FROM PAINTING THE BLACK LINE TO CHASING IT

Tasked with explaining what people can expect when they come and watch the Track World Cup when it comes to Cambridge this January, New Zealand cyclist Jordan Castle thinks for a moment and then comes up with this - “it’s like bringing the Rugby World Cup final inside a tin shed.”

If there’s anyone that would know, it would be the 22 year old Palmerston North born sprinter who was there when the UCI’s flagship track cycling event first rolled into Cambridge almost three years ago.

In December 2015, Castle was a development rider, training by himself and working 20-30 hours a week to support his dream of being paid to ride his bike full time. His move to Cambridge from the Manawatu coincided with the opportunity to see the world of professional cycling from a different perspective – that of a volunteer.

Coaching and working behind the front desk at the Avantidrome, Castle got a literal front row seat as the event rolled into town, complete with 100 volunteers, 339 riders and 7,500 spectators over the three days of racing.

Castle’s volunteer role included painting the lines on the track – familiar one’s such as the black line and red sprinter’s line. Rumour has it the lines had to be painted multiple times, though I’m assured it wasn’t his fault. It also involved crawling under the track to lay cables for the Sky TV crew and holding some of the teams on the start line on race days.

There was also time for Castle to see some of his heroes race in the flesh.

“I remember watching Sam Webster go out the front in one of the keirin races and the crowd just erupted. It was so loud.  Watching a rider that I had looked up to get to race in front of his home crowd was something pretty special.

Cambridge 2015 was my first experience of a World Cup. All these huge names like Robert Forstemann and Francois Pervis were just right there. I’ll never forget it.”

Fast forward three years and the Track World Cup is about to roll into Cambridge once again. Instead of helping behind the scenes and watching from the infield, Castle is hoping to be in the thick of it this time, riding for New Zealand or a trade team.

This won’t be Castle’s first World Cup though. After a breakthrough Oceania Championships in late 2016 earned him a spot in the elite squad, he has raced in World Cups in Columbia, England and Poland – the latter the location of next year’s World Championships.

“It’s been an awesome ride so far. The past two years I’ve started going to more and more races. The magical feeling that you get when you walk into a velodrome for the first time and it’s packed with two or three thousand spectators and a whole bunch of elite riders, it never goes away.”

There’s nothing like racing on your home track in front of friends and family though, something that New Zealand’s track cyclists rarely get to do, spending months on the road during New Zealand’s cooler months.

“We don’t get international racing in Cambridge very often,” explains Castle. “It brings variety and a bit of international flavour that you rarely get to see here. Teams like the Swiss and Malaysians will be riding around in their team kit on our streets. It’s pretty cool to see.”

And what of that comment about bringing the Rugby World Cup final inside a tin shed? Castle grins.

“Track cycling live is just electric,” he enthuses. “There’s no other word for it, or way to describe it. Everyone in the crowd will be a Kiwi, just screaming for the person in the black skinsuit with the fern on it.”

Castle’s passion for the sport and the desire to see himself and his teammates succeed is evident. Getting to this point though hasn’t been an easy road, with “two or three years of grind” and support from local people and businesses enabling his path to the top.

That is what makes a home World Cup so special – the opportunity to share the sport he lives and breathes with those who made it possible for him to do so.

“We’re very fortunate to get an event such as this come to a place like Cambridge. It will be awesome having Waipa and the wider region get in behind it.”

Track cycling can seem like an inaccessible or niche sport at times but all it takes to get hooked is to see it with your own eyes. The visceral effect of seeing the action unfold right in front of you persuades many to give the sport a try, and stick with it. Castle remembers the impact of the last World Cup on the town.

“Working at the Avantidrome, I saw this massive influx of kids take up track cycling after watching the World Cup. It’s so important for the future of the sport in New Zealand to have these opportunities for kids to see the world’s best on their back doorstep, and to be inspired by what they see. Hopefully we’ll achieve the same this time around and encourage even more kids to get on bikes.”

The children of Waipa will have plenty of places to draw inspiration from with a handful of cycling events taking place in the region over January.

“If you’re going to pick one thing to come and watch though, the Track World Cup is where it’s at,” the affable Castle says. “I am definitely biased, but the sprinting is next level cool.”

Castle will ride for a spot in the Track World Cup squad at a trial at the Avantidrome in Cambridge in December. The Track World Cup is raced over six sessions beginning Friday 18 January and ending Sunday 20 January. Tickets to the event are available via Ticketek.

Photo: Jordan Castle during the 2018 Oceania Track Championships in Cambridge (Credit: Dianne Manson)