Scalextric velodrome

Unless you’ve been living under a stone, you’ll know that next year is the London Olympics and this Christmas represents a great chance for retailers to ride the wave.

I grew up with Scalextric and there was something predictable about a child’s enthusiasm for fast cars, competition and the track assembly. But Scalextric Velodrome? Have I missed something here?

Scalextric velodrome

I know that cycling’s the new cool. Just rearrange the words “Britain”, “cycling”, “cool”, “hip”, “rediscovering”, “joys” – and you’ve got a ready made story for any feature editor. But there’s something both austere and dramatic (I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms) about track cycling that Scalextric is going to struggle capture.

For a start a velodrome’s basically an oval [1] – so there’s not much scope for experimenting with different courses. Also, unlike the motor racing Scalextric there are no pit stops or crossovers to add to excitement. Granted they’ve put in some chicanes to recreate the shoulder to shoulder stuff of track sprinting.

The British view of track cycling is a fairly austere one, perhaps influenced by television coverage [2] of GB Olympians winning medals at Athens and Beijing. The excitement of a rider on the high banking, supporters banging the advertising boards is something to witness. The British track scene is nothing to that of its continental cousins. In the heyday of the Velodrome D’Hiver in Paris 20,000 spectators were hosted to watch the best cyclists of the day. Prizes were offered by the Rothchilds and the crowd entertained by Edith Piaf. It’s a tough act for Scalextric to recreate.

Beautiful watercolours of the Velo D'Hiver, Paris (from elcyclista.com)

Clearly though, I’m being too cynical. With London 2012 approaching, why shouldn’t the family gather round the Scalextric velodrome. If you need to fill an hour on Christmas Day between the Queen’s Speech and the Bond film rerun, then John Lewis will happily relieve you of £45.

[1] There’s an exciting departure created in 2010 for the Cycling Messenger World Championships. “La Ocho” is a velodrome in a figure-of-eight formation with a fly-over section. There’s a fascinating story behind it at Moving Target

 [2] There’s an inherent problem with watching cycling on TV. It just fails to capture the speed and drama of the discipline. Golf, sailing and motor racing suffer from the same problem. There’s just no substitute for being there.

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