Reflecting on My First International Racing Experience

I can’t say I thought about my trip Saturday or Sunday, as I was mostly thinking about death and how completely OK I would have been at welcoming it thanks to the ebola or whatever I had.

But I have now had time to think about it. And because everyone loves listicles, here’s my Top 8 reflections on Aguascalientes:

1. A demonym is the term for residents of a place; i.e. Michigander for someone from Michigan or Illinoisan for a guy from Illinois. The demonym for Aguascalientes is…. (drumroll…) hidrocálido. Or hydrothermal. Brilliant.

2. Having soigneurs, like actual soigneurs, is amazing.  Whitney, take note: not only did I receive a 30-minute leg massage, but I had a new cold towel on my neck/shoulders every couple minutes during warmup in the 93-degree stadium; my water bottle magically replenished itself all the time; I didn’t have to carry things, like my bike, to the start line; and my road bike would magically appear underneath me after a race, so I didn’t have to rely on silly and tiring bipedal locomotion. Thanks, Viggo and Paige!

Copyright Missy Erickson, whom I will pay when this blog starts raking in the big bucks.

Copyright Missy Erickson, whom I will pay when this blog starts raking in the big bucks.

3. Middle and South Americans race differently than we EE. UU. folk. In the U.S., when nothing is really happening and everyone’s just being lazy waiting for the real racing to start, we tend to take steady pulls down in the sprinter’s lane, signal with an elbow, pull up, and the guy behind repeats. It’s steady, it’s safe. In Mexico, you ride at the rail almost all of the time, come down to the sprinter’s lane just to cut off someone who started an attack from the back of the group, you pull uptrack whenever you want to, you backpedal a ton (remind me to use a lockring for the first time in my life next time). It’s chaotic, and not at all controlled, even when no one’s racing, say, two laps into a 60-lap scratch race. Though I have to say, it lends itself to some awfully dynamic races. If I had to pinpoint why there were more crashes in Aguascalientes than in every other track race I’ve done this year combined, I’d probably say it’s the style of racing—rather than guys just being that bad at controlling their bikes—that is number one on the list. A close number two, however, is the fact that a lot of guys don’t know how to control their bikes.

4. Mexican children can yell loud. Thursday night, after my scratch race, lots of schoolchildren funneled into the velodrome, and damn can they yell and whistle! After Bobby did his pursuit, I went up into the stands to watch the women’s team pursuit final, and with all the events in between those two, the children would go wild for just about anything. Victory laps turned into waves of shrieking. A Mexican attacking during a race turned into my ears bleeding. The attention they seemed to pay to the actual racing going on was surprising.

5. Pasta with red sauce CAN get old! We had to avoid beef and pork, as some of the meat down there is pumped full of clenbuterol, which sadly turns up when we have to pee in a cup, and then we get disqualified from racing for two years. So no pork. No beef. Definitely no street tacos. God, how I wanted street tacos. Instead, at literally every lunch and dinner — paid for, and at a conference room in the hotel — I was given the choice of pasta with red sauce, or pasta with red sauce. Hmm, I’ll have the pasta, por favor. Con red sauce!

Just give me a burrito already!

Just give me a burrito already!

It wasn’t until Day 2 that I realized there was a big cylinder of Kraft parmesan cheese with which to liberally saturate my plate.

6. I agree with Emma Pooley, et al. British Cycling recently announced their choice not to send a woman to the Worlds TT, because they stood no chance to medal. This had people like Emma Pooley, former World Time Trial Champion who got her ass kicked years ago the first time she attended the Worlds TT, understandably upset. I still remember my first experience at Elite Track Nationals in 2010, when I got destroyed and didn’t even qualify for a final. But the experience gained there inevitably helped me further down the road. I knew I could have pulled an upset and gotten a medal at Pan-Ams, had things gone exactly right, but realistically I was down there to get international experience, which will pay off huge whenever I return to this level of competition. It all adds up.

7. Take the sign that says CRIT to get to the track. I thought that was funny.

This was the third and final turn to get to the track from the hotel. Easy peasy.

This was the third and final turn to get to the track from the hotel. Easy peasy.

 

8. Anytime you want to complain about the thermostat, whether in your house or office, remember that it’s likely 93 degrees or more inside the Aguascalientes velodrome. Makes even 80 or 82 seem downright Arctic.

I took this shot at 4am on the way to the airport. Mexico lived. Liam didn't, really. Getting sick sucks.

I took this shot at 4am on the way to the airport. Mexico lived. Liam didn’t, really. Getting sick sucks.

 

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Aguascalientes, Points Race: Parts 1 & 2

Well this wasn’t timely. Points race final was Friday night, and I was shuttled to the airport a few hours later Saturday morning at 4am to come back to Colorado. In the midst of a not-even-that-long day of traveling, I got sick. Real sick. Like I didn’t leave my apartment once I entered it Saturday until this morning when I went to work. After doing nothing but sleep/blow nose/groan like a dying frog/sleep for about 48 hours, I was ready to leave the confusing fog of Headcoldland (Enterovirusland?) and enter the no-longer-undead world where I only halfway feel like I’m swimming while I walk.

Let’s go back to Friday. Points race qualifier. Part of me — a small part — was deathly afraid of getting 13th in the qualifier and not even getting a chance to race in the final. But the more rational part of me knew there were a lot of guys lining up in the qual that probably wouldn’t even make it to the finish, let alone score more points than I. So off we went. There were 18 of us, I believe, and only 12 would advance. Bobby was in the other qualifier. I accidentally took a lap by myself, earning 20 points and allowing me to spend the rest of the race sitting in and avoiding crashy idiots. “Accidentally” because I hadn’t really planned to be by myself, nor to go a lap up. But when I attacked up at the rail to follow a guy starting to go along the black line, I quickly noticed that guy pull up and backpedal (there was lots of backpedaling in Aguascalientes), so I was alone heading towards the 2 gentlemen a half-lap off the front.

