I have wanted to go to track nationals ever since 2006 but to me the track represents fear and intimidation. Being an adrenaline junkie it also represents a pretty big rush, and the idea of overcoming the fear and accomplishing something so hard is a huge draw for me. Other drawbacks are that it's quite a lot of money to spend to go compete at something where I don't know what I'm doing, and falling at the end of September I'm usually tired from the year of racing on the road and the idea of staying sharp and fit until then is overwhelming.
This year some things changed. One is that I got a spot on the Garner Cyclery Track team, and was able to ride with and get invaluable advice from some very experienced track racers. I sought out and received excellent advice on everything from training, equipment, how to warm up, and all of the logistics involved. And one of the positives about crashing in the middle of the season and taking 4 weeks off, is that now I was feeling pretty fresh and good. I'd had a really positive experience at Omnium nationals back in August, and felt like this was the year to head to Los Angeles!
I had attended nationals last year as a pilot on a tandem with my visually impaired partner, Kim Borowicz. The original plan was to go and ride with Kim again this year, and also compete in the individual endurance events. However, Kim got sick and was unable to train, and did not get better in time to make the trip. It was such a bummer, and I debated whether or not to go. At the final hour, I just decided to go anyway. Lucky for me my Garner teammates Jeff and Jason G let me tag along with them.
Garner Cyclery teammates Jason Garner and Jeff Whiteman
I was going to compete in the Individual Pursuit, the Scratch race, and the Points race. My events were going to be on Thursday morning, Thursday night, and Saturday night. I was hoping to find a team pursuit team to jump in with on Friday, and I could have been convinced to jump in the Madison race on Sunday, had I been able to find a partner, but everyone there was pretty much set with teams. While watching the team pursuit I was overcome with the very strong feeling that WE NEED MORE WOMEN FROM CHICAGO GOING TO THIS!!!! Goal for next year: we need to field a women's team pursuit team and at least one or two madison teams!! There is no reason we can't make this happen and be competitive!
Because the training is so specific, most track racers specialize in either the sprint or the endurance events. I am an endurance rider and Jeff and Jason G are sprinters, but Jeff also jumped in the scratch race, which is an endurance event.
My first event was the pursuit. The pursuit is a time trial event where you and one other rider are on the track at the same time. You start on opposite sides of the track and "pursue" each other. The start is a standing start, and then you go as hard as you can for 3 kilometers. Everyone goes at least once, and then the top 4 riders go on to a final round, to determine first through fourth places. If you get passed by your opponent in the qualifying round, you keep going so you can get a time. If you get passed in the final round, they shoot the gun, the race stops, and you have a winner and a loser. Most people have predetermined splits and they have a coach on the track with a stopwatch yelling out their times. Since I have only done the pursuit one other time, we decided that I would just wing it and based on my time I would figure out splits for next time.
Before each event, you must get your bike checked to make sure that your position is legal. If you've seen the movie The Flying Scotsman, you know what I'm talking about. Prior to coming to LA, I had actually sawed off the front of my saddle, because I was unable to get it into a legal position otherwise.
Sidney helping Peter make my saddle UCI legal
Since I hadn't competed on my bike in it's current position, the first thing I did when we arrived Friday morning was have my bike checked to make sure it was legal. The officials will do this as a courtesy, but you still need to get it "officially" checked immediately before your event. I was told I was good to go. When it was time to go, Jason G took my bike over to the bike check and I went and sat in the waiting area. I could see there was trouble, and I saw Jason G and Jeff getting tools and adjusting my seat. I was so grateful for their help and I did not get nervous. Had I been involved I would have been completely frazzled. Apparently my seat was not horizontal, and the officials had changed their mind on whether or not I needed to have it fixed to compete.
Jason G finished the adjustments and had my bike ready within minutes of my start time! In the starting gate I thought of everyone that helped me get there, and all the effort it took. I was ready! But when the gun went off even though I'd practiced a ton of standing starts, I still messed it up. Bleh. I ended up getting passed about 2K in and when she went around me I was able to kick it up a notch and match the pace she was keeping....obviously I was not going hard enough in the beginning. I think she was also using me as a carrot and probably slowed a bit after she passed me. But I was in a tough spot, as it's illegal to draft or repass someone after they pass you. When my competitor's race ended on the opposite side of the track, I still had half a lap to go. Instead of pulling up track and out of the way, she sat up and slowed down, blocking my path. I was yelling at her to get out of the way (if I really was doing a pursuit effort where did I get the breath to yell???) and finally at a quarter lap she pulled up. I was mad, but mainly I was mad that I'd gotten passed. I should have been going harder from the beginning. Even with those mishaps I still posted a 4:10 which was good enough for 11th place, and it was 8 seconds faster than my last pursuit.
about to get passed in the pursuit
photo courtesy of Erika Fulk
photo courtesy of Erika Fulk
Next up was my scratch race, the race that I felt most confident in. I've raced a ton of scratch races in my life and it's also the race most like a criterium, which is what I consider my specialty. However, it's also a mass start race which means there's tons of riders on the track, and the possibility for crashing. Crashes happen all the time in bike racing, and I feel way more confident about how to avoid them on the road. I'm getting better on the track, but I still have some very real fear. I was feeling good until 20 minutes before the race, and then the panic set in. Somehow I got to the line, and when the race started I was able to settle in and be ok. The race was fast and I rode hard. I did have some some good efforts where I tried to bridge up to two riders who were off the front, but I was unable to close the gap, and spent the second half of the race unable to move up and finished at the back of the pack. I was disappointed since I had had high hopes for this race.
Scratch Race: If only that was the finish line :)
photo courtesy of Erika Fulk
photo courtesy of Erika Fulk
My final event of the week was the points race. Jason G had gone over a plan for the race with me and I felt really good about it. Going into the race the fear was there and I couldn't shake it. I followed the plan as best as my legs would allow, but my legs felt terrible. About 30 laps into the 100 lap race, I felt the fight go out of me. About a lap after that there was a crash and 3 or 4 riders went down. In a mass start race, they allow 5 laps for crashed riders to jump back in, and after I rolled around a couple times watching them on the sidelines, not getting up right away, I just decided to quit. They all ended up being fine and jumping back in the race, but I pulled myself from the race and ended my nationals experience disappointed but safe.
Jeff and Jason G rode well in all their events, but most exciting was their medal in the Team Sprint!
Jason G and Jeff and their Oregon guest rider Dan Birman winning Bronze in the Team Sprint
Liam Donoghue, John Tomlinson, Tom Briney, and Dave Moyer from XXX did Chicago proud in the team pursuit, and Liam had fantastic rides in the Individual Pursuit and Points race, earning a silver and bronze respectively. Chicago rider Danny Robertson from WDT won bronze in the Keirin, and silver in the team sprint. Great job Chicago! Only thing missing was more Chicago women!
Hanging out with Jennie Reed
Another highlight of the weekend was getting to meet Jennie Reed, who most recently won a silver medal in the Team Pursuit in London this summer, and was a super good sport about getting her picture taken with me :)
And I got to see my old friend Laurel who is from California and one of the people who got me into this whole bike racing thing in the first place. She was there competing in the team pursuit.
In the end I was pleased with my effort but disappointed with my scratch race results, surprisingly happy with my pursuit, and just plain bummed by my points race. I learned a lot and gained a TON of confidence. I am hooked, and I definitely want to train harder and come back next year!
When I think about it how many people helped me get out there, I get a little choked up. Just know that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
And finally, if you have 3 hours, here's a Video of Saturday night's session