Tag Archives: London

Speed at the Velodrome

London Prepares: Track World Cup -London – Day 1

Last night we went to the Olympic Velodrome to the test event for the Olympics. Last year we travelled to Manchester – a much longer distance, however, it was much less hassle!

With Manchester, there were only half as many seats, but as it wasn’t an Olympic test event, they were much easier to get (annoyingly, though I’m a member of British Cycling, I didn’t notice they had an advance booking period until 30 minutes after it closed – so I could only get tickets for Thursday). The ‘Olympic fever’ has attracted a lot of folks who don’t usually follow the sport – this has both it’s good and bad side.

Women's Team Pursuit, GB

Arriving at Stratford tube, I had expected the route to the Olympic park to be clear, it really wasn’t. There were no big obvious signs, or clearly marked walkway – instead we had some guys with foam fingers. Being human, from time to time they forgot to point the foam fingers in the appropriate direction. Arriving at the park, we had to cross a big road. Admittedly, there was not much traffic on it, but it did strike me as bad planning for it not to be pedestrianised.

The queue was huge – though reasonably fast moving – though this was for one venue, I dread to think what the queue will be like when it’s all running. The marshalls were all very polite, but a little bit jobsworthy (‘keep walking’ was a constant refrain, even when we already were walking – or unable to walk as they were checking tickets).

Once in, transfers were by bus, which seemed to take the most long winded way around the park. I hope that the buses will be optional when the Olympics themselves are on. Honestly, we could have walked that journey twice in less time by taking a more direct route.

The velodrome as a whole is impressive. It looks wider than Manchester – and there are good views all around. (There is something about the geometry of Manchester that I prefer, though – but London has the better building).

There are two big screens (they should put small screens on the back of the big screens, so that those queuing for refreshments can still see what is happening). The refreshments are pretty good actually, I had feared that as a sponsor, MacDonalds would be the only option. The food wasn’t *great*, but it could have been a lot worse. They’re not as cheap as they could be, but they’re not massively overpriced by London standards either. There were good sandwiches, porridge(!), wine, beer etc. That said, the food isn’t ‘cheap’, nor is it diverse – the beer wasn’t a particularly good one, and it was of the brand ‘take it or leave it’.

The velodrome is kept warm as it makes the air thinner (hence the track faster) – it is supposed to be cooler for the spectators. That’s as may be, but it was still like being in a swimming pool (without the chlorine smell). If visiting, I strongly recommend that you are able to remove layers. I do hope that the upper levels were not hotter.

We were watching the Team Pursuit heats. It’s not my favourite discipline – I prefer the Sprint, Keirin and Points races – but I like the spectacle of the close riding. Individual pursuit and time trials don’t, as a rule, do it for me – though I do like Australian pursuit. When Team GB rode, the atmosphere was electric, especially when the men’s team saw the lap times tumble. Some of my favourites, are sadly not Olympic disciplines any more, e.g. the Madison – that doesn’t work well on TV for me, though – much easier to follow live.

Both the men and the women are in the team pursuit finals for a gold/silver medal.

Coming out of the velodrome, we had to queue for buses again – this was mostly orderly, though it took ages. At one point they asked people to come forward and we had three queues side by side, so the orderly queue turned into a bit of a scrum when the bus arrived. This was entirely created by the marshalls, and it all would have been more orderly if they’d have left it as a queue!

Simply getting from the velodrome onto the tube took over an hour, again, I dread to think what the congestion will be like in the summer. Hopefully, if it’s walkable, then it shouldn’t be a problem. I also hope that the finish times for different events are staggered so that the demand on the transport links can be spread out.

Though it was my top priority, there was no way to express that on the Olympic ticket application (nor was there priority for members of the relevant organisations) – and so I’ll be watching the track cycling at home in the summer. I’ll be relying on auntie Beeb. Dear BBC, don’t cut the shots so that the viewer can’t keep an overview – especially on points races – you need to get a sense of the whole track!

