By Dennis Pedersen
I can't say that I ever envisioned myself competing in the World Championships of anything, much less cycling, even less track cycling. But this race is usually held in foreign countries, so when I heard Masters Track World Championships would be in Los Angeles this year I decided I was going to do it. I decided to skip Nationals this year, for several reasons, and to focus on LA Worlds instead. I think it's fair to say this race was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me.
My Coach, Jeff Solt, supported me in this, and my local successes motivated me. And I have been able to race and train at LA’s indoor 250-meter wooden track, the The StubHub VELO Sports Center in Carson, about a dozen times over the last few years, so I'm fairly comfortable on it.
|Track rash from an August race|
(not shown: hip hematoma).
But on my most recent visit there, in August, I had a problem with my tire choice, and ended up sliding down the 45° steep banking during a slow portion of my match sprints on that day. Tire grip becomes critical at low speeds, and my tire choice turned out to be less than optimum for that. So I still had a bit of a chip on my shoulder for this track when I came down for Worlds.
I'm happy to say that Margaret also accompanied me on my trip down, and made the whole experience more fun. She was also a great support to me, helping with all the little details and keeping me entertained and occupied. But since this week of racing was bookended by her birthday and our wedding anniversary, I had to sweeten the deal a bit and promised we'd have fun in between the racing, and a weekend at Disneyland afterwards. I had no problem with the thought of that in any case.
We drove down on Sunday, I checked into race registration, then our hotel, then got ready for a nice birthday dinner in Redondo Beach. It was quite nice and it took my mind off of the racing. I must admit I had butterflies and had a hard time not stressing out about the high level of competition and my own challenges. My sleep was never of a high quality on this trip.
This race is the only UCI I have ever entered, but was of course similar to USA Cycling Nationals in many ways, given that USAC is affiliated with the UCI. But the level of officials and organization was certainly higher and more bureaucratic. I also had to pay extra to get a USAC/UCI racing license. Masters race by age groups from 35 up, and I was in the 55-59 age group, representing the USA, one of at least 31 nationalities competing.
Monday: 500 meter Time Trials
My first race was on Monday: a standing-start timed race for just 500 m that emphasizes massive power… basically a drag race on a bike. I got to ride on the track for a 15-minute warmup during the 1:30-3:00pm break, and was still a bit nervous. But it went well and I knew tire grip wouldn't be an issue for the 500 m TT anyway.
I then sat around a lot, changed to my race wheels and gears (50x14, 96.4”), rested some more, and rode on my rollers to stay warmed up. Coach Jeff was always there to prompt my next task, and that helped a lot. He read the start lists to get an accurate sense of when I needed to be ready, which would be a bit after 5:00pm. He also reminded me that I needed to get my bike checked by the UCI officials just before my race… stuff that's easy to forget until it's too late and they slap fines on you, in Swiss francs!
As the time approached, Margaret helped me suit up, pinned on my number, brought me water… so supportive! A few minutes more on the rollers and then I waited on the chairs near the start gate for my turn. Jeff helped me get locked into the start gate, which is a complicated mechanism that holds your bike upright and releases you when the timer counts down.As the timer counted down, a Brazilian rider getting off the track fell over just behind me, but I stayed focused and got a nice jump out of the gate. I powered through turn 1 and 2, just above the sponges along the edge. I sat down on the back straight, and tried to extract 100% from my legs while staying low.
|Locked into the start gate for my 500 m TT|
(video here, starting at 2:32).
|Coach Jeff, contemplating my 9th place.|
Invariably my legs started to fail, but I still held on and managed a nice time for me: 36.262 seconds, which is a tie with my previous PR from two years ago. I was quite happy with that, and my first-lap split of 20.523. While this put me in 2nd place, succeeding riders were seeded faster, and soon I watched my position drop, ending up in 9th place overall out of 34 riders. Two Aussies took 1st (34.491) and 2nd, a Brit 3rd. Best US rider was 4th (35.461).
To beat these guys would require cutting 1.8 seconds off my time, and even Bronze would have required 1.6. Afterwards I always feel like maybe somehow I could have done more. A lot of it's mental, but maybe not that much! Another point is that some of these guys, including the winner, used aerobars... but I am not convinced that's a major factor in this short race as there's a real trade-off.
