– Photos & Words by David Pearce –
March 14 & 15 saw the re-opening of the Lee Valley VeloPark at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park hosting cycle racing for the first time since the 2012 Olympics with the Revolution Series #5 rolling into town. Some of the biggest names in British track cycling were there, including Olympic gold-medalist Laura Trott, joined by Dani King, Joanna Rowsell, Jason Kenny and Ed Clancy.
The Revolution Series started 10 years ago after the Face Partnership sat down with the owners of the Manchester velodrome in England. The latter needed bums on seats and the former wanted to bring elite track cycling to the masses, hence the Revolution Series was born. It has increasingly growing in popularity and has expanded to include the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow and now, the Lee Valley Park Velodrome.
The riders warm up literally next door to the spectators who are VIPs or have paid for track centre access. It must be pretty strange on the first occasion but I guess the riders get used to it with time. It is great for me though as the athletes are in one place and you can wait for an interesting composition to come about.
The structure provides a competitive environment for UK cyclists to hone their race skills and has seen luminaries such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton all compete. The series now enjoys an international reputation with UCI points on offer tempting some of the biggest stars of the track including current World Champions to the UK.
Just before the race I love observing the interaction between the athletes and their coaches. Last minute tactics being discussed and decisions made. The riders can go from being relaxed to looking quite tense in a matter of minutes.
I was not fortunate enough to see the track cycling at the Olympics but those that know say the venue is one of the best globally for spectators. I do not doubt this at all – the acoustics were phenomenal and the roar from the crowd deafening at times. The spectators in the front seats can be right on top of the action, almost within touching distance of the riders should they take a line at the top of the track. It makes for quite a spectacle.
When spectating at you are really bought into the thick of the action. Here at the top of the corner can provide spectacular views as the riders rise high on the bank almost within touching distance.
I was very interested in how different track cycling is to stage racing from the participants’ perspective. Here, anyone with sufficient funds can purchase a ticket to have dinner in the track centre with literally a 1 meter high wall separating them from Olympic champions perched on their bikes atop rollers warming up. It is quite surreal how exposed the riders are, not only to the VIPS but the press. There is nowhere to hide. All that is provided are dividing walls for each team. It brings the term “being in a fish bowl” to life perfectly.
If you can get tickets to be track centre it is a great place to be – literally in the thick of the action and just feet away from the racers. There was a dinner laid and a champagne and beer bar… I was pretty jealous as I was dying for a beer.
Most riders, of course, are quite used to this and carry on with their warm up, cool downs and listening to music. An official comes to collect them shortly before they race and this is when the real focus manifests itself. The riders have to be in the zone, ready for an explosive bout of power delivered with timing & tact. It really does come down to the last corner on so many occasions and an intense burst of watts being pushed through the pedals to come out of a slipstream and take the victory by the narrowest of margins.
The riders can come really close together during the racing making it really exciting. Photographing the action can be difficult, as you really want to watch and follow the race as it unfolds but is very hard too. We media may have privileged access but at the expense of seeing all the races sometimes.
As the sessions progress, the crowd, fuelled by beer and emotion, progressively get louder and louder. They encourage the home riders and, on this night, Laura Trott and Ed Clancy to victory – their willpower providing that extra morsal of energy to dig deeper and go faster when it seems impossible to give anything more. Trott managed an incredible 6 out of 6 wins with her confidence, ability, experience and tenacity self evident. She really is quite remarkable.
I was really jealous of the spectators in the stands delving into their ice creams and beers. I could have one of course but if something interesting happens I would only have one hand free to operate my camera…
Track cycling is hugely entertaining with multiple disciplines ridden through the session. Be it a 500m time trial or a 50km Madison we are kept engaged. There is no break in proceedings, just full on, non-stop action. On occasion you may even witness an epic fall as two riders come together. Fortunately they are usually OK, although shaken and able to pick themselves up and race the next day.
After a hard effort, most of us want to sit down and relax, but not cycling pros. They do a warm down for 5-10 minutes to clear acid from their legs. I am always intrigued to witness this as I’m sure if they have not won they simply want to hide away and reflect on how improvements can be made.
The sport is growing (even with a lack of tracks) and attracting a great number of teenagers. They are given the opportunity to race in the “HOY Future Stars” contest on the same day as the Elites. The winner of the series taking home their very own HOY bike. Contests like this nurture young talent and provide a platform for progression to become Olympians beyond Rio 2016.
But enough of my talk, as a photojournalist I prefer to let my pictures speak for themselves. Here are a few more of my favorite shots from the three days of racing.
As a photographer you can get really close to the stars which is great. Here is Laura Trott the double olympic champion.
I love looking for reflections in my work and this one jumped out at me. I think it is the yellow that makes it work against the black.
Being track side you can really sense the speed on the riders as they attack and go past, maybe covering one lap of 250 metres in 10 seconds. It is quite incredible how much speed the elite athletes produce.
Another example of the effort exerted. I loved the way Jason Kenny’s tongue was hanging out as he was gasping for air.
One of the highlights for me is in the team races where one rider literally grabs his team mate’s hand at high speed to sling them forward.
I find it really fascinating how each rider chooses their kit. Here you can see how one of the Wiggle Honda riders chooses an aero helmet whilst others wear a normal slatted helmet …marginal gains.
I really enjoy walking around the venue observing and looking for abstract shots and new angles. This image is all about the shapes with the riders coming secondary.
You don’t need to see everything in a shot to know what is going on. Here just a glimpse of a wheel is enough to visualise the speed and effort the rider is putting into the race.
You may think that the stars have a team around them looking after their every need but this is not the case. Often you will find Olympic champions dissembling their own bikes and packing them away ready to be transported.
To view more images of the Revolution Series in London visit David Pearces website at www.different-perspective.co.uk where you can view a free digital magazine dedicated to the weekends racing.