Adding to my summary of events:

  • Track Cycling.
    <Positives>: Great Atmosphere from the crowd. Guy on PA was excellent.
    <Negatives>: A bit too warm for punters (I don’t see a fix for this, but they organisers should forewarn people). If sent for a drink, can’t see action, so put small screens on back of big screen. Loos were non obvious, and inadequate (even for men!). The ergonomics of them were poor as you had to walk across the entrance to dry hands (and it’s a small space). The flooring in the loos shows up every drip when people shake their hands, which doesn’t look good. Access times – it took far to long to get to and from the tube station.

Les Misérables

Last night we went to the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in order to see Les Misérables. This is a show I last saw in the 1980s when it was at the Palace Theatre on Cambridge circus. Performing then was Graham Bickley (from whom I got a tour behind the scenes after the show – I had gone with a friend, and his father knew him).

I knew the show pretty well, or so I thought – but, especially at the start, there were whole segments that seemed new to me. Of the bits I knew, there were some small changes in the odd note here or there, perhaps unsurprising with so many personnel changes over the years.

I’d not been into the Queen’s theatre before, but we were quite impressed by it. We were in the Dress circle, and the theatre bar’s setting is very good indeed – with a great view out onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The one thing I would say about the experience surrounding the show is that the interval is too short. We were first out to the bar, we got our drinks and nibbles (which were pre-ordered). We demolished the nibbles, but seemed to have only had a few sips before the ‘show is starting in 3 minutes’ bell started to ring. Obviously, the bar itself is too expensive – but then, that is hardly a surprise.

We saw Alfie Boe in the role of Jean Val Jean, my mum had been raving about Alfie Boe for ages, but we knew not of his work. Crikey, that man has a pair of lungs on him… he was very, very good.

In the role of Thénardier was Matt Lucas (Katy Secombe is the missus). Matt Lucas was astonishingly good (and, if I’m honest, surprisingly), and the Thénardiers worked well together. They seem to have tweaked the comic timing to suit Lucas, and it works very well indeed.

The actor playing Javert (Hadley Fraser?) was simply wonderful, achieving malevolent righteousness throughout.

There was one cast member who, we both thought, was a little too ‘stage school’. They were still very good on the whole, but stood out against the excellence around them.

The child performers did very well, and in particular, the boy who played Gavroche deserves a special mention.

I’ve used a lot of superlatives, and the show deserved them. It’s a piece which has deservedly stood the test of time. It has some complex numbers going on with counterpoints as the characters sing against each other, but it stops short of becoming a jumble of singing as can be so often the case – which contrasts with the vast majority of musicals out there.

This is a show which is worth seeing. Of shows I’ve seen, and are still available, the ranking now:

  1. Les Misérables
  2. Jersey Boys (Something special – Foottappingly good music, and a great story)
  3. Stomp (It’s percussion, with style)
  4. The Phantom of the Opera (Perhaps a bit cheesy, but still enjoyable)
  5. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Australian camp!)

Whilst I’m listing, let’s do a few more. This isn’t an exhaustive list, for instance, I’ve consciously not included Ballet/Opera as these are productions which tend to have short runs with many different companies.

Shows that aren’t on any more, but I’d love to see again:

  1. Pedal Pusher (About the Tour de france – a really good show)
  2. Fiddler on the Roof (Diddle iddle iddle, diddle iddle iddle iddle dum)
  3. The Blue Man Group (Weird and wonderful, available across most of the planet – but not London anymore?)
  4. The Three Musketeers (Okay, a ballet, but a particular bit of choreography that blew us away)
  5. The Rat Pack (Not PC – but then, it’s a mid 20th century show revisited)

Shows that were great to see, and I’d recommend – though it’s out of my system:

  1. Slava’s Snow Show (Clowns, but in a good way – saw it twice. Spectacular.)
  2. The Producers (Comedy about the theatre and bad taste)
  3. The Car Man (Updated Carmen)

Shows I’ve seen, and don’t want to revisit:

