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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Glasgow aglow

Scotland's biggest city set for Commonwealth Games, Homecoming 2014

Posted: 05/3/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Even though I'm being scolded, a big grin breaks across my face.

After all, it's quite a feat for me -- a neophyte track cyclist -- who initially thought there was no way I could climb the imposing steep-banked hardwood on a bike.

In the interest of full disclosure, my speed certainly wasn't setting any records, but I was apparently coming down the slope too quickly to be able to come to a full stop at the rail.

I lycra-ed up at the Chris Hoy Velodrome as part of a pre-Commonwealth Games tour of Glasgow.

Scotland's biggest city will host the sports spectacular July 23 to Aug. 3 and wants to make the Games as approachable as possible.

You certainly won't be able to cycle the velodrome during the Games, but otherwise, the venue has been built as a public space where people are encouraged to watch and try out the sport of indoor track cycling.

Of course, elite athletes train here, but beginners can take a one-hour session that has them pedalling around the track in a matter of minutes after a quick orientation.

That's the option our group picks and in no time we have ultralight bikes, helmets and clip-in shoes.

We mount our bikes at the rail and clip in (well, the coach has to help each and every one of us) and start a slow cycle around the flat part of the track.

Coach David Daniell, who won a silver medal in track cycling at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, tells us to just keep our legs moving smoothly, do a minimum of steering and not think about it.

He directs us onto the C¥te d'Azure, the light blue strip of the track that's slightly sloped.

He then starts standing ever higher and higher on the track, yelling at us to go above him and stay in that zone all the way around the track.

Pretty soon, we're whipping around the track on a gravity-defying 40-degree slope.

Somehow, our momentum keeps us upright and there's no leaning or extra effort required to keep spinning around the track.

At the highest point, I actually hear the hardwood crackle beneath the bike tires.

But soon, the lungs start to ache and the thighs protest.

Top speed can't be maintained for long and just as we climbed up the track in graduated stages we slow down by coming down in increments.

We finish up winded, but feeling like accomplished athletes.

With the public session over, elite members of the Scottish National and Glasgow Life teams take to the track and show us how it's done.

They're a blur in no time and zigzagging up and down the steep hardwood with ease.

A stop at Commonwealth House in downtown Glasgow brings the group up to speed on what Glasgow expects from the Games.

"This will be the single-biggest event Scotland has ever hosted," says Games chief communications officer Gordon Arthur.

"Certainly, it's about the 4,500 athletes from 71 Commonwealth countries who will compete here in 17 sports, but we also want to use the Games to generate legacy, tourism and economic development."

That means, even if you aren't among the one million Glaswegians and tourists who buy tickets and attend Games events, you can be part of the projected 1.5-billion TV audience and/or visit Glasgow as a tourist before and/or after the Games.

"We are expecting Glasgow to be a popular destination this summer with the Commonwealth Games and Scotland Homecoming 2014 (a nationwide tourism promotion)," says Debbie Cabana of Air Transat, which has non-stop flights to Glasgow from Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

Seventy per cent of the venues to be used at the Games were already in place in southwest Scotland.

The velodrome and attached Emirates Arena were newly constructed to host the track cycling and badminton, respectively.

Also new is the 12,000-seat Hydro indoor stadium (named after sponsor Scottish Hydro) Scotsman Rod Stewart opened with four concerts last September and will be the gymnastics venue.

Hampden Park, the long-established outdoor 46,000-seat soccer stadium, will be used for track and field and the closing ceremony.

But it's not all about the 20th Commonwealth Games.

Whether you visit before, during or after the Games, Glasgow wants to show off its revitalized cosmopolitan vibe after being labelled a rundown post-industrial city.

There's new construction; spruced-up public spaces and historical buildings; always that kilts-and-castles folklore; world-class art galleries and museums (check out the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and-or Kelvingrove); and eclectic dining from Two Fat Ladies (nouveau Scottish cuisine) to Mr. Singh's, where waiters serve curries while wearing kilts.

Air Transat flies to Glasgow from more Canadian cities than any other carrier: Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.

Check out Glasgow2014.com and AirTransat.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 E4

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