Monday, June 01, 2009
Welcome to the Velodrome
Where I grew up, down in California, there is the Hellyer Park Velodrome. A placid affair by comparison, with gentle banks and open turns. It’s a bigger track, so the angles aren’t as tight, and the banking isn’t as steep. Its concrete like the Alpenrose, but it bumps along, like a roiling sidewalk under old trees. At times you feel like you are on the track, but, as I recall from my junior experience there, it is a pretty tame experience. Fun, but tame.
I’d spent just a couple of minutes on the Alpenrose track all told, before showing up to race Friday night. I was pretty uncertain about how I’d do. Would I be too scared to compete? Too nervous to hold a straight line? The essence of it seemed to be just like the sharp end of the leaders climbing rope. Each move, each combination of moves performed close to the ground are effortless, and without fear. Far above the ground the strongest force pulling you to the ground is your own mind, your own fear. Manage that fear and you can become great. Let it rule you and you will fall. As Yoda said: ‘ anger, fear, aggression. Ways of the dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.’
First race was the unknown distance- where you ride around the track until the bell sounds, at which point the first person over the line wins. There is no way of knowing if the race will be five laps or twenty. The strategy, as near as I can figure, is to stay within striking distance until the bell sounds and then hope to outsprint everyone in the last 200m- or as LK does things, simply ride away from your competitors and roll over the line alone, with ‘clean wheels’.
We all lined up along the railing, hands in the drops to signal our readiness to race. Rolling out, the pace immediately picked up. if you weren’t aggressive you would find yourself out of the race before it started. I worked my way up to the front group after having to bridge a couple of gaps myself on the first lap. I settled in under the sprinters line, in a group that was three deep. About four riders back, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to contest the sprint, whenever it was. But one by one, riders began pulling off the front, pace line style, until, at the moment we passed the start finish line I found myself on the front as the bell rang. One lap, I was on the front, and struck with absolutely no idea of what to do to win. I thought that I couldn’t ride off front. I’m not that strong. So, in error, I held back, biding my time, hoping someone would come around and I could grab their wheel in the hopes of coming around them in the finale. That person came around, charging, and I couldn’t close the gap to come around, and by turn four, I was out of contention for first. I pushed hard to hold second place. I realize now that the best chance was simply to bury myself for the last lap. I might have been able to hold first. At least it would have been much harder for the next rider to pull through.
(Credit: Jose Brujo Sandoval)
Race two was the points race. Nine laps, a point per lap. The pace was crazy from the get go, riders where off the pace immediately. If you weren’t careful you got bunched up behind riders too slow to keep up and you would be out of the race. I had to bridge several small gaps, essentially attacking hard to cover each open door. After three laps I had nothing to show for my effort. Points had gone to other riders. I had spent so much time trying to get toward the front that I had no idea who had actually gotten the points. In turn three I found the wheel of a U of O rider who was strong enough to pull us away from the front of the group after the early point getters flared out. I held his wheel until turn four and came around him for my first point. I eased up and let him pass. Remarkably, he pulled through, still at a high pace. By turn two I was behind him again. And as in the last lap, I let him pull me through turn four, at which point I pulled past him to take my second point. Once again, I pulled up the banks and opened the door for him. Remarkably, he pulled through again, at the same high pace. I dropped in behind and he took me through turn four AGAIN! I ate his lunch one more time for my third point. And then the bell rang- one to go. Just then an Ironclad rider, who must had bridged, pulled past on the right for the lead. With three points I was pretty sure I had it in the bag. I fought for the final point, but ultimately let him ride away with it. It didn’t matter, I’d won the points race.
Race three was the Alpenrose mile. Again, we rolled out and even though it was technically a neutral lap, riders were jockeying for position. I snuck in under a couple of riders for third wheel, right behind a VERY squirrelly Cyclisme rider, who made the whole race terrifying. Thankfully, he pulled off the front and let the faster riders through once he was tired. After three laps a rider jumped off the front. Attacking hard, building a gap that no one had an answer for. I was bunched with a Grunderbruiser’s rider and a couple others. After it became clear that no one was going to bridge, I attacked on my own with a little over one to go. It was going to be close. I pushed hard, driving the sprinters lane, the added force of the tight turn pulling my head down. By turn three I could see that I was closing. I’d taken much of his advantage. But as I pulled through turn four, I had run out of real estate. I pulled up alongside him at the beginning of turn one, just meters behind, congratulated him on his panache for that attack. I was gassed, but satisfied. I’d won the omnium. It was good to be back at the track.