Track Nats #1 (plus Bob Pfarr and Roger Delanghe races)

Individual Pursuit. Omnium. Team Pursuit. Those were the three races I’d be doing, in chronological order and order of importance for me. Then I’d head back to Chicago for a wedding, but not before doing the two biggest track races that Kenosha and Northbrook have to offer. I’ve learned over the past year that I’m not a great omnium rider. Two of the first three Omnium events—the flying lap and the elimination race—are not my strong suits. So getting off to a bad start is difficult to come back from. I’m perpetually coming back from bad starts. I had still thought I could pull off a podium place, but I’d have to ride very well.

Everything feels different

I got 2nd place to Bobby Lea last year in the Individual Pursuit. My time was pretty solid, but I still nearly got lapped by him in the final. I worked hard this year to get faster, but I came in with plenty of doubt. If I rode my best, I’d maybe pull off a 4:35. If Bobby rode his worst, he’d maybe drop to 4:35, as the past few years he’s been a 4:33, as sure as the LA smog is gray. That’s about all I could hope for. At 9am the first morning, we rode qualifiers, and I will say, this year was very different mentally from last year. New team, no teammates, flying solo. Last year it was an incredible surprise to qualify second and get to race the gold medal final. This year it was a bit of a foregone conclusion, and to get 3rd or worse would have been devastating. But with it being somewhat assumed, it really took a lot of pressure off. I was able to just go out and focus on my ride, and not give any thought to the other riders. I set out for high 16s each lap, averaging about 16.8. My lap splits:

23.0
17.0
17.0
16.9
17.0
17.1
17.0
16.9
16.8 (lapped Mike somewhere around this point)
17.1
17.1
17.0
16.9
17.1
17.1
17.1

For a grand total of 4:38. A new personal best, and yet as I cooled down on the rollers in the infield—watching Bobby beating me by 2 seconds over the first 3km only to crush the last four laps and finish 5 seconds better than I—I was disappointed. First, I should geek out a bit on the aerodynamics to explain what the time means in comparison to other times I’ve set. This year, aero shoe covers were not allowed, struck down by the draconian and hilariously arbitrary UCI as illegal. Well, technically they were deemed illegal maybe a couple years ago (?), but the enforcement of a lot of these rules is annoyingly inconsistent, so it wasn’t until this year that they really started cracking down on it. Shoe covers essentially smooth out the shape of the shoe, resulting in roughly a 30 second gain over 40km on the road versus not wearing them, all things being equal. The pursuit is indoors, and only 4km, but you’re going 30mph instead of 20mph (meaning every aero advantage is multiplied exponentially) so shoe covers are maybe worth 2-3 seconds over the course of the 4 kilometer pursuit. That’s a huge chunk of time. This year, though, I was able to almost offset that time loss with a front disc wheel, courtesy of my friend Steven. Last year I rode a HED H3, which is very fast for a front wheel, but nothing beats a disc. So that gave me maybe a second or two compared to last year. And then there’s the fact that I lapped Mike, my possible future teammate, who started across from me. Lapping someone surely doesn’t give you anything near seconds, but you’re generally in their slipstream (before you actually overtake them) long enough to give you a slight advantage. I’d estimate it at .5 second. So all in all, putting down a 4:38 is maybe a tiny bit better than what I did last year, all things considered. But maybe it’s just the same. Maybe it’s worse. It was good enough for 2nd place (again), and I’d once again lose to, I mean, race Bobby in the final. I should note, that though I was disappointed, I’m still stoked that I have a natural ability to pace myself incredibly well. With the exception of the starting lap, which is from a standstill so it obviously is much slower than all the subsequent laps, I was between 16.8 and 17.1 every lap. I will fully admit to that being awesome. And, the second lap of a pursuit is one of the most important, as you need to be able to gauge where to stop accelerating once you’re up to speed. Think of it like accelerating up to highway speed in a car, except while there’s still a speed limit of 65, you aren’t legally allowed to have a speedometer. Better know what 65 feels like! Don’t speed up too much and get pulled over! Rule of thumb is if you’re one second under your target time on lap 2, you’ll end up losing three seconds at the end, i.e. had I gone 16.0 or something in the 15s, I would have blown up sooner and my last three laps might have looked more like 18.1 than 17.1. So pacing-wise, I was pleased. I just needed to go faster.

