The Twilight Series at the track began with some trepidation about Sunday’s crashes late in the Omnium, and a few people hinting that maybe they weren’t quite recovered from the weekend. The fields were fairly well attended – the women’s field was larger than the small 1/2/3 field – but everything looked sparse compared to the huge crowds of Opening Weekend.
Dan, Al, and I had a quick conversation before the racing began. Al’s my regular teammate; Dan is a 3 on the road and while he’s rarely the fastest guy, he’s one of the smartest. When the whistle blew on our scratch race Dan went to the front to send the pace through the roof. Our main goal was to disrupt the ability of two Sanchez riders, Colin Prensky and Chad Marion, from just riding away with the race. One is a cat 2 on the road and another is well on his way to cat 2, so the most realistic hope was that we prevent them from dominating, and make them work and hurt for it. I don’t remember much from the race except patrolling the front out of necessity – if I dropped back a few wheels it would be entirely possible that I wouldn’t be able to get up there. Gabe was in the right place at the right time to land me on Colin’s wheel with 300 meters to go, but Chad came around me and for the effort the best that Kissena managed to do against two Sanchez riders was 3rd place. But we made them work for it.
The next race was a tempo: points are awarded each lap for the top two finishers (2 and 1 point, respectively). That means a fast race, and I jumped hard at the whistle and just barely held it to take points on the first lap as two riders drew even on my right. I had hoped to settle in to a groove after that first effort, but the effort was too big and when the field passed me, single file, it was going too fast for me to join on. Five laps later I was nearly bridging up to Al and Dan who were chasing the Sanchez riders, who in turn had taken 1 and 2 in each lap since the first; the bell rang, indicating the last lap, and I soft-pedaled through the finish. In hindsight what I did was a tactically smart response to two very strong riders in a very demanding race, and it was good enough for third place, but being out of contention for the rest of the race still feels like I only raced for one lap.
The points race was a highlight. We turned the pace up to 11 immediately again and by the time we were ready for the first sprint the only people able to turn the pace high enough were the two Sanchez riders, Dan, and myself. I settled for fourth and closed the gap to Chad, and we settled into a rhythm of keeping our lead over the field. The next sprint wasn’t too aggressive, since we were all guaranteed points, but I was second wheel so tried to sneak up on Chad, who accelerated when Colin warned him with 50 meters to go. The third sprint, I am really proud of. With 200 meters to go I drew even with Chad, who was on Colin’s wheel, and sprinted from his hip, boxing him in behind Colin. It was a precision maneuver, keeping the space between us close around Kissena’s bumpy turn 4, and for a moment I was afraid I had opened the door wide enough for him to try to slip through. Colin was sprinting conservatively, not realizing the situation his teammate was in, and though I couldn’t threaten him I kept Chad contained and took 2nd place in the sprint. Brains over brawn that time.
It was good enough for 3rd in the omnium, and I qualified for the feature race of the night (along with my two teammates and the two Sanchez riders), racing against the fairly small 1/2/3 field. Dan sent the pace through the roof at the whistle and he and I were at the front to block when Al launched himself into a quarter-lap gap to take the first sprint uncontested (the racing paused while track cheerleader, director, and all-around great guy John Campo recovered from a crash caused by a broken seatpost); when he was reeled in, Dan launched an attack and I sat on the wheel of a Global Locate rider danging between the pack and Dan. When he was reeled in I didn’t have the juice to attack but I feinted, which got a GL rider’s nose in the wind and set us up for a few remaining points in the final sprint.
Al, Dan, and I raced together very intuitively and it paid off. We placed 3-4-5 in the omnium and raced Al into first place in the featured Points Race. While nervously succumbing to the spine-shaking coughs known as track hack, I realized that track racing will make me faster. I spent the night alternatively accelerating a 90″ gear, spinning it out, and sprinting on it. I had spent the day leading up to the race busy, working hard, and riding a lot, and had second thoughts about going out to race, but I’m very glad that I did.
It was an action-packed Opening Weekend at the Kissena Velodrome this weekend. The weather was perfect, the turnout was high, and the racing was strong and competitive. I was racing in Category 4, and the weekend’s lineup called for a Kilo (1,000 meter individual time trial), Team Sprint, Points Race, Scratch Race, Match Sprints, and a Miss and Out – all spread over two days, to accommodate nearly 100 racers. The exceptional weather, though welcome at first, became difficult to handle, and by Sunday afternoon it was hard to stay hydrated, energetic, and focused on the racing.
