Track cycling’s endurance races are characterised by high speeds, incredible stamina, tactics, and a fierce physicality in the bunch.
But what’s it really like being in the wheels with former Olympic and multiple-time World Champion on the track, Elia Viviani?
One man that knows is London-based cyclist, George Nemilostivijs. Who, when he’s not tearing it up in races across London’s bike racing scene for Go Fast Turn Left, is a tax accountant.
Nemilostivijs, 31, raced for Latvia at this year’s European Track Championships in the omnium, scratch race and elimination race.
He said: “I have never done any races at that high level.
“You kind of get a bit of imposter syndrome because all these guys are paid to do this and you quickly realise it is their job and you’re maybe out of your depth.
“They wake up and train to do this every day, you feel like you’re trying to meddle in their business.”
His first event of the meet was the elimination race, won by young German, Tim Torn Teutenberg.
Nemilostivijs was quick to note what it was like to be in and amongst the fight for wheels in that feisty track bunch.
What a night for 20-year-old Tim Torn Teutenberg 🌟— Eurosport (@eurosport) February 8, 2023
🇩🇪 The youngster becomes a European champion after flying to victory in the elimination 🥇 pic.twitter.com/mSSfvN7FjY
“European Championships speed was like nothing I’d done before, up to 53 and 57km/h average and you barely average 50km/h here in domestic races. You need to race at those speeds to get used to it as you behave differently,” he said.
“It was so physical, I’ve never experienced guys fighting for the jersey like that. It’s so cutthroat.
“All those guys are so comfortable with contact, which I’m normally fine with, but not at those speeds, it was a wake-up call.”
However, he was quick to be realistic about the achievement of riding at this upper echelon of track racing and the reality of getting to represent your country.
Nemilostivijs said: “You almost get the feeling of not wanting to let your country down, but the level of competition was something I hadn’t experienced before.
“It felt great and it’s a new feeling, but a mixed one as we went to Switzerland and it was just me, my one teammate, my girlfriend and my friend who came to help.
“It was amazing to wear the national kit but at the same time, there was no support.”
Latvia is one of the smaller nations competing in track cycling and with a large gap between the top nations, Great Britain, Netherlands and Germany for example, it’s a very different experience riding for teams without the large funding and velodromes at home to train on.
He said: “It was a surreal experience, you’re used to watching on TV and seeing the riders, the Dutch sprinters: Jeffrey Hoogaland and Harrie Lavreysen were there and I was just sitting in the separate Latvia box which was just a table and a chair that we had to secure each day with a ziplock to not lose our spot.
“Big teams have all the gear and the Dutch even have a mini kitchen with everything they need, Watt Bike trainers and loads of staff, while the smaller nations are in one line with their couple of riders in a separate place.”
How does one get to this point of riding for Latvia at the European Champs with Viviani, British star Fred Wright – who is also from London and other former World Champions in Donavan Grondin?
Nemilostivijs put it down to chance, perhaps being modest about his speeds and success at staple London bike-racing events such as the Herne Hill Velodrome track league and Crystal Palace Crits.
He even said how he felt like he was representing Herne Hill as well on the European stage, a place he loves and a fantastic community he’s well and truly part of.
“Two years ago I got accredited at Herne Hill Velodrome and started racing their Wednesday night track league which runs from April to October and really enjoyed it as it fits my profile a lot better,” Nemilostivijs said.
“I kept doing that and won the track league last year, which made me more confident to try bigger races which I did in Newport and at Lee Valley Velodrome.
“That was going well, and because I have a Latvian passport, I reached out to the national federation to see if I could race in some international competitions.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing from here however, as mentioned, Latvia doesn’t have much of a track cycling culture, probably down to there not being a velodrome and mountain biking and BMX being the dominant disciplines.
The GFTL racer had to reach out to the one Latvian currently doing track, Vitalijs Kornilovs, who suggested the idea of going to race in Grenchen at the European Champs after hearing Nemilostivijs’ results.
Since coming back, the 31-year-old has gone back to competing in London and recently rode the GP Framar, a UCI Class 1 event in the Czech Republic. He finished third in the omnium riding again for Latvia.
He stated how he would do the European Championships again but would want to be at a better standard of fitness and more experienced.
Nemilostivijs said: “You never want to turn up and feel like you’re gonna lose, you want a fighting chance at least.
“That’s why the plan is to train more and get more experience and we’ll see how it goes.
“I’m still trying to keep it fun, I feel like it was a big stress with a lot of planning going into it, so I needed a mental break after.
“This is something I enjoy outside of work, you don’t want to make the thing you like your second job, you have to keep it fun.”
Nemilostivijs will continue going fast and turning left as the values of the club he rides for demand, a club he was keen to express how much he enjoys being a part of, but he certainly won’t forget his time riding against the world’s best track riders in Grenchen any time soon.
Feature image credit: George Mew Jensen
Herne Hill Velodrome image credit: Author
GP Framar image credit: GP Framar