I quickly get to them, and they’re going as slow as the 30 people on their rollers in the infield. So I pass them immediately, and I’m now on my own. I agreed with Coach Neal Henderson (this man is dialed, and knows his shit the way a dung beetle knows his… sorry, bad metaphor) to keep rolling and get a lap ASAP. So a few laps later, I joined the back of the group, and that was that. I would advance to the final.

In the final — for the first time all year — I’d have a teammate. Strangely, my teammate would be the guy I’ve lost three consecutive national championships to (in the individual pursuit), Bobby Lea. Dude is absolutely flying, he nearly broke the American IP record the day before, I’ve literally never raced outside of the United States, he’s an Olympian, so obviously he was our guy to medal. I’d do whatever I could to score some early points, and then try to help him later in the race if I could.

With maybe 93 laps to go (race was 120 laps, sprints every 10), I found myself following a move and then sprinting for points a lap or two later. There was a guy off the front of our group, so we were sprinting for 2nd. They had to go to the photo, it was bike-throw close, but I later found out he barely got me, so I was at 2 points. Hey, on the board at least. We all went uptrack after the sprint, but along came Bobby and several others, and quickly we were a cumbersomely large group of about eight. I hopped on the back and hitched a ride the rest of the way, and we somehow were cohesive enough to quickly gain a lap. So bingo, both of us had a lap and were in the Top 10. Good start.

Though I was already hurting.

I closed down a gap at one point around the halfway mark, wanting to get to the group “up the road,” but it ultimately proved fruitless. I got to the group, but at the cost of a pretty intense effort. At a race like this, burning that match unnecessarily was a bad thing. We all starting swinging uptrack, and the main group behind us came up, and we were then one group. Waste of an effort.

After that, I wasn’t willing to do much. I was hurting, told Bobby as much, and hung out near the back. Bobby was still feeling OK, and took a second lap. Can’t remember how many other guys were in that group, but it wasn’t many. Then toward the end of the race, Bobby went again. I should have been at the front taking slow pulls in the sprinter’s lane to keep our group going niiiiiiiice and slow, giving Bobby plenty of opportunity to turn on the gas and make the lap, but I was spent. I again remained near the back, waiting for Bobby to join up. I couldn’t tell what the point totals were, but I knew if he made the lap, he’d likely be in the Top 3, and maybe I could at the very least escort him to the front for the final sprint. Bobby’s group made the juncture, and at one point he was behind me. I started to go, thinking he was in tow, but he was likely destroyed from the Herculean efforts he had put in to gain a third lap, and we were starting to really pick up the pace for the final sprint. It spread out double file, then thinned to single file as the final bell rang, and I no longer saw Bobby behind me. I wasn’t anywhere near the top 4, so I wasn’t going to get any points, but I went as hard as I could to the line in case I was tied with anybody on points. You never know when getting 16th across the line, compared to 17th, will matter. I crossed the line pretty wrecked.

Bobby got 3rd. A medal! I finished 11th. Would have preferred a top 10, but I was able to kinda sorta help Bobby out. That was definitely consolation. Very fun race, and I also knew I was going home leaving it all on the track, in the parlance of motivational sports talk.

Given the amount of crashing that happened all week, I was also pleased that I didn’t literally leave any of myself on the track.

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Aguascalientes, Scratch Race: Part D’oh…s

I didn’t crash.

I didn’t get dead last.

That’s about all the good I can say about my scratch race final tonight. I didn’t have the legs, but raced like I did. Tried to get a move going midway through the 60 lap race, but immediately regretted it. I couldn’t hold the pace necessary to take a lap, and neither could my breakaway companions. So we all came back to the field.

I tried to stay near the front, and it’s a good thing I did, because about 6 or so guys all went down in a big crash.

It was all behind me, so I don’t know how it happened or why (maybe I do know why: what Newt Cole would call “big engine, little rudder” syndrome), but I was thankful to again escape carnage. There were a lot of yellow flags up, and some guys seemed hesitant to pick up the pace, likely because they had a teammate down on the ground and wanted to give them as much time as possible to get a wheel change, pick themselves off the floor, and get back in.

My legs sure crashed. Hard. I couldn’t do anything my brain wanted to do, so I patiently bided my time, hoping i could give it one last go at about 5 to go, if there was ever a lull.

There wasn’t, really, and so I struggled to even maintain my terrible 15th-placed position in the finale. I don’t even know what place I finished, but it wasn’t in the Top 10, and it wasn’t last.

At dinner I read a good quote in a magazine I was reading: You can fail at something the first time, but take credit for trying.

I take full credit, but damn if I don’t want a redo. And maybe knowledge that I would be at this race back in February, so I could have trained better.

Bobby won gold in the pursuit, though he did not set the American record. The women also followed that up with a victory in the team pursuit. So we’ve got two medals, still hoping for a bunch more. I’ve got the points race qualifier in the morning, hoping I can make it and then help Bobby, who will be joining me, to another gold. God knows these legs won’t be able to get a medal themselves. Though stranger things have happened. Should be another fun one.

I’m just continuing to take this all in.

P.S. There’s now a very noticeable scuff on the right side of my shoe. Got pushed into the board, and the shoe was the first contact point.

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