  1. Footloose (A couple of good numbers, but the show itself was underwhelming)
  2. The Play What I wrote (actually the second half is good)
  3. Cats (spectacular, but a one time deal)
  4. Lord of the Rings: The Musical (spectacular, very well done, but in some places it veered into ‘so bad, it’s good’)
  5. Evita (Meh)

Shows I’d like to see:

London Prepares: Summary of the Events

We’ve been to several Olympic test events over the past few weeks, I thought it’d be helpful if a member of LOCOG stumbles on this to summarise the overall impressions of the events, which is, after all, the purpose of the test events (this is only for events in the first ‘tranche’ of test events)
Continue reading London Prepares: Summary of the Events

London Prepares: BMX

On friday, we went to the Time Trials of the BMX test competition for London 2012 – the races would be on saturday. Ominously, we had transport issues, we caught the Jubilee line from Waterloo toward Strafford, but discovered that the train terminated for no reason we could fathom at West Ham. Therefore, we got off at Canary Wharf for the DLR. Noting that Heron Quays was slightly closer to the underground than Canary Wharf DLR, we went there for our connection. This was only to discover that we would have to get a connection to Canary Wharf and change – a right royal pain – I do hope that next year any train on the central/jubilee etc will continue to Strafford (and that if there are shorter ‘shuttles’ e.g. Canary Wharf to Strafford DLR, that these are indicated by stickers on the tube maps)

On arrival at Strafford, we had a short walk through an area which won’t be too impressive to foreign visitors. It wasn’t a long walk, but nonetheless I can only hope that in a years time there are more direct routes to the Olympic site rather than filing people around a narrow pavement and across taxi ranks.

We got to the Olympic site in time to watch the practice sessions, but the wait was about 20-30 minutes to get through security – and this was for only BMX and basketball. They’ll need to speed up this process considerably when multiple events are running simultaneously. The security screening had an element of ‘security theatre’ with unopened bottles of drink being allowed in, but once a sip had been taken, the drink had to be discarded. Whilst waiting, we were badgered to stay on one side of the pavement – fair enough, but if you’re going to do that, prepare a cordon. One thing that I didn’t like to see was a small group of girls using the ‘our friends have saved our place’ in the queue ahead, and getting let in. Yes, this may have been the case, but they really should have gone to the back.

Once through security, everything became a lot less annoying. We took the bus through the Olympic site (which for the most part is a construction site) and we were dropped off outside the basketball arena (which is a temporary structure, amazingly).

The Basketball Arena

We walked around the arena and caught site of the Velodrome, next to which was the BMX track (which, I’m told, will be removed after the games – what a pity).

The Velodrome

The BMX Track

The BMX track has an 8m initial hill. The Men and women divide into two routes, both have some initial jumps and then the women go into a bend (a ‘berm’) – the men leap this. The women’s course dives down into a tunnel, which can’t easily be appreciated from the stands (though I hope they’ve thought carefully about the risk of people launching themselves into the tunnel roof). The men’s course has a couple of jumps and then goes over the women’s course, before a box jump.

Both courses then have a ‘rhythm’ section, before joining for the final turn and a final straight.

It was hard to appreciate the far side of the course from the stands, or the tunnel – but we did get good views of cyclist flying through the air, both in the practice sessions, and in the time trial stage.

London Prepares: BMX Test Event

So soon after her recent injury, it was good to see Shanaze Reade tackling the course (she would go on to win the event on Sunday)

Shanaze Reade

The event itself would have been improved by having some more clarity about how the time trials informed the races the next day. There were minor annoyances about the commentator enthusing about someone ‘getting the green helmet’ (i.e. being in the top 16) when fewer than 16 riders had been out on the course. That said, apart from the logistical problems of accessing the event we had a great day,. The event itself is great to watch – it’s spectacular stuff.

London Prepares: BMX Test Event

One small note – whilst there was amusement value in playing ‘Mash’ over the PA when the ambulance people are doing their thing – it is potentially in bad taste should the injury prove to be very serious – this would need careful thought. This sort of thing happens at rugby matches, and they pick their moments carefully as a rule (i.e. minor injuries, not major ones).

