Track Nats #2

A crap shoot

Scratch Race was the first thing on tap. We had to run heats to narrow it down to 20 riders for the final, and I ended up inadvertently winning the thing when I took off at 3 to go. That win was technically my 6th straight going back to the Team Pursuit in LA. Not a bad streak. In fact, I’m almost certain it’s easily the longest loseless streak I’ve ever had. So I liked that morale boost and the momentum I carried into the evening’s race.

The race was 60 laps, and the move went off a bit before 30 to go. I thought it was too early, so I delayed and sat it out when it first began forming, but then when it became large enough and full of enough fast dudes and fast dudes with teammates in the field, panic set in, and a few of us wasted ourselves trying to bring it back, but the attempt was futile. Those six eventually lapped the field, and my race was over, and then like an idiot I tried to go off the front with a few laps to go, as if 7th place mattered. It didn’t. I wasn’t mentally checked in, since I’d already lost the race, and you can’t do that hard of an effort without mental strength. So I pulled out of the sprint as we approached 1 to go, after being off the front solo for a few laps, only to horribly misjudge my attempt to get out of the way (that mental thing I was telling you about) and the guys that then mattered in the finish had to swing up over me to complete their final lap. Almost crashing and having to come around some idiot who’s going too slow and pulls uptrack is one of my biggest pet peeves, and here I was the idiot almost crashing people out. That was inexcusable, and an annoying way to end an already-crappy race. Bah. Reset.

Points, not enough of them

I got 3rd last year in the points race, so anything worse than that would be deemed a failure. Who am I kidding, a 2nd place would also be a failure. I wanted one thing and one thing only. Bobby was absolutely flying, to the point where I figured nearly the only way for me to win would be to get a lap without him. He’s going so good that I could be half a lap up on the field, and he would be able to bridge to me, and immediately go around me at 2mph faster, within about a lap, lap-and-a-half. I mean, ridiculous legs this dude has at the moment.

There were a couple critical moments of the race, one of which came about 3/4s through it, when fellow Boulderite Jake Duehring and I both got off the front in an attempt to lap the field. Well, if you looked at the results, you saw that Jake finished 7th and I finished 5th. So no, we didn’t lap. Best we could do was pull a bit more than a half-lap to the back of the bunch, but we never got any closer. The two non-amateurs and teammates Jackie Simes (winner of the scratch, and eventual winner of the points, and winner of the Madison the next day) and Bobby were way too fast, and could share the workload to bring us back, along with everyone else who didn’t want us to ride away with the win this early. So we had no chance. Jake and I are fast, but needed to be putting down 50 watts more every pull just to be close to getting that lap. And 50 watts is a lot. We hung out way too long, and came back to the field after splitting a couple of sprint points between us. Then late in the race Jackie took off by himself. I think he was in 3rd at the time (I wouldn’t know because the scoreboard wasn’t working, despite us all having timing chips on our bikes. Apparently the $75 we all paid – per race – went directly to payouts for the winners. Oh, that’s right, there’s no payout. Aside from these minor quibbles, though, the race was awesome and the Giordana Velodrome and their staff do an amazing job.) And his teammate Bobby was winning at the time, so Bobby was keen to watch Jackie ride away and mop up some sprint points, and possibly lap the field (being the only one to do so in the race) and take another win. That’s exactly what happened. Jackie’s no Fabian Cancellara, but he has a really fast, race-smart teammate and he timed his attack perfectly, and slowly gained a lap on us. I took off one final time, for god knows what reason, because I knew I was in either 6th, 5th or 4th place, with no real way to move up unless I lapped. So why not try? I was off for the final 8 laps I think, and was able to hold off the field and win the sprint at the end (I was the first to finish the race, but sadly they don’t give out national championships for that distinction). I’ve never felt worse. I was cramping through all 8 of those final laps, and once finished, I immediately took to the grassy infield to lie down and hope the pain and cramping stopped. It would eventually subside, and I’d be able to be disappointed in my race performance in peace, instead of in pain. But damn if it isn’t fun to race a national caliber points and scratch race. Just wish I could have gotten a lap with Jake (we very likely would have gone 1-2 if that had happened), or at least got better than 5th. But I guess to be at a spot where getting 5th at Nationals is incredibly disappointing is pretty cool. Shows how far I’ve come.

Let’s hold hands and crash

Don’t worry, I myself didn’t crash, but I did hold plenty of hands with a dude. The Madison is one of the coolest and most bizarre bike races there is, whereby each team of 2 riders races for points. The fun part is that each team only has 1 active rider in the race at any given time, and the other rider , the “relief,” goes slowly at the top of the track above the stayer’s line, then uses the banking to get up to speed, come down near the sprinter’s lane, stick his hand out, and get grabbed and slung into the race by his teammate. Then he’s active and racing, and the guy who was just in waits for the race to go by, then moves uptrack with all the other relief riders, only to bomb down the banking a lap later, get thrown back in, and repeat the process. My partner was Andrew Crater, who’d won a masters title earlier in the year and had just gotten 2nd to Jackie in the scratch race two days earlier.

