought it was actually going to happen. We piled into the car and we set off for our appointment with what most pundits consider our best track squad in for like ever.
“Why us, Steve?” Laura asked the question that we had all no doubt asked ourselves.
Steve took a moment before replying, “This goes no further for now, right?”
“Sure,” Gethin agreed for all of us.
“'Kay.” Laura supplied.
“We have specific targets for you four, the trackies have certain skills that might well prove useful to you. If tonight goes well you'll be doing regular sessions honing those skills.”
“What sort of targets?” Paul asked excitedly.
“You'll find out soon enough, remember, not a word outside of you four.”
Given what's already been said to me I'm guessing they are grooming the lads as my backup and Laura to lead the girls.
“Ah the pocket rocket,” Chris beamed when we joined our Olympians track centre a while later.
“This,” he pulled me into a light hug, “is the next generation, eh lassie?”
“Geez, there's no doubting which stable that ones out of,” Brad exclaimed.
“Now I think on there is a strong look of Jen about ye.”
“She is my Mum,” I pointed out.
“So, Stevie boy, we know who this ‘un is, yer gonna introduce t'others?”
“Tall one's Paul Redding, Gethin Jones and Laura Burke's the young lady trying to hide behind young Bond, I'll leave them to you Dave, try not to break them.”
“Thanks Steve I'll try to give ‘em back in one piece. Right ladies and gentlemen on the boards twenty warm up.”
And so it began.
The whistle meant that I could ease up a little and fall back into the pack. Riding with these guys who are at the top of the game has brought home just how much difference there is between being a top junior rider and becoming world class. Currently I was making the numbers up so the points and omnium guys get a feel for the number of bodies on the boards even so it was taking quite an effort to stay with the fast moving bunch.
At some point Caro must've arrived with the rest of our squad as some cheering and board slapping added to the general din of the track.
“Shenaze, take Laura and Drew, Vicky home straight with Paul and Graham.”
Well we knew who he meant.
“You know how this works right?” Shenaze queried.
“Think so, we each do a lap flat out then pull off?” Laura supplied.
“Pretty much, I usually take lap one, I reckon Laura should take two so you get the ride to the big finish Drew.”
We rolled to where the starting gate was set, not for Lor or me we each had a holder, can you believe I actually got Chris and Laura had Bradley.
“Ready?” Dave asked.
“Yup.” Laura replied, I nodded and concentrated on my breathing.
“Three, two, one.” BANG!
Number one took off with a surprising turn of speed that caught Laura on the hop. She gave chase making contact after half a lap, I was slotted comfortably in behind. This was no playing about this was full race pace and Laura started to lose the wheel just before Shenaze swung up the track.
The idea was that Laura paced me but I found myself having to throttle back a bit. I've no idea exactly how we were doing against the lads, but I'm sure we'd lost ground on Laura's lap. She crossed the line and I powered through, my concentration all on staying on the blue line and turning the pedals.
It was over. I eased off the power and sat up, keen to get a few big lungfuls of oxygen to replace what I'd expended. What are they all clapping for?
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 21.06.12