Mediocrity

The first three races in the omnium went as I expected. Poor flying lap (8th?), disappointing points race(6th), bad elimination (10th). That left me so far out of contention after day 1 that I didn’t necessarily care about the Omnium that much on Day 2. Racing to win is fun. Racing to be a consistent 3rd every race so that you win a 6-event overall is awfully lame, and I suck at it. I think I was sitting 7th or 8th after that first day. The worst part is that I was riding hard, trying to be in moves, make the right selections, etc. So I was doling out a bit of the old ultraviolence on my legs instead of NOT doing that and being in better shape the next morning for the Pursuit final. But did I even have a chance against Bobby?

Looking over at Bobby before the final

Looking over at Bobby before the final

Deja vu, except worse

Gold Medal Round came, and boy did I aim right for that silver medal! I knew what I had to do, and hoped Bobby would humor me by going dreadfully slow, but it was not to be. I had one good kilometer, and then BAM, it was lights out. Missing each lap’s split by half a second after that. I rode a 4:44, one of the worst times I’ve had in a couple years, and that includes windy, outdoor tracks. Ouch. I almost literally sat up, and I know I got out of the aero position, when I sensed Bobby passing me. That was a first. (I’ve got to get my head lower.) He didn’t even lap me last year, and I was slower then, or so I thought. Well, whatever. If anyone reading this wants to give me time and money, those are what I need so I can quit my job, get a new bike and handlebar set-up, get some time in a wind tunnel to hone my position, and then maybe, just maybe, I can actually win. Sadly, I think my year-to-year fitness has finally begun to plateau, so I can’t rely on just training to beat him next year. I’m sure if I just kept going to Track Nationals for the next several years, eventually Bobby just won’t show up and I’d win it by default, assuming no literal or figurative Taylor Phinneys show up from the U19 ranks. But that’d be dumb. I’d like to beat him.

Losing to Bobby again; or How I Urinated into a Cup in the Women’s Bathroom Whilst a Man I Just Met Not Five Minutes Earlier Stared at My Penis to Make Sure That’s Indeed Where the Pee Came Out

I have a checklist, purely mental (though perhaps I will write it out here at some point) of things I want to do in cycling before I quit or scale back or whatever will ultimately happen when my brain and body become sick of the silliness I put it through to race at the elite level while also working and trying to have some semblance of a life, especially a Colorado life where camping and hiking and backpacking and fishing are required. One of the things on that checklist is to get drug tested. Mostly it’s a thing because of what it signifies: USADA has no money and drug testing is expensive, so to get drug tested, it means you most likely did very well at a high-caliber event. Well, apparently they wanted to test the 2nd placed rider in the Individual Pursuit. So I checked that off my list as I headed to Doping Control. And of course, it couldn’t go off without a hitch. One needs to give 90ml for a full sample, and being that I was a bit dehydrated, I only squirted out (sorry) 60ml the first go round. Surprisingly, no stage fright, despite my well-known inability to pee at the Wrigley Field trough. However, 2/3 does not a full sample make, so I had to sit back down, drink more, blah blah blah, wait, select a new sealed cup, and give ‘er another go. Well, I didn’t wait long enough, and only got 20 more ml. Not quite enough.

“What’s the record for number of pees before completion?” I asked the guy.

“One guy had to go five times,” he said. I felt relieved. Pun intended.

