What you don't appreciate when you watch the heroes of track cycling do their thing at the velodrome is just how steep the banks are. A few weeks after the British team's astonishing dominance in Beijing, I borrowed a bike to ride the Manchester track where it all began. Nothing's flat on those acres of Siberian pine, but when you approach the ends of the oval, the sides rear up to 45 degrees. Unless you fight your instincts and cycle faster, you risk falling off the track like a climber off a cliff.
I was being trained for the afternoon by Iain Dyer, Britain's sprint coach and the brains behind the blistering speed of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. My competitor for the day: Jason Kenny, with whom Hoy smashed the team sprint world record yesterday. Kenny was the young pretender then but has jumped ahead of Hoy to fly the flag in the solo sprint on Monday evening.
"The most important thing to remember," Dyer told me from the centre of the Manchester velodrome, "is never to stop pedalling." It became clear why as I followed Kenny on a few practice laps.
Track bikes have no gears or brakes and the pedals turn with the back wheel. You don't stop pedalling because you can't. The only way to slow down is to resist the turning of the wheels – or crash. "Where is he?" barked Dyer after one lap. I looked over my shoulder to find Kenny two inches off my tail, his face expressionless. Then he cruised in front before slowing. He edged me up the bank as I overtook again. "Go go go!" shouted Dyer.
I pushed as hard as I could into the final straight, splattering the track with sweat. Would this be the moment I beat the world's second-fastest cyclist?
No. As the line approached, Kenny stormed past to win by a tyre, barely out of breath. He reckoned we'd edged towards 30mph. On Monday, he will be doing more like 50mph. I'll be watching from my sofa in awe.