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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Kilo

I feel sick. I’m clipped into a bike with no brakes on the starting line of the Manchester Velodrome. Ahead is an empty straight at the end of which is a banked left turn that looks more like a wall of death than a bend.......

......Mercifully the British coaching team knows better than to allow me anywhere near the track when Staff is riding full tilt, so instead I’ll be racing against the clock: Staff’s PB (personal best) – and my target – is 1:02.074.......

.....“The kilo is unique,” says Staff. “You’re basically pushing your body beyond where it wants to go. The trick is to pace it. If I went for it from the gun, I’d probably blow up at 2½ laps and fall off the bike. After two laps you know it’s going to hurt, and after three laps you feel like you could get off and walk quicker, but that’s when you have to dig in.”

On the first bend the bike starts to wobble alarmingly. Picking up speed on the back straight, I power round the second bend with more confidence and by the end of the first lap I’m flying. The world has been reduced to the thin black line in front of me; everything else is a blur and, for a fleeting moment, I feel invincible.

It doesn’t last long. Despite Staff’s advice, I’ve gone off too fast. Halfway through lap two I know I’m in trouble, and by lap three the wind is no longer in my hair and my legs are no longer a whirl of Lycra. My lungs feel like they’re being turned inside out and I’m convinced my thighs are melting.

Hearing the bell comes as a huge relief, but I still have 250 metres to go before I can die in peace. It takes great willpower to convince myself I’m not going backwards. And then, after a last-gasp effort in the home straight, it’s all over.

When I finally clamber off the bike, I can hardly stand. It isn’t until I hobble off the track that someone tells me my time: 1:28:78.

So there you have it: the difference between a mere mortal and a world champion is 26.706sec.

Had Staff been racing at the same time, he would have crossed the finish line when I was in the middle of my third lap. In sprinting terms, where races are won or lost by thousands of a second, that’s a country mile..... more

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