The national championship is 50km, or 200 laps, with sprints every 20, but laps supersede points, so we all knew it was going to come down to somehow getting a lap up on Bobby and Jackie. I think they lapped us all 2 times or something. It wasn’t even close. It quickly became a race for 2nd between our team and the team of Jake Duehring and Zak Kovalcik. The exchanges are important. Because you’re literally throwing your partner into the race, they need to be crisp, but they also need to be well-timed. If there are 182 laps to go, that means the bell’s going to be ringing next lap, and people are going to be sprinting for points. If you throw your guy in too early and he has to sprint for two laps against a freshly-tossed-in competitor, your chances aren’t going to be that great. Most of my exchanges with Andy were good, and a couple were timed perfectly. He’s a better sprinter than I, so the rough outline was to get him in for nearly all the sprints, if possible. One sprint early on, I got to the front, made a bit of room, and then tossed him in coming out of turn 4 as we were hearing the bell, meaning he was fresh and had just 250 meters to sprint from the front with the tiniest of gaps. It was timed to perfection, and given the fact that we’d never ridden the event together, and I’d never ridden it at Nationals or on a track banked more than 13 degrees, I was very pleased with this aspect of my performance.

We skipped an exchange when I was in, right before somebody attacked, and that hurt us. I died out there, and we got gapped, and that was maybe the start of our downfall from a chance at a silver medal. The other bad thing was when Andy threw me in for a sprint when we were down 19 points to 14 (in the race for Silver, that is, since Gold was already locked up by Team Pros Who Win Everything), I desperately needed to win the 5 points and get us back even or near even with Jake and Zak. I failed. I led out Jake, essentially, as both he and Bobby came around me. We got 2 points, and that about sealed the deal. So bronze medal it was. I can’t be too bummed, because we didn’t crash like a lot of other teams did. The thing about the Madison is that it’s fast (active racing averaged 31mph per the announcer) and long, and so when you throw your teammate in, you try to rest as much as possible, because your break is generally less than 30 seconds before you’re right back in the race. But going extremely slow, being tired and googly-eyed, and being required to go high on a 42-degree-banked track means some people don’t always do it right. Speed, crankarm length, bottom bracket height, and confidence in one’s tires can all lead to a lethal combination that sees a relief rider lose traction and slide down the track in the turn. Not good. I can say that we were one of either 2 or 3 teams that didn’t crash once. Justin Williams, who was riding with Rahsaan Bahati (poor guy had to ride so damn much by himself) flatted THREE TIMES. That might be a track record. Thing is, if your partner has a mishap, you’re stuck as the only choice for your team’s active rider. So you need to hang in there until your teammate gets a new wheel, or can remount, or whatever he needs to do to get back in the race. Justin flatted three times, so that took those guys out of contention for the silver-bronze fight. Jackie Simes went slow enough to strike a pedal and took himself out at one point, sliding and skidding down the concrete turn. He should have added some white and blue dye to his leg to match the jersey he won. Jake said he clipped two or three times, and I recall being right by him when it happened once. PING! He somehow kept it upright.

The Madison is a crazy event, and slightly dangerous at times, but it was fun as hell to race. All the races were fun as hell. I told Zak and Al Urbanski multiple times that we’d all be so F-ing fast if we all raced against each other every week. And damn, it would be so fun. If only…

Southern hospitality

Cheering us on during each race were Bobbi (not to be confused with Bobby) and Gary, our incredibly kind hosts. They ride, and are part of the Rock Hill Bicycle Club, and they fed us delicious peaches, fantastic cherry cheesecake, and breakfast sandwiches. In addition, they let us use their pickup truck, and also shuttled us and our massive bike box to and from the airport. Door-to-door service, and free unlimited car miles! Hertz Club Platinum right there! I’ve said it here before, but it’s worth saying again: people involved in cycling are some of the nicest people in the world. Mega thanks to the two of them for opening up their home to us, and for cheering us on each night. Glad we could provide at least a modicum of entertainment for the weekend, though I’m pretty sure we came out ahead.

They say it’s a small world, but they’re wrong, because this thing’s gigantic. However, there do tend to be some coincidences in life. Turns out Bobbi is headed to Whitefish, MT, which is where my sister lives. More bizarrely, my sister knows the lady who Bobbi is going out there to ride with. Maybe it’s a small world after all.

I was thinking about trying to go do some World Cups on the track this winter, but from the money to the time off work to the lack of any USA Cycling guidance or feedback or information, to me not being quite fast enough, I don’t think that’s happening anymore. So I ate some pizza and drank some beers Saturday night with a bunch of fellow track racers, and essentially called it a year. Getting fast for 2014 starts right now.

Wait, let me eat a bunch of ice cream and be slovenly and not ride my bike for a while and focus on other Colorado outdoor stuff like hiking and backpacking and mountain biking and bikepacking, and then getting fast for 2014 can start. Happy offseason, everyone.

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