Cycling Southland's Nick Jeffrey is part of a southern deputation along with Stephen Canny and Dale Tye attending the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne to promote the Junior World Championships in Invercargill in August and to shadow event organisers to gain ideas on running large scale events behind-the-scenes.
WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL
A morning pre-Breakfast run to Hisense Arena confirmed that my B&B Accommodation is only 10 minutes from the venue. Olympic Park is a truly amazing precinct.
Hisense Arena, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Rod Laver Arena (as in the Australian Tennis Open venue), AAMI Park (home of the Melbourne Storm and Rebels) - when I go, bury me here.
Actually to describe it as a morning run is a bit of a stretch. It was more like run 50 metres, stop and take a photo of the Bill Ponsford statue, run another 50, stop and take a photo of Dennis Lillee, run 50 metres stop and take a photo of Shane Warne (pictured left), run 50 meters stop and ask an inane question of the pretty blonde who was opening the facility. I guess I could call it interval training … maybe?
Post-breakfast it’s a morning wander in to town to kill time before the accreditation centre opened at midday and what better way to kill time than to sample Melbourne’s city centre. I’m really taken by this place. It has a fantastic vibe – I think every city should have trams. They really add something to the city-centre atmosphere. I know nothing about architecture but the mix of classic and modern really works.
The brilliant thing about where the racing is taking place is that it is a 15 minute walk along the Yarra River to the heart of the city – everything is within walking distance, which is just as well, as there is literally no parking at Olympic Park due to a new development going in right beside Hisense Arena. I think it’s a swimming pool and like everything else in the park, it’s not being done on the cheap. How the place is going to handle 60,000 at the ‘G when an Aussie Rules game is being played on Saturday night is beyond me.
In her usual fashion DT has made an impression on the locals. When we arrived at Hisense, even though it was 45 minutes before the accreditation opened, her mate Ron on the door gave me a temporary pass after Dale’s excellent sweet-talking and in we went.
To say it’s impressive is an under-statement. Obviously it plays host to a lot more than cycling – most notably tennis at January’s Aussie Open and recently swimming – yes, they turned it into an Olympic-sized pool! That would qualify as a multi-sports facility I think. Despite all that it is perfect for cycling. Close on three thousand seats on each side of the track and when it filled up for the night session it was some atmosphere.
The track has been sanded recently and even though it looks a little patchy in places it was obviously fast. The spotless safety zone was another feature. It gets pretty hot up in the bleachers. I went to the back row of the seating to get a look and aside from the vertigo, you could feel yourself walking up the steps into a wall of heat.
The accreditation process itself was smooth, although Steve took a bit longer when he arrived later in the day. Photo ID and barcodes are part of your pass and the whole thing took 10 minutes total – impressive.
The layout of the track centre is interesting – pretty much split 50/50 between the teams pit areas and a massive media area. Considering there are 400 riders and their support crew and it seems about 150 media, I think they could have configured it slightly differently. The teams are pretty crammed in – especially Great Britain (not that I would suggest the host nation was trying to disadvantage them in any way).
We scouted every inch of the Arena. The great thing is that when you tell people we are there scouting for Junior Worlds they are really helpful and open with the plentiful question we throw at them. Team storage areas are outside in about 25 Portacom sheds which have been fenced off with a security man on the door. He does a good job too – wouldn’t let us in to take photos, which was fair enough.
There is just so much space – with a Legend’s Lounge for corporate hospitality, food stalls, merchandise and exhibition stalls, UCI Lounge and more. We aren’t quite so lucky with the Stadium rebuild impacting on space so I am a little jealous.
Then came the racing itself. Two scoreboards and two TV screens showing live footage and replays made for a very informed spectating experience. They also played some excellent short videos which explained every event, prior to it being held on the track – a great education for those in the crowd not sure on how the races work (yes, we are going to ask them for copies.)
The racing ran very smoothly (as it would with Graham Sycamore controlling the start line). I can only recall one very minor issue with a start gate malfunction in the Men’s Team Sprint.
New Zealand did enough to qualify fourth in the Men’s Team Pursuit which was the only event in the first session. The Great Britain qualified fastest with a 3:54 with Australia going out fast but fading over the final 500 metres to qualify second. The Russians who everyone said were training the house down didn’t quite produce the slick effort everyone was expecting, but still did enough to qualify for the bronze ride against New Zealand.
At the halfway point of their final ride the Russians seemed in control but New Zealand dug deep and finished over the top of them with their last kilometer being 2.3 seconds faster than Russia’s. The Aussie crowd really got in behind the Kiwis and it was great to hear both sides of the stadium roaring them home as they brought the deficit back with each split and then eventually rode away. Credit where it’s due the Aussie crowd has been very generous and fair. Great Britain broke their four year old world record beating the Aussies into second by 0.15 seconds with a 3:53.295 in a gripping gold medal ride.
We didn’t quite get the result we were hoping for in the Women’s Sprint. Katie Schofield didn’t get away smoothly from the gate and they were never going to recover with just two laps to play with, despite Tarsh flying home. It meant they had to be content with 10th place which means that their hope of riding in the Team Sprint at the Olympics may now be out of reach. The German pairing of Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel broke the world record – not once, but twice, en route to winning gold over the local favourites Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch. China took bronze over Great Britain. Those Germans are built for this sprint caper. Their pit area is right alongside the media area. I was interested to see a seemingly petitie blonde woman get suited up to ride – and then you see the size of her legs. Man, she is a Robert Forstermann clone – and it worked a treat.
The night ended with a bang though. The Team Sprint lads qualified third fastest with a 43.742, anchored home by big Eddie who rode the fourth fastest final lap of qualifying (13.236) to get the Kiwis in to the bronze medal ride against Japan. Their cause was helped when both Great Britain and Germany were relegated for infringements in the final heat.
The boys had to dig deep but in the end they did just enough to beat out the Japanese by just 0.084 seconds with a 43.812. The final ride of the night was an absolute cracker as France and Australia shaded each other every half-lap split and in the end, remarkably it was Australia who took gold by, wait for it, 0.001 seconds! 43.266 played 43.267. That sent the crowd home happy and I expect that the papers in the morning will have the shot of Shane Perkins riding around the track after the race with child over his shoulder. Watching the young fella waving at the cameras was priceless.
And we shouldn’t forget Alex Frame’s outstanding ride for fourth in the Men’s Scratch race. Dale picked it with about 20 laps to go saying he’s done the least work of anyone in the bunch and that he’d probably been told to stick to Wim Stroetinga’s wheel. Sure enough as the bunch descended on the finish line, the Dutchman flew home and nearly dragged Alex up into the medals with him. In the end they weren’t able to peg back Great Britain’s Ben Swift nor South Africa’s Nolan Hoffman who took silver with Stroetinga taking bronze and A-Frame just a wheel further back.
He rode a very sensible race and came from 18th wheel in the final lap having to go around most of the field in the process. He was just unlucky that his mate from the Netherlands hadn’t hit the gas half a lap earlier.
It was a good night of racing with more to come and hopefully more adventures to report on. The qualifying sessions don’t start until after lunch so my Thursday morning is hopefully going to be spent touring the MCG and the National Australian Sports Museum while Steve’s is going to be on an exclusive look at a bike museum in Richmond that Ray Godkin has organized. We should have some good tales to tell and hopefully some good ideas to look at fro the fabulous Heritage Trail at the Velodrome.
I’ll let you know how we go.