So I went back, sat down, and waited. Into doping control walked Bobby Lea. We exchanged pleasantries, congratulated each other, I punched him in the face (just kidding, he’s a nice guy, and I’ve never punched anyone in my life, except when she deserved it (misogyny joke within a joke! And of course I’m just kidding here, too, I love women!)), and he walked into the women’s restroom to do that thing with the cup and the guy. Well, as I sat waiting, out comes Bobby roughly three minutes later, USADA papers in hand, says goodbye, and goes back down to the infield. Not only does the dude destroy me in actual bike racing, but he even pees into a cup better than I do. Dammit.

Silver lining, I mean Chocolate Medal lining

Later that evening we completed the Omnium. I headed into the final event, the 1km TT, tied on points with Stefan Rothe. We lined up 125 meters away from one another on opposite ends of the track, and whoever won would take 5th place in the Omnium, which we both assumed was the last spot on the podium. There isn’t much to a kilo for me other than going as hard as I can for about 69 seconds. I had a pathetic time, my legs and brain were toast, but I was good enough to beat Stefan and take 5th overall. I then sat around for the entirety of the women’s event in my chamois, thinking they were doing a Top 5 podium as they had in the past. I must have read the communique wrong, because thankfully USA Cycling has switched to the much-more-appropriate three-place podium, in line with what everyone else in the world does. They should have told me so I could have changed into normal-person clothes, though.

Stars and Stripes

Team Three Plus One, or Team 3 + 1, or Team 4, depending on what you like or if you hate math, was our team pursuit. Composed of three Coloradoans (me, Jake Duehring, and Mike Zagorski) and one Texan (Stefan Rothe), or three dual-citizens (me [Irish], Stefan [German], and Mike [Scottish]) and one full-blown ‘merican (Jake), we were the team to beat, both on paper and after the qualifier where we went 4:30, five seconds faster than the next-best team. In the team pursuit, you’ve almost always got people with different pursuiting abilities, so everyone needs to do whatever he can to ensure the fastest possible time for the team over 4km. For us, that meant Jake would start us off with a super fast opening lap, then Mike would take over for the next three laps, going all-out, and then pulling completely out of the race. The time is taken when the 3rd rider crosses the finish line, so this is tactically a thing that you can do: knowingly ride the final 3km with only 3 riders. Our time in the final was faster than the qualifier by three seconds, a 4:27. That was the fastest team pursuit I’d ever done, but I still felt like we could have gone a bit faster. But 4:27 was what we were aiming for, and with the silver medalists only riding a 4:30, we had enough time to pump our collective fists as we coasted across the line for all of our first National Championships. It was cool to win that, though a bit strange to not be doing it with my former teammates from Chicago as I had tried with for the past 3 years in that event. Once again, I was able to cross another box off on my checklist (national champion).

Pfarr and away

The timing of Nats was super early compared to years past, but the timing of TrekWorld in Madison, the Bob Pfarr Classic Points Race in Kenosha, the Roger Delanghe Trophy Race in Northbrook, and my friends’ (Jen and Chris) wedding in Chicago was too perfect. So I flew straight from LA to Chicago, borrowed my parents’s super-sweet Chevy Kick-Astro minivan and headed up to Madison for work. On Tuesday, I demoed a Slash and Remedy on Trek’s off-road trails, and then got to ride the new Madone and Domane on the roads near Waterloo, WI. That was rad. I was getting paid to do it, too. Then I headed straight east toward Lake Michigan for the 150-lap Bob Pfarr Classic at the Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha, and got paid again.