Maybe that contributed to the three crashes that happened, and unfortunately, three Kissena members will be off the bike for a while with two broken collarbones, a dislocated shoulder, and a few broken ribs shared amongst them. Best wishes for their quick recovery.
Sending friends off to the hospital is a downer way to end a weekend of racing, and it was hard to focus on the final race, the Miss and Out (also called Devil Take the Hindmost), even though I had to score omnium points in order to protect my placing, and possibly move up. I had to abandon hope for second place after Luke Stiles scored second in the Match Sprint, beating my teammate Al but losing to the weekend’s strongman Colin Prensky, who won every race in the 4’s, and got the best time on the kilo out of all categories – by three seconds.
Al had bumped me out of the sprint tournament in a good two-up competition. We played with each other, trackstanding and cat-and-mousing, and chatting about the tension. I fake-jumped to try to draw him out and bring up the speed, but at turn 1 he jumped hard around me and I couldn’t follow fast enough. Had I reacted a bit quicker I could have gotten on his wheel, but he can keep accelerating and really dangle another rider behind him. When he crossed the line two bike lengths ahead of me I sat up and held out my hand, saluting him for an entertaining match and a strong sprint.
I recovered in the Miss and Out, my bread and butter. There are a lot of very strong riders in the 4’s – a lot who I would generally consider to be stronger riders than I am. But the Miss and Out plays to my strengths – positioning, pack smarts, and endurance. By the time the twenty-rider field had been whittled down to only 5, I still had enough of a match to burn with a sprint that, though it didn’t match Colin’s, left the others behind. I took second and secured third place in the omnium.
Friday night, my Co-Motion toppled over as I was about to put it on a repair stand and give the drivetrain a quick clean-and-lube before Battenkill. The fall – minor, slow-motion, usually harmless – bent the derailleur hanger toward the cassette.
Fortunately, one of my teammates is well-accustomed to bending derailleur hangers back into position. By leaving the wheel and derailleur on the bike, you can stick an allen key into the derailleur mounting bolt and use the leverage of the allen key to bend the hanger back into position. When the wheel is left on you can eyeball the alignment of the hanger, looking to see if it is parallel to the smallest cog on your cassette. Before and after doing this, tighten the bolts holding the derailleur hanger on to the dropout.
This probably weakens the hanger a little bit, so when I got back from Battenkill I went to DerailleurHanger.com and placed an order for a #58. You can search by manufacturer and model of bike, but it’s not entirely complete, so you can also take a look at a very large batch of replaceable derailleur hangers and see which one matches the one on your bike.
Coincidentally, there was a short message on the team website encouraging riders to always have an extra hanger lying around.
My last experience with hangers was with an integrated (non-replaceable) hanger on my Tough Little Bianchi. While switching derailleurs late last spring, the hanger threads stripped (I use the passive voice because I am hesistant to say that I stripped the threads). I took it to a bike shop that had Helicoil inserts – they drilled out the hanger, inserted the Helicoil, and it was good as new. Helicoils are apparently common repairs in Big Serious Machines (like internal-combustion engines), so there’s little doubt indeed that it would hold up to the stresses of a bicycle derailleur.
The rear derailleur, and its hanger, are fragile parts precariously hanging off of your frame. It would be a bummer to consider a race day, a long ride, or even your whole frame ruined because of a mishap, so know how to repair your hanger when it’s busted and know what you can do when it’s beyond your ability so that you don’t prematurely consider your frame to be toast.
In only 5 years, the Tour of Battenkill has acquired the moniker of “America’s Queen of the Classics.” What’s more impressive is that they’ve earned it. It’s the largest race in the country in terms of participants, with multiple full (125 rider) fields for many of the categories. The course (map), which does change from year to year, has a reputation for devouring souls and bikes and hopes and dreams – steep climbs, dirt roads, fast descents.
It’s obviously the race I’ve been excited for since the fall. One goal: stay at the front, don’t get caught with my drawers down like at Fawn Grove. Stick with William and Crihs. Stick with the front. There were ten miles of jostling for position in the first thirty wheels of a 125-rider pack before we were hit with a big, sharp double-climb. I was fourth wheel over the top and the group that made it up whole was about 30 riders strong. The other hundred? Inconsequential.