We loved how each rider chose their own music to race to – there was some predictable "hip hop pumpin’ action" – but there were also some great tunes in there – I’d love to see the playlist! It must be so tempting to pick the comedy song, i.e. ‘Nellie the Elephant’ or ‘Ernie: The fastest milkman in the west’

Shame we couldn’t get BMX or velodrome tickets for the real thing next year.

London Prepares: Road Race

After a busy friday and saturday, we topped off the weekend on Sunday by travelling to see the Olympic Road race test event. As I’m a member of British Cycling, we had wristbands enabling us to get into the restricted section at Box Hill just north of Dorking. This is the section of the route where there is a steep climb, but as it’s not a very long climb (by Tourmalet or Alpe d’huez standards), they have to do nine laps of it at the Olympics next year.

Arriving at Dorking Deepdene in plenty of time, we were at the foot of Box Hill for 9am, the time we were told gates would open – there were already a lot of people at the top of the hill.

The ‘easy’ option would have been to walk up the road, but instead we were directed up the opposite hillside, and had to walk around the side to the entrance. Cyclists had parking at the top of the hill, and were told to dismount and walk their bikes – we saw a large number of spectator-cyclists talking about how much faster they could pedal up the hill. I understand the need to close the road, but why not allow cyclists to start the climb until 9:15am? Forcing cycling spectators from their bikes so far ahead of when the ‘race bubble’ is due seems to run counter to the spirit of a road race. To our frustration, on arrival in the spectator area, we met people who had walked up the road, starting after we did – perhaps marshalls were not all singing from the same hymnsheet?

Once we’d walked up the hill, we had to loop around through the trees to find the entrance to the spectator area. It was a pretty small area, and already some four deep at the ropeline. Then, as we arrived were were told it’d be two laps of Box Hill (but in the real thing it’d be nine) – why the reduction?

I understand that next year they are hoping to have permission for a wider area for spectators and a commensurate increase in the number of people on Box Hill, whilst I’d agree that a wider area would be a good thing (making allowances for the SSI status), they need to be careful about increasing the numbers – it felt somewhat over full as it was.

Things wouldn’t have been a problem if people had all stayed sat, but as the race approached, people at the front stood, and so everyone behind was obliged to stand as well – I got photos by virtue of putting my camera over heads or through gaps, and then hoping to aim correctly.

Mark Cavendish

The commentator did a reasonable job of interviewing crowd-members in the wait, but she obviously didn’t know anything about cycling. Even the word ‘pelaton’ didn’t seem to be in her vocabulary, this was a shame. We did not always get advanced notice over the tannoy, at one point a woman cyclist went past – she was riding the course ahead of the men as there was no women’s test event – we were told she was coming after she’d already gone past. I don’t understand the lack of a women’s test event – given they’re closing the roads anyway, why not start the women cycling an hour earlier or later?

The race didn’t have the leading caravan you’d expect in a Tour de France stage, though it did have a lead car with a tannoy who drove around and paused to update spectators on the race – this meant that there was less to see than a Tour de France stage.

Will I try for Box Hill next year? Probably not, if I’m honest about it. It’s an area in demand, and even with the controls on numbers it was a little too congested for my tastes. I’d rather be somewhere where, if I don’t like the spot, I can move up or down the road. The race passes a little over an hour’s cycle from home – so my plan next year is to cycle to the route and then find a spot along it. To facilitate this, the organisers will need to advertise a time where the route will be closed to cars – and separately advertise a time where bicycles will need to be off the route, in order to allow spectators to plan. I can imagine getting to the route and then finding a jobsworthy marshall preventing travel down the route to find a spot – I do hope that the organisers make allowance from this, and take a leaf from the Tour de France handbook in this regard. It’d be so easy for this event to be spoiled by over-zealous marshalling, fingers crossed that they get it right.

The organisers have also published ‘overview’ maps of the route, but they should go further than this, publishing a .gpx track of the route and importing it into sites like mapmyride etc.