Jeff ordered me onto the rollers again to cool down, and I chatted a bit with my teammates for the Friday team sprints. I also contemplated my approach to the Wednesday match sprints, especially the flying 200 meter qualifying time trials, where I'd need to get comfortable again with riding along the rail, two stories above the bottom of the track’s banking.
Wednesday: Match Sprints
After a rest day on Tuesday, my nerves returned on Wednesday morning. I was still not sure how I wanted to approach the flying 200 meter time trial that's used to qualify and seed the riders before the racing itself starts. I knew that no matter how well I did it would be difficult to qualify against 23 of the fastest riders from all over the world. Only the top 12 riders would advance into the match sprint finals. And I still didn't have confidence in my tires.
For the windup in a flying 200 m, the best approach is to use as little energy as possible getting up to speed. On this track, that's tricky because the steep banking also includes steep transitions from the straights into the turns. And it requires some effort to get up the transitions without losing speed. So I discussed various options with Coach Jeff. But in the end I essentially agreed to follow a fairly conventional line during my windup. I also decided to use two of Jeff's wheels that he had glued new tires onto. The tires he mounted are a bit stickier than the ones on my race wheels, so I gained some confidence from that. That was awesome of him to do. We also decided to use 48x13 gearing (99.7”) as that's what I'd used here when I set my PR.
That morning, I got to the track soon after the 7:30 a.m. open track started, and managed to get in some additional time on the track. I also managed to ride at the top of the banking to rehearse my line for the 200 meter windup. I felt a little bit more comfortable, but I was still looking forward to getting it done. I had to wait for over an hour for the pursuit riders to finish their heats. During that time I also rode on my rollers a bit to stay warmed up. Jeff and Margaret again did an awesome job helping me out, bringing me water, pinning on my numbers, etc. It was great having them there.
|UCI bike-check jig (and|
start gate in the background).
When my heat, 7 of 17, was called up, Jeff pushed me up to the rail and then I was on my own. I had to get my bike up to speed fairly soon, as this put me into the turn 3 transition at a low speed. Since speedometers aren't allowed, I had to go by feel to make sure my speed didn't drop too low and my tires slide out.
I then tried to gradually move up-track and with 1.5 laps to go I was on the rail and going fast. Coming out of turn 4, I stood up to give it that last hard kick, but I knew then my windup had been too fast, as my legs didn't have any snap left. I sat down and entered turn 1 at whatever speed I could manage at the 200 m start line. My run felt fairly good otherwise, and I ended up with a 12.254. That's not bad for me, but not even as good as my most recent 200 m at this track, a 12.12. I was disappointed, but I was second-fastest so far and was still hoping I could qualify, as there were 21 guys who could still be slower than me.
But it was not to be. As succeeding riders clocked their times, I gradually moved down from 2nd fastest, ending up in 14th place. Sigh, so my racing was done for that day.
The fastest rider, an Aussie, rode an amazing 11.146 seconds... if I had qualified, I would likely have been matched against that fastest rider. While I sometimes suffer from self-doubts, I race better than I qualify and who knows if I could have somehow won on my tactics. Coach Jeff always tells me to believe in myself.
We quietly packed up, and planned for the next race. What else can one do? Well, I cheered myself and Margaret up by driving the short distance to Disneyland and having a little fun there. That was therapeutic.
And then on Thursday, I noticed a slight scratchiness in my throat. Yes, it seems I was coming down with a mild cold. I stayed in the hotel room as much as possible while Margaret and a friend went to Universal Studios, but I still had to go back for a an open track session to prepare for Friday. I didn't worry too much though, as I was pretty sure the sore throat wouldn't affect how my legs performed in the short team sprint.
Friday: Team Sprints
Ever since my win at the USAC National Championships last fall, I was pretty sure my best chance at a good finish at Worlds would be in the team sprint. Unfortunately our team from last year couldn't be reassembled for various reasons, so I ended up with a new team. Fortunately, both of my teammates were very strong riders with proven records. George Miranda, who raced with me at Districts, and Andy Dobson of Virginia, who came highly recommended. On Monday, I watched Andy record a nice 20.7-second first lap in his 500 m TT, And as for me and George, I knew what we were capable of, so I felt great about our chances against the 11 teams in our 55-64 age group (team events are grouped in 10-year age increments).
