Thursday, October 18, 2018

UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships, 10/6-14/2018

By Dennis Pedersen

Sometimes I wonder why we bother to race. It can be very stressful, and the sacrifices required are huge, not to mention the danger. But I must admit that it can be extremely rewarding, and it motivates me to stay healthy and fit. Setting goals is a great way to stay motivated, and this year my main goal was to improve on my results from Track Worlds last year.

The vibe at the Los Angeles track, actually in Carson, at the Stubhub’s VELO Sports Center on the Dominguez Hills campus, is always special, starting with the fact that it's a world-class wooden indoor track with steep 45-degree banked turns. And for Track Worlds the added excitement, level of commitment, professionalism, and the international field all combine to make it pretty amazing. The entire infield gets jammed with riders and their equipment, separated by barriers into cubes. People are constantly working on their bikes, riding on their rollers, and trying to recover from their hard efforts on the track. Flags from all over the world, and totally unfamiliar kits and languages all are pretty overwhelming, but very cool.

Margaret helping me in the track's infield.

Since Track Worlds is basically book-ended by Margaret's birthday and our wedding anniversary, I brought Margaret with me and we made lots of plans to have fun in between my races. We drove down on Saturday the 6th, and I got to ride on my rollers for a little bit and leave my equipment at the track, in our “Hellyerville” area, which a bunch of us from Northern California shared, including Larry Nolan, Kevin Metcalfe, and many others. We then checked into our hotel and went out to a really nice dinner in Manhattan Beach.

As I mentioned in my race report from Districts, the Team Sprint was my number one priority for the entire season (you can read about the various types of track races on the NCVA site). Team Sprint is a lot like a high school prom dance. Much drama, changing allegiances, officials getting in the way of having fun, etc. On the other hand, it's also a very cool event because the many moving parts are a lot like a beautiful dance.

Early in the year Rich Rozzi, Bill Nighan and I had formed a team, and had started training together too. Unfortunately, that whole plan blew up when Bill left us for another team just before Districts. So much drama, and it was compounded by even more drama. We replaced Bill with Kurt Bickel, but after Districts, Kurt crashed during a training ride and broke a rib. We had to scramble to find a replacement rider, but it was pretty difficult since we only had about a week to do this, and we were all out of local riders to choose from. Fortunately, Facebook allowed us to connect to riders from all over the world, and just a few days before the race we found a replacement rider in Guy Mansio of France. Guy is fast, and specializes as man 3 (Rich and I are better as starters) and he's an 8-time French Champion too. So we were a good match. The UCI rules specifically mentioned that mixed nationality teams were allowed, even if they were not preferred, as we were unable to find any US riders who were registered and available at that time.

Sunday, 10/7: 500 meter Time Trial

Sunday was the first race for me, Rich, and Guy. It was our 500 meter Time Trial (standing start, two laps on LA’s 250-meter track). Since it was not my top priority, I mostly wanted to use it as a test of my fitness and form, and as a way to compare our relative strengths so we could position ourselves optimally for the Team Sprint that would be on Thursday.

For the 500-meter, I used the best equipment I could, including a borrowed front disc wheel. I also had a new helmet, and Spokesman Bicycles skinsuit (by Castelli), and used atypically low 92.6-inch gearing (48x14 teeth) which I had arrived at after experimenting with taller gears in the past. The extra acceleration in the start from the lower gearing seems to more than compensate for any loss at the higher speeds in lap two.

Waiting for my 500 start.
My Coach, Jeff Solt, hadn't arrived yet, but fortunately my good friend and workout buddy, Tony Collichio, was there to help me out. Tony and Margaret made my life a lot easier as I got ready for my run. They carried my bike around and brought me water and anything else I asked for. I'm so lucky to have them. We also made sure my bike got checked in with the UCI officials who check for minimum weight and allowable bike geometry using a special jig that holds the bike against several sliding metal rulers that verify the bike's setup. I felt pretty good and calm as I waited my turn. Soon I was called up to the track's apron, and my bike was locked into the mechanical starting gate that's connected to the electronic timing system. Very cool set up, but one that requires very careful timing by the riders. I strapped into my pedals and followed the countdown of the timer for my start... beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, GO!

