You may have noticed that for some time now the home page of CyclingEurope.org has had an advert for a UNICEF organised event; Wheels for Change. So, what is it? Well it is “...a cycling challenge that will help to turn young lives around. The money raised will go to UNICEF. With your help, UNICEF will focus the funds on transforming the futures of disadvantaged young people around the world, helping them to turn their business dreams into reality“. On 24th May there will be seven sportives taking place across the country involving many hundreds of cyclists who will all be raising funds for UNICEF. Barclays are supporting the event as sponsors of the Premier League (each of the seven sportives starts at one of the Premier League grounds) but the origins of the charitable efforts have their home in the legal department of Barclay’s headquarters in Canary Wharf, London. A few years ago, some of the legal team at Barclays decided to cycle to Italy in aid of UNICEF. From those relatively humble origins the initiative has developed into the event that will be taking place in late May.
In current times the banks are an easy target and I’m certainly not here to defend them. That said, the Barclays employees that I met at the London 2012 Olympic Velodrome (now known simply as the Lee Valley VeloPark) couldn’t have been more down to earth and it was a delight spending several hours in their company. I had been invited to the velodrome by UNICEF UK and having been a London 2012 GamesMaker (albeit one who had never actually been inside the velodrome), I immediately said ‘yes’. The building itself is beautiful, even more so now in 2014 having benefitted from the removal of all the temporary signage, hoardings and structures that were required for the Olympics back in 2012. It sits like an expensive wooden Pringle towards the northern end of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and is the main attraction of what has now become the VeloPark; velodrome, mountain bike course and outdoor circuit.
The velodrome provided us with, of course, the bicycles but also the shoes, helmets and gloves. The rest was left up to us, the cyclists. I had never before set foot anywhere near a velodrome and I was a little apprehensive to say the least, especially when I realised just how steep some parts of the track appeared to be. But we were led through our paces by the patient and friendly trainers and after a few laps, confidence began to build. The evening culminated in a timed lap; mine was some 22 seconds which doesn’t compare particularly well with the likes of Ed Clancey who managed to cover the same distance in just 13 seconds but it’s a start. The track is open for anyone to have a go and I would certainly recommend that if you are in the vicinity, you consider having a go. It was a very different to how I imagined it to be; more challenging, more tiring, more rickety… Highly recommended.
So thank-you UNICEF UK and thank you Barclays. A thoroughly enjoyable event!