Saw some old familiar faces and was able to say hello before embarking on the 31-mile barnburner of a bike race. Easily the longest track race I do all year, the Bob Pfarr has become one of the most fun for me. It’s grueling, it’s long, it’s fast, the field is usually over 30 guys (and a couple gals sometimes), and you actually get some decent money if you win, which doesn’t normally happen in track racing. Last year I was able to just barely edge out Chad Hartley on points, and took the win, so I obviously wanted to defend my title. Jon Fraley came out of nowhere to win the first sprint, 10 laps into the race, and promptly pulled out (track sprinters…). I took second, and those next 10 laps were the only point during the race when I wasn’t winning. I won the next sprint point, took a few premes, and was well on my way to winning the thing. At about 98 laps to go, just after a sprint point, I sensed some tired legs in the field, and took off by myself to try to get a lap. The crowd was great; I could feel their excitement at the prospect of a guy going up a lap by himself, and I tried to channel that energy into my pedals. Roughly five laps later I was at the back of the field, having successfully made the juncture. Being awarded a lap in this race is different from standard points races, in that here laps come before points, rather than laps just counting as an extra 20 points. So technically, even though I had more points than everyone, the fact that I had a lap on everybody superseded that. If Hartley had 1 jillion points, but I had a lap and zero points, I’d still win. So effectively, once I got that lap, the race was all but over. I continued to keep the tempo up, letting other guys do just enough work to tire themselves a bit, and coming around everyone at the premes and sprint points.

Around maybe 60 to go, I again sensed a lull in the field, as if the first 90 laps around the 333m track had tired some people’s legs or something (we were all destroyed). I attacked again, solo, and found myself halfway to the peloton a couple laps later. At this point, I’m not even joking, in my head I hear Bryan Cranston’s Walter White character: “Say my name!” I admit I cracked a smile.

The race is already over, and here I am trying to take a second lap, just to rub it in? To make the racers and spectators alike remember my name? All these hilarious second-guessing thoughts of greed and arrogance popped into my mind, and I wondered to myself whether it was unnecessarily mean, in the sort of fourth-grade sense of the word, to go another lap up. I decided to go anyway, and quickly found the back of the main field. I came upon them right at a sprint lap, and tried to come around everyone to add more sprint points to my tally, but ultimately was just too tired. That was one of the few sprints I didn’t win. From there on out, I had the field on lockdown, and tried to just get everyone to pull through to end the race as quickly as we could. Chad took off at one point, and I was the only person willing to give chase, so the two of us took a lap on the field late. So I ended 3 laps up, with 67 points (15 sprint points and no points for lapping means the most you could score was 75). Some extrapolation and a slightly fuzzy memory then tells me I won 12 sprints (60 points), got 2nd in two sprints (6 points) and got 4th in one sprint (1 point). Mike Johnson said it was like I was driving a Ferrari.

A Good Night

A few times in my budding cycling career I’ve had the pleasure of winning all three races on Thursday night at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook. It’s a rare enough occurrence that I still can remember those nights. There’s a certain invincibility that you feel on a night like this, when you’ve got the best legs, the best brains, and in last year’s case, the best teammates. And a heap of luck. This year we opened up the evening with a tempo race, and I sopped up a few points early on, which was good enough to take the win. Going back to the team pursuit, that was three straight victories. The Roger Delanghe Trophy Race was next on the schedule, and I desperately wanted to make that four straight wins. In years past, Colby Pearce has shown up, the entire Aerocat team with a 5-man leadout train has shown up, and plenty of local heavy hitters have shown up. This year it was a bit tamer, as it was purely local guys, plus Chad Hartley, plus this weird guy from Boulder.