My start in the 500 felt pretty good, right out of the starting gate. I pedaled hard, standing up for over half a lap, before I sat down. I felt I was doing my absolute best, but in lap 2 I definitely felt lactic acid accumulate in my legs. Soon I felt like I could barely pedal and when I crossed the finish line it was a relief.

In the pain cave during lap 2 of my 500 (photo: Scott Dworkin).

Once I had cooled down and results were posted, I was a bit disappointed to see that my 36.913-second time was 7/10 slower than last year, and placed me in 11th overall, down from 9th last year. Heck, just 3 weeks earlier I had set a faster time in a training race.

Still, the 500 was not my main priority, and I was more interested in the lap splits of my Team Sprint teammates. They were pretty much what I had expected, and confirmed what we had already decided to do for our Team Sprint start order (me as man 1, Rich as man 2, Guy as man 3).

Here are our lap 1, lap 2, and total times, with the overall results in parentheses:

Rider Lap 1 Lap 2 Total
Dennis 20.655 (7th) 16.258 (14th) 36.913 (11th)
Guy 20.702 (8th) 15.319 (6th) 36.021 (6th)
Rich 20.984 (9th) 15.463 (7th) 36.448 (8th)

I rode the seventh fastest lap 1 out of all 25 riders, and in the Team Sprint I'd be our man 1, just riding one lap. So all in all, I was pretty happy with my lap 1, though not so happy about my lap 2. And our 8th and 6th overall for Rich and Guy meant that we'd be well-positioned for a high overall finish too. All I needed to do would be to duplicate that lap 1 time for our Team Sprint to come on Thursday in order to put us in contention for the podium. That would be so awesome!

The UCI live streamed the afternoon session races, so you can see video of me in this race (starting around 2:13:30). I even had friends and family rooting for me from back home!

Tuesday, 10/9: Match Sprints

Last year I must admit that I suffered from a lot of stress and anxiety over the Match Sprints. So much so that this year I almost didn't register to compete in them. But winning another gold in Match Sprints at Districts helped convince me to try them again at Worlds. Last year I had slid out on the track during a flying 200 run in a training race, due to slippery tires, and it had unnerved me a bit. We have to ride very slowly in the windup for our flying 200, and those low speeds, combined with the 45-degree banking and slippery wooden surface, make it a little tricky to avoid sliding out. Fortunately, this year I had better wheels and tires and some ideas for how to approach my flying 200 so I could just qualify. Just qualify, that's all I wanted to do, since my time of 12.254 seconds last year wasn't fast enough to qualify for the actual Match Sprints then.

On Tuesday morning, I got on the track to practice approaches for the flying 200. That and riding on the rollers was enough to prepare me. This time I used 98.4-inch gearing (51x14 teeth) for the flying 200, which is a slightly lower gear than I used in the past. I was much more relaxed and confident than I had been last year, so I was not at all (well, not very) intimidated when my turn came to ride. Jeff and Margaret helped me get ready, we submitted the bike for check-in with the UCI officials, and soon I was awaiting my turn on the track’s apron.

Jeff holding for my 200.
Jeff held me up while I strapped into my pedals, and when it was my turn he pushed me up to the rail on the back straight and I was on my own. My wind up this year involved a line my friend Tony Collichio and I had discussed. It was essentially a way to spiral upward on the track to gain altitude gradually rather than trying to ride along the rail the whole time, which would tire me out because I'd have to maintain a higher speed and use more energy powering up the transitions into turns from the straights. Instead, by dropping down the banking in the steepest sections, I was able to use gravity to maintain my speed and build it up. So, on the last lap and a half, I was much more rested than I had been last year, and I was able to use some power out of turn 2 and up into the turn 3 transition, after which I floated a bit into turn 4, then powered for all I was worth down the home straight and into turn 1 and the start of timing at the start of turn 2. Sometimes you can just tell, and because my legs felt like they still had some snap at the finish, I knew I had done well. Coming around on my cooldown lap, the announcer and the huge screen told me that I had: 11.887 seconds; an all-time PR for me! I was beyond stoked!

