Herne Hill Velodrome talent making mark in professional peloton

By Dan Alexander
April 6 2020, 12.30

There are few venues in British sport that can boast as rich a history as Herne Hill Velodrome.

Tucked away in a leafy suburban pocket of south London, the velodrome opened in 1891 and hosted the track cycling events during the 1948 Olympic Games.

It has welcomed a pantheon of the sport’s most legendary figures – Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Tom Simpson and Bradley Wiggins have all graced the track.

While for 111 years it was also the venue of the annual Good Friday meeting that pre-dated the Tour de France and attracted thousands of spectators each year.

Despite the Good Friday meeting’s association with Herne Hill coming to an end in 2014, the success of young riders coming through the ranks of the velodrome’s resident club, VC Londres (VCL), is the legacy of the arena’s prestigious past.

In November, Ethan Hayter signed for professional cycling’s most famous team, formerly Team Sky now rebranded under the INEOS banner, and is working towards a place at the Tokyo Olympics with Team GB.

“It is still a bit strange,” he explained.

“I put the INEOS kit on every morning, but it hasn’t really sunk in. I think once I’ve done a few races it will feel a little bit more normal.”

Elsewhere, fellow VCL prospect Fred Wright has joined Bahrain-McLaren’s ranks and is one of four British riders on the team that includes 30-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish.

“There have been lots of people doing well at a national and international level, which is strange because VCL isn’t a sports team, it’s just a community club,” Hayter continued.

“The environment was just going down after school with your friends. You go to ride your bike and train, but everyone had a lot of fun at the same time.”

Hayter’s former VCL teammate Jacob Vaughan, who has enjoyed success racing in Belgium, agrees the relaxed environment and tireless work of volunteers within the club was pivotal in his development.

“I am really grateful to VCL and Herne Hill for all the help they gave me,” he said.

“They really supported us and everyone in the club came together as a family which is nice.

“If you join a proper team at that age you might not progress because you aren’t enjoying it as much. Whereas at Herne Hill we would almost not think about the training because it was so enjoyable.”

At just 20 years of age Wright is one of the youngest riders in the UCI World Tour, cycling’s top tier of teams, but has made an instant impact helping teammate Phil Bauhaus win the Saudi Tour in February.

“Surreal is a word I have said a lot since joining the team,” he said.

“This time last year I would not have said that I would be where I am now.

“It is mad to have someone like Cav [Mark Cavendish] as a teammate. I grew up watching him win Tour de France stages and now I get to go on training camps in Mallorca with him.”

After a period of uncertainty before the Olympics returned to London in 2012, the ‘Save the Velodrome’ campaign successfully helped redevelop the Herne Hill venue with a new track being laid in 2011 and a new pavilion opened in 2017 which secured its use for future generations.

“I first started before they re-laid the track and there was just a portacabin outside. To see where it has developed to now through the hard work of a lot of people is amazing,” Vaughan said.

The new facilities secured the VCL trio the opportunity to write the next chapter in the velodrome’s history and Wright hopes the success of the club’s current crop of graduates will act as a catalyst for more success.

He said: “At VCL there was always someone there to keep pushing me which really helps when you’re growing up. If it was just me then I think I would have become a completely different bike rider.

“I always had people in the club that I could look up to and I’m sure our success can inspire the next generation – there’s even more coming through now.”

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