On Friday morning I felt confident and my legs felt good (in spite of the slightly sore throat). But of course, there were some butterflies in my stomach as I prepared for the racing. Just as on previous days, Jeff and Margaret were there to help me get ready and keep me calm and focused. I did some warm up on the track, and maintained that on my rollers on the infield. They got my number pinned on, and had my bike checked in with the UCI officials again.
As Andy, George and I waited in the chairs near our start line on the back straight, we all fist-bumped each other and smiled. Even though we weren't the favorites, we all felt good about our chances of at least qualifying for the finals; we needed to be 4th place or better to qualify for the finals.
When we got called up, there was a slight delay as we waited for somebody's rerun from a false start. But I think we all stayed focused. Jeff helped me get strapped into the bike and pushed me up onto the track when it was our turn. As man 2, it was my job to follow Andy who was our man 1 and was placed in the sprinters lane at the bottom of the track’s banking. George, as man 3, was above me further up the banking. In team sprint only man 3’s time counts. So it was Andy’s and my job to lead George out to ensure he got a fast final time.
Andy, as man 1, was clamped into the starting gate while George and I were held up by officials. Because they don't want us to have any advantage in the start, we aren't allowed to use our coaches to hold us.
The countdown timer started its beeps, and we started to focus and breathe deeply. I felt very little pressure or tension, and looked forward to the race. When the timer hit zero, we jumped forward. And I looked to my left to make sure I could drop promptly into Andy’s draft. But I soon realized that was not working correctly. George and I were both moving along smartly up-track, while Andy was lagging behind us a bit. Oh no, the start is so critical, and we were losing time. George and I both had to soft-pedal to allow Andy to gain ground on us, after which I was able to drop down into his draft in the sprinter's lane. But we had already lost a lot of time, and we weren't getting up to speed like usual. (See video here, and here.)
Andy put in his best effort but started to fade a bit, and at the exchange (the point where he is done and pulls off) I might even have hesitated slightly to take advantage of the new rules in which we are allowed to drop below the guy ahead of us during the exchange. Even so, I had plenty of energy to accelerate under Andy and try to make up some of the lost time. It's hard to say if I put in 100%, but I like to think that I tried at least, and that we were able to regain some of that lost time. I also tried to make sure that when I when I came around to finish my lap, that George was able to get maximum benefit of my draft. The way to do that is to just gradually move up-track just above the red line that marks the right edge of the sprinter's lane, and stay there as long as possible while George accelerates below me.
George impressed me with his lap 3. Out of all of us, I think he did the best job of trying to salvage our run. Even so, with Andy’s lap 1 of 21.892 seconds, my lap 2 of 15.550 seconds, and George's lap 3 of 15.964 seconds, our combined time of 53.406 seconds was not good enough to qualify. We finished 6th out of the 11 teams and needed to be 1.6 seconds faster to qualify. And I know we were capable of at least that much. I was bummed.
Andy explained that he had been nervous about his start as he wasn't used to the mechanical starting gate (this was only his third time). He didn't want to start too early which itself causes big problems. It is tricky to get it just right, I know that from experience.
To win we’d have needed to be 4 seconds faster! Yeah, a win was highly unlikely, but we didn't come there to not qualify. At the same time, though, I felt I did a good job of doing my part for the team and could go home feeling proud of our effort.
So that was the end of my racing at the Masters Track World Championships. Part of me was relieved, part of me wished I could go back and redo some of the things I had done, part of me just wanted to go to Disneyland and celebrate the end of my season, which is what Margaret and I did.
The end of the season always brings to our minds a retrospective view of this season, and a consideration of our next season. How did we do? What are our next plans?
For me, this season was not a given. Because of the health issues I had early in the year, and a number of colds during my training, plus a two-week vacation in July, it was entirely possible that my season could have been a complete dud. Instead, my results at our NCNCA District Championship were an unexpected and awesome bonus. That my results at Worlds were less impressive was less of an issue for me, though still quite disappointing. I had always had realistic expectations for Worlds, while at the same time always believing in myself and my ability to rise to the occasion. I guess we need that when we are at high-level competitions, don't we?
So what are my plans for next year? Even I don't really know. On one hand I could probably back off a little bit and still do well at Districts, on the other hand I could probably redouble my efforts in training and equipment to improve enough to also get good results at Worlds. I haven't decided. There is a completely separate world out there that has nothing to do with cycling, and maybe I need to spend more time in that world. We shall see. For now, I've decided to continue my efforts in weight training over the winter.