A tremendous season of track cycling got underway at the Lee Valley Velodrome this weekend, when the first round of the Revolution Series returned to London. With headline names, explosive races and the world's longest track stand competition, there was plenty to keep the crowds entertained. And with five more rounds of the Revolution Series across the country coming up, and the UCI Track Cycling World Cup coming back to London in December there were plenty of riders ready to show us - and each other - just what the are made of.
In addition to the banks of seating surrounding the track, lucky ticket holders (and this lucky blogger) were entertained from the track centre where a bar had been built especially for the event, just metres from the athletes warming up and within touching distance of the track where riders rushed past. It's here you really appreciate the pitch of that famous Siberian pine, and the pace these riders push themselves to. Welshman Lewis Oliva of Team USN pedalled past the 40MPH mark to win the UCI Sprint over visitor Juan Peralta from Spain, showing just what London's incredible velodrome is capable of.
The warm up zone feels like a great, whirling beehive. Athletes zip in and out on their bikes, toing and froing from the track. Others go wild on the rollers, thrashing them so hard they look fit to break. Excited media buzz about looking to synch an interview with double Olympic champion Laura Trott as she prepares for her showdown with Dutch star Marianne Vos. Meanwhile, riders preparing to race stare in to the distance; thinking about their opponents, thinking about their tactics, thinking about winning. Lights glare and music booms.
I've often wondered what track cyclists think about as they warm up for their races. There's nowhere to hide in a track centre, with 4,000 pairs of eyes watching your every move expectantly. There's more than just a little touch of theatre about velodromes. For all of the bravado of the preparation, no matter how much you rehearse, once you're on the track itself it is time for you to deliver. No time for mistakes, no second chances. And plenty of potential for a really fast, really high screw up.
The showdown between Laura Trott and the indefatigable Marianne Vos had been the big draw card for the crowds, but in the end Trott aced it wining six out of a potential six wins in the Women's Omnium. At the end of the day, her specialisation in track gave her the upper hand over the more generalist competition. It was the same for Germany's Christian Grasmann and Marcel Kalz from track experts Maloja Pushbikers (formerly Rudy Project RT). Last year's Revolution Series-winning team came in strong from the start, leading the field by the end of the two day's racing. The Germans dominated each of their events (and seemed to enter all of them!), and look to be in fine form for the December World Cup.
"The fastest track in the world" lived up to its name, with speeds delivered in excess of 40MPH on the home straight, to the delight of the crowds. The Hopkins-designed velodrome continues to excel as the most beautiful in Britain and the best for spectating. With seating stretching all the way round the track, the roars of the crowd follow each rider as they spin round and around, pushed along by a pulsating wall of shouts and cheers.
Maldon-born Alex Dowsett was a popular addition to proceedings, with perhaps the biggest cheer of the night reserved for when he lapped the field in the Madison Time Trial. And the HOY Future Stars - the up and coming talent of Britain's younger track cyclists - made up for their lack of experience with a bucketful of guts, delivering edge-of-your-seat races which belied the rider's young age.
But all told, the night belonged to Maloja Pushbikers. Keen to capitalise on their elite series win in 2013, they are the team to beat for this year's Revolution rounds. Will newcomers Orica Green Edge or seasoned hands Sky be able to keep up? And in the women's field, can anyone face up to steal Laura Trott's crown as queen of the track? It's going to be an exciting season of track cycling ahead.
The UCI Track Cycling World Cup is hosted by London at the Lee Valley Velodrome from 5th to the 7th of December - tickets are still available for some sessions, but are selling out fast.
The Revolution Series returns to London in February for two more days of high octane action. Tickets - including exclusive track centre passes - are on sale now.
You can catch the highlights of this weekend's Revolution Series Round 1 on Channel 4 on Saturday morning at 7AM and afterwards on 4OD.