After years of negotiations, building work, various quangos, upheival, the 2012 Olympic Games (opens in new tab), and more building work, the Lee Valley Velopark is finally open to the general public.
Sitting on the old Eastway (opens in new tab) site the new Velopark is the only one in the world to host all four Olympic cycling disciplines: Track, road, moutain bike and BMX.
The official opening is this weekend with the final Revolution (opens in new tab) meet of the 2013 / 2014 winter series, although school groups have already been on the road circuit and secret Saturday morning track sessions have been going on for months in order to keep the boards from rising. This week, Cycling Weekly, along with other media were invited to the opening and allowed to ride the facilities.
This is what we liked.
1. The track and velodrome
Housed in one of the most beautiful sporting arenas in the UK, and possibly the world, the 250m track will draw people in from all over the country. With several world records to its name, the track still evokes memories of the 2012 Games and all the medals that the home team won on it. The performances of Sir Chris Hoy, Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Ed Clancy and others will long be remembered.
Without all the Olympic paraphernalia the sunlight now shines through the glass that runs round the concourse flooding the whole velodrome in natural light. A fantastic place to be, and an even better place to ride.
2. Road circuit timing cabin
It's a little work of art that wouldn't look out of place on Grand Designs. The wood clad, oblong hut has a raised floor and frameless windows to allow perfect views for the judges. It's also heated! There's also a timing system built in to the stantion above the finish line to work with timing chips on the bikes. This could be the most technologically advanced closed road cycle circuit in the UK, if not the world.
3. Hire bikes
Okay, they were brand new, so of course they worked well, but the Condor bikes are a great addition for several reasons. Having bikes from the 66-year-old shop not only means the hire bikes are British, but they're from London. In fact, they're from a shop just 5.4 miles away.
4. The park
The greenery surrounding the velodrome (not all of it, the A12 runs east to west along it's northern side) gives the whole Velopark a relaxed country feel. The skyscrapers in the distance to the south and east remind you you're in London, but the park is a little traffic-free oasis to enjoy on two wheels.
5. Olympic rings
During the 2012 Olympic Games there was one photo opportunity that everyone who got in to the park had to take. That was standing underneath the large Olympic rings sat on top of a hillock near the velodrome. Those rings are still there, and with the park looking green and pleasant, there's still the opportunity to go and get your photo taken stood underneath them with the velodrome in the background. Go do it.
6. The road circuit
The trouble caused by the building of a simiple road circuit on this site was unprecedented. When British Cycling's eastern region faced the loss of the Eastway circuit the resulting crisis engulfed the governing body and reached as far as the Mayor of London's office and Houses of Parliament. After all, how could the Olympics ever justify the destruction of a busy, popular, grass routes facility. The whole situation was confused by the fact that the original quango the ODA (Olympic Development Authority) would hand over the park to LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) who in turn would hand the site over to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC - by far the worst acronym). Thankfully the end result is a beautifully made, floodlit road circuit that flows nicely and can be divided in to smaller versions by coning off sections. It's also a short walk from the changing rooms to the start finish line.
7. Future stars of the east end
The catchment area for the Velopark is huge, and due to grow rapidy when people start moving in to the converted athletes village. There is more building still to come with a shared ownership development going up on the site of the basketball arena (that was sold on to the Rio 2016 organising committe). How long before Britain's next cycling superstar leaps from Stratford, Hackney or the east end in to the British team to win an Olympic medal?
While the velodrome may bring in the bulk of it's revenue from pricey corporate days, other facilities like the BMX and mountain bike circuits will be available from as little as £6 for a pay and ride session. Local schools and groups working with disabled children have already been enjoying the road circuit and will continue to do so.
A few things that still concern us.
There is a lot of fencing around the road circuit, much of it seems a little unnecessary and some of it is little more than a metre away from the edge of the circuit. If a peloton is travelling at full speed and there's a crash, it naturally fans out and a metal fence is the last thing you want to hit. More run off in places would be ideal.
The bridges over the River Lea (the circuit goes both ways over it) has rumble strips either side to keep riders away from the big metal fences (that keep riders away from the river). The trouble is the rumble strips are made of rubber, and apparently very slippery when wet. When running the circuit in a clockwise direction the second bridge is within the last 500m, just when riders might be trying to move up. Caution recommended.
There are no Boris Bike docking stations at the velopark and it's a long walk from Stratford station. There still seems to be confusion over carparking too. The nearest carpark is.... actually we're not sure. We've only ever gone there on the train or two wheels. If you do go on the train, there's little chance of taking a bike with you before 7pm.
London's Olympic cycling legacy venue opened its doors for the first time this morning.
London's Olympic cycling legacy venue nearing completion ahead of March opening date
Taster sessions on the London 2012 Velodrome and new closed-road circuit are now available for purchase online
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