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It's London Olympics meets 'Jersey Shore': Welcome to the Velodrome

From funny helmets to pizza-cutter bikes, track cycling at the Olympics Velodrome is one part aerodynamics, one part athleticism, and one part vaudeville.

By Staff writer / August 4, 2012

Cyclists compete in a women's track cycling keirin heat in the velodrome during the 2012 Summer Olympics Friday in London.

Matt Rourke/AP



[Editor's note: This article is completely offensive to every track cycling fan. We suggest you post two comments and come back in the morning.]

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To the uninitiated American, the Summer Olympics hold many strange sights.

For example, the competition at the trampoline venue Friday was fierce.... And that was not nearly as odd as the journalist next to me in the press center letting out whoops of joy at the end of each successful trick. He was transfixed

And the table tennis? Is it really necessary to throw the ball 600 feet in the air before serving? I'm just saying. 

But surely some of the stranger sights in these Olympic Games must be at the London Velodrome. I'm guessing that NBC isn't squirreling away hours of men's team pursuit footage to run on its prime time broadcast, so allow me to set the scene for you.

The first thing that you notice at the Velodrome is that Occupy Wall Street appears to have set up camp in the interior of the track. While skinny people on bicycles rumble around on a track that looks like it was designed by Salvador Dali, the real action is on the infield. Here, racers repeatedly strip down and redress, somehow managing to keep it all PG-13, while coaches huddle, techs pretend they are Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon, and Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart secretly hold hands. (OK, maybe that last one isn't true.)

It's the Summer Olympics meets "Jersey Shore," and to be honest, you could spend two hours with a pair of binoculars just watching what's going on in the Velodrome's answer to a tent city, and it would be good value for the money. 

But that would mean missing the races, which are hilarious.

First, Friday at the Velodrome gave us the team pursuit, and the team pursuit can be summed up in two words: funny helmets. Yes, as in road cycling's time trials, the members of the track team pursuit wear helmets painstakingly designed to make them look as ridiculous as possible. Imagine if Darth Vader had been a doofus as a kid. That's the helmet he would have worn. Vaguely intimidating in a LOL sort of way. 

Then, because the principles of aerodynamics demand even more sacrifices of these poor chaps, they ride around on bicycles that look like giant pizza cutters – the wheel spokes covered by a solid disc. Dominos must get in as a sponsor on this. 

But team pursuit was just a warmup. Next came the main event: the keirin race.

The keirin race takes some explanation, so bear with me. In the keirin, all the cyclists follow around a dude on a motorized bike – called a "derny," because, apparently, "motorized bike" was already taken – for 6-1/2 laps, then the derny leaves the track and they can all properly start the race, and it does get rather exciting for the last 2-1/2 laps.

The pleasant young lady sitting next to me tried to explain that the derny is the pace-setter, which unfortunately does not explain its reason for existing. After all, the pace car in NASCAR races does not ride in front of the field for 350 laps, and only then let the racers start racing.


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