Velodrome Lesson #3
After several weeks of prior obligations, illness, and other distractions, I was able to return to the track for my final lesson in track racing. Brett, a Wheely Cool member, showed up as well. I suggested he try track racing out because he was always aggressive on our road rides and showed a lot of strength. Unlike my previous sessions, this one had very few people, only 14. This made the racing more challenging because there was no fast or slow group, but rather one big group with fast and slow riders in it. The only bike racer evident was a guy wearing a full Los Gatos Bike Racing Club uniform, but it turned out there were about 5 really strong riders there, including Brett.
The coach this week was Brian Lindsay, a slightly younger instructor than my previous ones, he came riding up to the track on a bmx bike. The rental bike I got this time was a brand new Bianchi Pista track bike. Apparently they got a whole bunch of them from Cupertino Bike Shop, so it was cool to try a brand new bike out.
We started with a short 20 lap warmup, and it was very very slow. At one point Brian got on his BMX bike and rode alongside us in the apron yelling at us to speed up “I shouldn’t be able to catch up to you guys like this”. There wasn’t alot I could do about the pace, being at the end of the paceline, and when it was my turn at the front, I didn’t want to pull away too strong and break up the line. Pacelining with a group is always tough to satisfy everyone. Near the end he really yelled at us to speed up, and so it did pick up a bit, but at the expense of breaking up the line. I broke off from the lead the second time and as I drifted back there was a huge gap after the fifth rider, so I dropped in behind him cutting in line. (we were taught to do this to be efficient and patch up the paceline when necessary). It was a good indication of the division of fast slow riders in the group that day, and would be more evident throughout the session.
Brian spent alot of time talking to us about “not being sketchy” on the track and that seemed to be his main conern. The first exercise he made us do was a leaning exercise. We paired up and had to actually make contact and lean into each other while riding around the track. It was really scary at first. I thought I had ridden close to people before, but never making contact, so perhaps it wasn’t that close. But riding alongside Brett my main concern was I was going to get tangled up in his pedals or handlebars. The fact that the track was a continuous and smooth surface made it a bit easier to ease into him. Naturally, the other fear was that I would run into him the first time and then knock him over. Brett’s alot bigger than me so it hopefully was less likely to happen than him leaning into me. So I edged closer towards him and it just seemed like I was covering ALOT of distance and still not hitting him. I was way beyond my comfort zone, and noticed all the other riders had the same problem. They thought they were close, but still not close enough to touch. So I finally kept edging and finally bumped him a couple times, amazed that none of us fell over from it. After that, it was like the wall came down, and I was able to lean into him and keep pedaling and zoom away and zoom back in and bump him, or fully lean as if I wanted to drive him into the wall, and we were able to maintain balance. We switched sides and he had to lean into me, and I talked him through it. It only took another lap before we were both able to bump and lean with confidence.
The second exercise was called the “Freeway sprints” where Brian picked three slower riders to form a wall and ride along the track at a slow speed. Everyone else was supposed to follow behind this wall in a tight pack, and then at some point with a half lap to the finish, Brian would ring the bell, and we had to sprint, break around the “wall” and try to cross the finish line first. I didn’t want to be too aggressive too soon, just to size up the field and save my energy for a real opportunity to win a sprint. So that thinking put me in very bad starting positions behind the wall. Every time the bell rang I was caught behind a slow rider or boxed in between a rider and the edge of the track, unable to break soon enough to contest the leaders. Brett was positioning himself very aggressively, right to the outside of the “wall” of riders. So he kept taking on the racers and coming in top 3 every sprint. On one bell I broke around the wall at a good spot and thought I could catch the lead finishers, so I beared down and spun as hard as could through the turn and was gaining on the lead group but one of them gave up and decided to swerve right in front of me, I had to swerve up the track to avoid him and I lost my position. On the last bell I decided to get a good position and eyed a gap between the wall of riders. When the bell rang I shot right between them and found myself in the lead, but on my far right a racer guy in a white jersey was coming around. So I pushed extra hard through the turn and held him off but I was beginning to max out. He must have had just a little bit more, because with about 30 yards left both he and Brett came around me and all I could do was hang on for third.
The next exercise was a team pursuit. Brian split the fastest guys in half evenly to make things even, so basically seven people on a team, starting at opposite sides of the track, each team trying to catch the other. Once we started going, after one or two laps, our team split big time, so there were only four of us in a paceline. The other team had only three, and we were gaining on them. So we went around and around and around and around and it seemed like the race never ended! We were supposed to do five laps but nobody rang a bell or anything. We were getting exhausted and at one point, I was in second position and the lead rider pulled off where he was supposed to, but I wasn’t paying attention and my front wheel was overlapping his rear wheel, so as he pulled to the right slowing down, I had to pull to the right also to avoid our wheels touching. This was a bad mistake, because I basically dropped out of the line and didn’t do my pull. So I just stayed out and let the rest of the guys finish. But the finish never really happened. When I rolled into the pits, Brian admitted that he lost track of the laps and was hoping we’d be counting ourselves. DOH!
The final exercise was an Australian pursuit, where we start at different locations around the track, and just ride as hard as possible to try to pass people. Once you are passed, you are out. Brian didn’t really make an effort to put us in a logical starting order, a necessary handicap for this kind of race. I was in the second position, and there was one girl in front of me. Once he rang the bell to start the race, after a quarter lap I was already right behind her. I decided to not pass her and give her a chance to stay in the race longer. As long as nobody came up behind me that was fine. But as soon as I made this noble decision, mr. white jersey guy popped up on my right side like wildfire. What the heck?? he must have sprinted hard from the beginning. I jumped up instinctively and wound up hard to pick up my speed to fend him off, both of us passing the girl in a blur. He had to drop behind me as I was desperately gasping for air to keep my speed up and him behind me. I knew it would be in vain because he was drafting behind me at that point, and no matter how hard I was going, he was getting a wind block and would eventually gather up enough energy to pass me and I’d be out. So after a whole lap of max effort I gave up and he swung around me. I don’t know who ended up winning that one because again, there was no bell, and even after everyone came down to the pits, white jersey guy just kept riding laps. He was serious I guess. As I cruised around the track to cool down, I found that I actually had one more sprint in me. So perhaps I gave up against white jersey guy too soon. I asked Brett how he did, and he said that the white jersey guy had surprised everyone early at the start and sprinted past him, eliminating the competition early.
Overall, I felt good about my performance, that I was able to keep up with the racers. But I think I needed a little bit more oomph, to be able to hold on just a bit longer or spin just a little bit faster, to be really competitive. I feel that it will require training as well as some kind of mental kick in the pants. To dig deeper and find power reserves. Brett didi really well, and I think he will return for more.