In pro bike racing, there’s the pack, and there are breakaways. Wanna play it safe? Stay in the pack. In amateur bike racing, there is no advantage to staying behind. The race is always at the front, the strong will congeal and the weak will be smeared behind over a road already ridden.
At mile twenty, somebody behind me put his front wheel into my rear derailleur and crashed, almost (but not quite!) sliding out my rear wheel. The delirious and deleterious sound of bikes on asphalt. I glanced at my rear derailleur and saw the cage bend precariously toward my spokes. Crap. 44 miles remaining, major climbs ahead, and a low gear of 39×17 – 50% higher than the 39×25 I had equipped for the race. I muscled up the climbs, I cramped, and I doggedly hung on. It started to rain. We hit more dirt sections. The pace was manageable, then fast, then manageable again. More climbs. More struggling in a 60-inch gear. In between cursing I gave thanks for fixed-gear base miles.
Around mile 50 we hit a challenging dirt section and the 25-man lead group decided to start shedding some people. On a swift dirt descent with a sweeping left turn, two riders a few yards ahead of me started leaning into each other, then grabbing brakes and skidding all over the road. Two choices: barrel in to them or try to survive a wide line around them.
This morning I realized that the course description for this descent said, “Speed on a descent can easily be lost when you slam into a tree.” I didn’t slam into a tree but I surfed gravel off of the road and then flipped over my bars at 30+ miles per hour.
I got up, told the support car that I was fine, remounted, and rode the remaining fifteen miles solo – surprisingly fast, and in a surprisingly good mood which was further bouyed by seeing some familiar jerseys from our feed squad back at the finish line, calling my name and cheering. Hey. I clung on to the front despite mechanicals. I raced a smart race. I lost contact with the lead, but not because I couldn’t stick. I’ve got an excuse, and maybe by now I’ve got some bad luck out of my system in time for Bear Mountain.
And, after my first race crash, I’m surprisingly unhurt. It felt great to get up, realize my bike was undamaged, realize that nothing was broken or bleeding profusely, and be able to get back on the bike with no pain.
No pain, that is, until I dismounted, the adrenaline cooled down, and I realized that my hip and ribs were killing me.
Ibuprofen is quickly becoming standard recovery food.
Is Theo Bos old news now? Everybody has been talking about Chris Hoy for the past year or so, but before that, it was all about Theo Bos, this young Dutch rider who seemed indominitable in the sprint. Just how powerful was he? Take a look at this keirin from the 2006 worlds – when he also won gold in the sprint (against Gregory Bauge, looking a lot less muscular four years ago than he does these days) and the kilo. Later that year he set the record for the Flying 200 (a flying-start 200 meter sprint time trial) clocking 9.772 seconds.
However, in the Beijing olympics, he came up empty-handed. Word on the boards is that he’s working on transitioning to be a road racer. An odd transition – conventional wisdom says that track endurance riders, who specialize in the madison or the points race, would make good road sprinters (see the road circuit’s Golden Boy du Jour, Mark Cavendish, as an example), but that track sprinters are too specialized and too muscular to survive much road racing.
Bos has a different physique than today’s all-star, Chris Hoy. Take a look at that picture above – one of the reasons why I like watching Bos race. He’s lithe, graceful and predatory like a panther. He’s speed compared to the muscular Hoy’s sheer power.
If his road career doesn’t really take off and he never returns to his brilliance at the track, well then, at least we’ll have our memories, right? Few things in bike racing have come close to the sight of Hoy spinning so smooth, so fast, opening up huge gaps on world-class sprinters as he’s flying through the corners.
On the day of the Tour of Flanders, my team went out to Pennsylvania farm country to race the Fawn Grove Roubaix. A look at the course profile showed me stuff I liked to see – hardpack, some steep climbs but not too much. Excellent, I thought. I think I’m better at that stuff than most other people. Me and a carful of teammates – all hard knock New York City bike racers – rolled in early and went off to drive the course and immediately thought, “Wow.” The hardpack was gravel. The short steep climbs were really steep. And on gravel. The turns were sharp, and… in deep gravel. The roads had few clean lines. “This might be a shitstorm.”
I prerode the first mile – rollers, a gentle descent, and a narrow 90 degree downhill turn onto gravel. Easing in to it was still too fast and I rode off the road. Auspicious. When the race began, the entire field had been warning each other about this turn. Nobody wanted anybody to hotrod in to it and take out half the field, so everybody was careful.
