A racer’s view: London crowds set a new standard

I’ve never heard a velodrome get louder than when Katie Archibald dominated her races.

Gavin Hoover is an American Tokyo Olympian who won the UCI’s new Track Champions League series, which had rounds in Mallorca, Lithuania, and London. He is doing a regular column on his experiences, and documenting it with his own photography as well in the gallery below.

We’d barely made it out of Lithuania before rumors of new restrictions and travel difficulties started swirling. The latest Covid variant had landed in Europe and the best laid plans for the next month suddenly seemed up in the air. The UCI TCL WhatsApp group pinged every ten minutes with the latest update on what was happening, what added tests and documents we’d need to enter the countries and the race venues for the remaining rounds.

Among the riders, we speculated on our odds of getting exemptions to enter Israel for the fifth and final round in light of their most recent ban on all foreigners. It didn’t seem likely. We got word a couple of days after round two: Israel was off the table and the final rounds would now be the doubleheader at the London Olympic velodrome. I was looking forward to finishing in Tel Aviv, but getting the grand finale in front of a sold-out crowd at one of the most famous tracks in the world was a welcome alternative.

I was sitting in third overall after the second round in Lithuania. I showed up at the London velodrome Friday morning to find I suddenly had a multitude of interviews and media obligations to try and fit around the morning spin I had planned. There’s a documentary series following the inaugural season of Champions League that will air on the Discovery Network in February, and sitting high enough in the standings to be in the conversation for the overall win I found myself having to fill in the background on my history in the sport and being followed around the pit by a camera and a boom mic. It was a new experience for me and something I welcomed, especially once the production crew told me how much they’d been loving my own pieces on VeloNews

Track racing can be a lot of hurry up and wait, and once I’d built my bike, reassembled a few wheelsets, and gotten a short spin in on the boards, it was back to the hotel to try and relax before everything kicked off later that evening. The nerves start building early and the hotel room can start to feel a bit claustrophobic but it’s important to try and stay calm; let it all build too soon and you’ll be fried by the time the racing actually starts. 

Some tracks really just feel different, and walking into the Lee Valley VeloPark is unlike anything else. The history permeates the building. London 2012 was the first Olympics I watched where I was really aware of cycling. I remember watching and being inspired by the dominant performances of the British riders in front of their home crowd, like Chris Hoy winning his final Olympic medal in an amazing last push of pure willpower in the Keirin. Or the British quartet knocking off another dominant team pursuit performance. Knowing you’ll be adding to that history and sharing the same boards is hard to take lightly. On top of that, the noise of a sold-out crowd created an atmosphere unlike anything I’ve ever experienced racing my bike.