Heat and dust trouble track riders
Monday, August 16, 2004 11.00pm
The Athens velodrome may look spectacular, but its open-sided design could cause significant problem
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Pretentious architecture will carry the can if the gusting winds sweeping across the Athens Olympic complex today turn the cycling velodrome into a slippery and unpredictable wind tunnel, according to some of the riders who trained on the stunningly designed track today. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's soaring roof floats suspended just above the rim of the velodrome, but is open to the elements on all sides. This appears to be a beautiful architectural solution and is certainly impressive; with the sun dropping over the Athens hills in the evening and the stadium lights on, the velodrome's atmosphere will be suitably memorable. But, unfortunately, how practical the radical design will prove to be if the wind blows - or even worse, it rains - is open to debate. The blustery winds across Athens forced the cancellation today (Tuesday) of the rowing events, but such conditions could prove catastrophic in the delicate environment of track racing. A fine dust covers much of the area, so dry is the terrain in and around Athens. Giant curtains have been installed to the south and west sides of the velodrome, but if conditions are as gusty as they have been today, dust will surely blow across the smooth timber track. Other than that, most of the riders training on the velodrome today proclaimed it to be a world record track - firm and very fast. Among those impressed by the surface, but worried by the velodrome design, was Team GB's Rob Hayles, silver medallist in the team pursuit at this year's World Championships. Hayles, who was particularly concerned about the wind, said: "We've got five-spoke wheels in the front, just because of the wind, but even then a couple of times on the back straight it was fairly dodgy. "Normally we'd be using discs front and rear which we've spent I don't know how many thousands of pounds building," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get to use them but if not, we've got the next best thing which everyone else is using anyway." Hayles was optimistic that the British team could reverse their world championship team pursuit defeat in Melbourne, when they were edged out of gold medal spot by Australia. "We've got a very good and very experienced team now and things have been going very well," said Hayles, who added that the track team had been riding "very quickly" in Newport, Wales, at their pre-Olympic training camp." Yes - that is the same Newport in South Wales that is hardly known for its Athenian temperatures. "We've been doing a lot of heat chamber work with the heat blown up to 35 degrees. We've been going there for up to two hours at a time," Hayles explained.
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