And then the pace immediately exploded.
The first six miles was spent flying along hardpack at thirty miles per hour, and then struggling up some extremely steep gravel climbs. And in those long, fast early miles I had some strange thoughts. Why am I doing this? Is this fun? I need a new hobby. This is ridiculous.
It hurt, it just hurt, it all hurt. All that before I flatted just 16 miles in.
The wheel truck was empty, the riders were flying by, but I had a tube. But the race was over – just another two brutal laps of premature exhaustion and general pain, and some company when I met up with a crashed teammate. We pace each other and rode home for 14th and 15th in a 60-rider field, over half of whom did not finish.
It would be lovely to say that we were back there because we tore the group apart so that our teammate, William, could get into that lead group – which he was – but it wasn’t because of us. It’s because he’s strong, he’s smart, and he was right where he needed to be in order to work with a handful of other frontrunners, steadily reeling in the lone leader, until they caught him toward the end of the last lap. And then William unleashed his surprising sprint and won the damn race by half a wheel.
Bicycle writers love to talk about suffering. I realized that I’ve hurt on a bike – I’ve gotten off with shakey legs, I’ve groaned through accelerations at the end of a long day. I’ve bent over and dry-heaved after big sprint efforts at the track. But I had never been in a situation where I’d felt so brutalized on the bicycle and had to continue, had to go through it, with it. Hurting is what you feel afterward. Suffering is when it’s really bad and it’s not going to go away for a while.
Next up is Battenkill, of course.
There are still many big road races coming up, but I can’t help but get excited for track racing at my favorite down-home race venue, the Kissena Velodrome. Opening Weekend at the Kissena Velodrome is in just a few weeks, on April 25 and 26. The schedule has been posted, and that means it’s time to get excited – organize your squad for the team sprint, plan your strategy for the points race, and while you’re at it, you can let your boss know that you’ll be leaving a little bit earlier than usual on Wednesday or Thursday so that you can race the Twilight Series.
Just getting started? Here’s some helpful information: the velodrome is located in a public park, which means that you can use it whenever you want to, however you want to, unless a permitted activity (like a race) is taking place. Racing will happen through the end of the summer, on Wednesday and Thursday nights. If you plan to be regular, you should go to USACycling and buy an annual license. USAC is like a league, your racing license is a membership in that league. If you don’t buy a license, you’ll have to buy a $10 “one-day” license for each day you race.
Beginners start out as Category 5 racers. After a minimum of 4 track race days, one can upgrade to Category 4. Once a Cat 4 racer, racers earn upgrade points by placing well not in individual races, but in day-long omniums. Each day of racing is an omnium – 3 races for each category. Points are awarded to top finishers in each race, and the winner of the omnium is the person with the most points.
Bike Reg is where you can go to register on-line for races. For Kissena races, you must pre-register, as officials cannot collect money in a public park.
To race at the Velodrome, your bike must be competition-legal. This means that it must have a fixed gear, drop bars with the ends plugged, and no brakes. Clipless pedals are a big improvement to clips and straps. Despite more and more fancy bikes and carbon wheels in races, the basics will be sufficient – you can race on your steel fixed-gear commuter. Just pull the brakes off, plug your drop bars, and put a race-ready gearing on it. Many people choose a 49 tooth chainring and a 15 tooth cog (49×15).
Some links below should be helpful for people just getting in to things. If you get to a Velodrome and are confused about the rules of a certain race that’s being run, just ask around – by and large, people are friendly and willing to help explain things to beginners. Additionally, definitely read up on velodrome etiquette (in “Kissena Track Rules,” below) – it’s important to ride predictably and safely, and understanding the lines on the track and the ways that other riders will react will help ensure this. Many people at Kissena are very friendly, though occasionally some people might deliver stern words if they feel that another rider has made dangerous moves. If you find yourself receiving these, take them in stride – it’s all part of learning how to compete at high speeds and close quarters.
See you at the track.
Wikipedia – Track Cycling.
Kissena Track Rules.
Kissena Saturday Coaching (pdf file).
Useful information from the Marymoor Velodrome, particularly: Safety Etiquette and Cycling Terms and Slang.
Lines on a Track.
USACycling – Track.
USAC Upgrade Guidelines.
1996 Track Cycling Olympic Trials on Youtube – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.