A Day at the (Bike) Races
“Do you think they get dizzy?”
This pearl of wisdom was offered up by one of the guys leaning up against the rails of the velodrome. We’d been watching a group of blokes from the “Vets” over 40s group (and SuperVets over 50s) complete lap after lap of the 450m cycle track. Dressed in lycra, sporting team colours from Dulwich Paragon, Brixton Cycles, Herne Hill’s own Velo Club de Londres and strangely the green and gold of Brazil, these MAMILs put us spectators to shame. Not just one race but a multiple event competition (Omnium? Madison?) including a team sprint, a tempo race, points race, the intriguingly named Devil and the surreal Marymoor Crawl.
The latter appeared to start as a slow bike race and you were eliminated if you put your foot down then they roared off at breakneck speed at the sound of the gun. As this event was the leafy Dulwich/Herne Hill suburbs this gun was obviously the starting pistol and nobody seemed to dive for cover. The commentator tried to keep us informed of the different rules and techniques for each race, which runners and riders were leading or had been eliminated.
One rider didn’t seem to realise he’d been knocked out of the Devil by crossing the line last. The commentator started yelling “Number
35, John the Builder you’re out. Switch your hearing aid on!” Most of the guys racing train regularly at the track in the over 40s Wednesday morning session. The crowd cheered them on and banged on the boards even if they didn’t understand what was going on all the time.
It was part of a weekend long event called the Big Velofete is a brand new fundraising event for the Herne Hill Velodrome in South London. Taking place across the 15th & 16th of June, the weekend hosted events including road racing, track racing, sprinting and cross country running. After a rainy Sunday morning the skies cleared and left us in awe of the little oasis of greenery tucked down a little sidetrack off Burbage Road. This feeling of contentment was enhanced by the presence of a pop up Canopy Brewery stall selling Brockwell IPA and a weird but tasty Paceline lager with lime and salt. Fast food stalls did their best to break the trade descriptions act by taking 30 minutes to serve a crepe (though they did have lots of hungry customers to feed). And there was even a Big Band doing Frank Sinatra covers.
In partnership with Village Books, the Cycling Book Festival hosted talks and discussions across the weekend with some of the leading cycling writers in the UK, including Ned Boulting, who is President of HHV and a guest appearance from super star Bradley Wiggins who used to ride at Herne Hill. Since they raised funds to redevelop the pavilion, the modernist design building with its flowing, curving wooden exterior is reason alone to visit. This weekend it showcased an exhibition on the life-histories of Black-British Champions in Cycling “Made in Britain”. Stunning both for it’s visual imagery and the recent history of discrimination in the sport.
The Big Velofete was a bargain at £3 for Adults, £1 for children with donations going to the maintenance of the velodrome. Let’s look forward to a repeat next year. If you want to take a look at the velodrome and give it a go without the pressure of a race and having all the gear then PRIME is organising an over 40s into session this summer. Register at myprime.uk for only a tenner.