Katie Archibald column: Keeping British cycling on track

Katie discusses the importance local tracks have had in community cycling and discovering new talent

There is a dream for people living in the Highlands and islands of Scotland to have a velodrome. In line with that dream, HiVelo, a charity that aims to support the growth of cycling in the north of Scotland, are trying to coordinate various different funding sources to build a high-performance sporting hub (including a 200m velodrome) in Inverness, and make it a reality.

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It would be the UK’s seventh indoor velodrome (if you’re totting them up on your fingers right now and you’re missing one, it’s Calshot, you’ve forgotten Calshot) and a chance for Scottish Highlanders to share in the glory of the rest of the UK when it comes to track cycling. Discussing the impact of facilities on local talent is a topic I love. Spoiler: the impact is huge.

When I first started riding at Meadowbank velodrome (in Edinburgh) my elders told me stories about the “City Mafia”. What they were talking about was the City of Edinburgh Racing Club being, once upon a time, the most dominant track cycling club in the UK. Not wildly surprising when you acknowledge that Edinburgh was home to the UK’s only wooden 250m track. Born out of this facility were Craig MacLean and Chris Hoy.

Then and now

The story from here is simple. Manchester velodrome opened in 1994 when six-year-old Jason Kenny was growing up in Bolton — by age 11 he’d ridden it for the first time, and by age 28 he was racing his third Olympic Games and became Britain’s joint most successful Olympian (along with that other chap from Edinburgh).

In 2003 Newport velodrome opened, while a 12-year-old Becky James was growing upin Abergavenny. By 2016 a 24-year-old Becky James left the Rio Olympics with two medals.

Tracking talent

And already we hear stories of the talent that has and is growing from the Glasgow velodrome; most notably Paisley boy Jack Carlin, a sprint silver medallist at the 2018 World Championships (then age 20) and a rider with eyes on the Tokyo Olympics.

Even Derby, which only opened in 2015, can already boast that it’s the home of Team Huub-Wattbike, an independent outfit who have been world beaters during their World Cup campaign this season.

Track cycling, of course, is so much bigger than this handful of stories. For starters, I could have listed many more successful names and told of the facilities and tracks (many of them outdoor; think of Laura Kenny and Welwyn) that let them discover something they were truly exceptional at. On top of those stories, though, you would hear of the people that let them discover their talent and, maybe more importantly, love for this sport. For me, during my first few tentative sessions at Meadowbank velodrome, it was a man called Allister Watson.

This isn’t strictly relevant to my story, but I enjoy taking the opportunity whenever it arises to thank Allister for opening a door to the world I now inhabit. I’d wager most professional sports people have an Allister; or, more likely, a whole community of Allisters (the list of people my career is indebted to is too large to put down here) who give their time and passion to sport.

What comes from that isn’t just Olympic champions, it’s human beings finding a place to be happy (and I suppose in a modern conversation we should mention healthy) doing this thing we all love: trying to press the pedals on a bicycle round faster than the next person.

The Scottish Highlands and islands has this community too. In March of last year a proposal, three years in the making, fell through as it became another casualty of funding cuts in the austerity era.

A new proposal and design now exists, projected to cost £15m. HiVelo want to raise £1m of this through crowdfunding. If you’re interested in supporting it visit www.hivelo.org/donate and add some cash to the pot.

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