Last year, Jeff Whiteman went up a lap with me, and once we reintegrated in the field, his teammates Jason Garner and Matt Fox provided a solid 2-lap leadout that removed any chance for me to come around them. Jeff won, I was second. This year, I knew I had to come to the line without Jeff. Also, despite me dominating him on Tuesday, I also preferred not to come to the line with Chad, either. It’s only 50 laps, so much shorter than the Bob Pfarr, but just as fast. It quickly became apparent that I was the guy to watch, as everyone would swing uptrack whenever I pulled a half-lap and swung up. I attacked several times, and Hartley countered me at one point, sensing that everyone was putting way too much emphasis on me and not enough on him. He got away with Brian Ellison, and once it happened, I was able to finally leverage some “hey there are other strong guys in this race, too, you all should probably chase them down” on my competitors. So Brian Haas and Jeff and some others actually went after Chad and Brian, and I was able to hop on for the ride for a bit. At one point, I was with only Jeff, and ahead of us were still the Brian/Chad duo, and I attacked hard when Jeff pulled off. I knew the winning move was up the road, but I also did not want to bring Jeff to it. The group would be too big, and Jeff would have done way too much sitting on, and probably would have beaten us all. But my attack was good enough that Jeff, for maybe the first time since I’ve been racing him, didn’t even swing back downtrack to try to get me. He saw me go, and just let it happen. So there I was alone in no-man’s-land chasing down Chad and Brian, who were maybe 120 meters ahead of me. It was perfect. I closed the gap, and then we were three. A big group of four riders was behind us, closing in. At first it wasn’t a problem, but once Brian starting skipping pulls and Chad started going a bit slowly on his pulls, I knew with 17ish laps to go that it was only a matter of time before they got up to us. Instead of trying to inject any extra pace into our threesome, I just kept with the slow, going-to-get-us-caught pace, and waited. I knew without asking (though I did ask William on the infield just to verify) who was coming up, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Nikos, a young junior and my former mentee from my old team, was one of the bridgers.

People probably knew I was going to attack, so I had to make it count when I did. The seven of us were about a half-lap in front of the 25-strong peloton, and visions of Tuesday night flashed in my head: going a lap up, going a lap up, going a lap up. Our winning move consisted of me, Chad, Brian Ellison, Brian Haas, Mark Winston, Nikos, and another young’un, Alex Riva from Wisconsin. I slotted in behind Nikos and in front of Mark right after they all had made contact with us, and I knew that it was now or never. Maybe 11 laps to go, Nikos pulls through hard, and though I’d have liked to stay with him and try to do a little in-race mentoring, I also knew I had to go then and there, especially with Mark on my wheel. I took off, gave 20 of the hardest pedal strokes I could, and then looked back to see what was going on. Mark was still glued to my wheel, but there was plenty of daylight (nightlight?) behind him. We had a gap. I didn’t want to drag him up to the peloton, but he wouldn’t pull through.

“F no!” was his exact response as I wagged my elbow for him to come to the front. I wagged my elbow again after pulling another half lap. Again, a swear, followed by “no.” Finally he gave me a brief respite, and pulled for a quick half-lap. That was all I needed. I attacked the hell out of him, and he gave no chase, falling back to the group we were just in. I went for broke, trying to get a lap up solo, and did. There weren’t too many laps left, but I knew I had to get to the front of the peloton and keep pulling, lest anyone else from that small group I was just in also bridge up. It was hairy trying to make my way through the field, as they were 1) going slow, 2) splayed out from sprinter’s lane to the rail, five-wide and four-deep, and 3) not paying attention. As I muscled my way through I definitely bumped a guy or two and maybe cut someone off. It’s always funny to me when people get mad at something like that, in a condescending sort of way, a “Gosh, what are you doing!?” like I got from one guy as I picked through the peloton, like I’m somehow in their way or wrong to do what I just did, followed immediately by silence as they realize what I’m doing is winning the bike race and they just got lapped and are going too slow and shouldn’t bunch up so much like a bunch of sillies. So I got to the front, pulled hard for four laps to ensure victory, and took my 4th win in a row. Boom! I’d wanted to win this thing for a long time, so it was good to finally do it. We finished the night with a points race, which I also won, so I’ve won the last five races I’ve entered, which is some solid morale and confidence going into Track Nationals #2, where I fully intend to win the scratch race. Or the points race. Or both. And the Madison with Andy Crater.

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2 Responses to Track Nats #1 (plus Bob Pfarr and Roger Delanghe races)

  1. Kenny Labbe' says:

    Congrats Liam! Great job winning the races, and a pleasure to read your account of it all.

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