My time was one of the fastest at that time, but of course the faster riders were mostly still to come. As other riders finished their runs, I moved further down the leaders board and ended up as the 9th place qualifier, out of 12 qualifiers from the 25 competitors. But I qualified this time, while the 13 slower riders went home! Also, because I was 9th, I was not matched against the fastest rider in my first heat.

1/8 Finals:
I would have expected to go up against the 4th qualifier, but for some reason I was up against the 5th qualifier, ironically, Guy Mansio, my new teammate for team sprint! He had qualified with a very fast 11.604.

Start of ride 1 against Guy.
Ride 1: We drew lots for our start positions, and I drew “2” so I would start above Guy, next to the rail. Jeff held me back for a couple of seconds. That allowed me to get a little bit of a gap to Guy. Guy had to lead me out for the first half lap, and I followed slowly behind him, up-track, swerving a bit. But he increased the pace and I had to drop down-track to keep him close enough. He slowed, though, and I was able to go up-track again, and in the lap 2 I went up to the rail in turn 3... that ended being a small mistake, because he was very vigilant and as soon as I committed to that he accelerated, forcing me to chase him down. The gap almost got too big, but on lap 3 I drafted him a bit. This allowed me to run the gap to him on the back straight, but he was too fast and I was only able to reach his rear wheel. I hoped for some energy out of turn 4, but he held me off for the win.

Ride 2: For ride 2 I led Guy out, and I don't remember the ride well enough to give a coherent description. Suffice it to say he was able to pass me in spite of my usual swerving, and he advanced to the 1/4 Finals, while I had to race again, in the “repêchage,” for a chance to to get back into it rather than just being out after one round.

Repêchage: The repêchage is for the losers in the 1/8 finals. So I still had a chance at the medals. In this case it was me against Vladimir Makeev of Russia, and Kenneth “Dean” Todd of Florida. I drew “1,” so I started low on the track. I don't remember this ride very well either, but I won and that's the important thing. These 3-up rides tend to just be a bit of a drag race, with less in the way of tactics.

1/4 Finals:
Since I won the repêchage, I was now the lowest-ranked remaining qualifier. That meant it was now my turn to go up against the fastest qualifier from the previous rounds: Geoff Stoker of Australia. He had qualified with a new age group flying 200 World Record time of 10.917 seconds! Absolutely amazing, but that didn't keep me from wanting to beat him, or at least do my best trying.

Waiting for Ride 1 with Geoff Stoker.
Ride 1: I drew “2” for the start against Geoff, and Coach Jeff helped me up to the rail. When the whistle blew Geoff rolled down toward the apron, while Jeff held me back for a couple of seconds again, to give me a little bit of a gap to Geoff. We slowly rode around the apron although I did zigzag a bit just to keep him on his toes. On the back straight we went right up to the rail and almost did a track stand. But he was apparently not comfortable trying that, and soon we were zigzagging back down toward the apron again. On the home straight we repeated the slow maneuver, with Geoff’s rear tire even sliding a little bit, and we resumed our pace soon enough with him still leading me out. But we did swoop around a little bit in the turns as the pace picked up. I was fairly high on the track in turn 3 just as he started to accelerate into our third and last lap. I quickly dropped down the banking to avoid having him steal away, but he floated a little bit through the home straight, which closed the gap too much for me, and made it harder for me to pass him. In turn 1 I went up-track a bit to try to overtake him on the back straight, and this partially worked, but not nearly enough, and through turns 3 and 4 I was only able to almost get next to his rear wheel with my front wheel. He won by a bike length without burning too much energy. Margaret took video of our ride:

Ride 2: This time I started from first position, and we rode slowly away. Aside from more zig-zagging, we continued this for a while, with me just trying to reduce the gap back to him by slowing and going up track. This continued as the pace picked up, and only on the last lap did he pass me, into turn 3, at which point I relaxed to avoid wasting any more energy racing a rider whose top speed is over 2 mph faster than mine. I was out of the medals. Here's Margaret's video:

Minor Finals:
The Minor Finals decide 5th through 8th place. Our starting positions like usual were decided by drawing lots. I drew “1.” In this case it was a 4-up, with me in the pole at the start, then Guy, Rich, and Bill Nighan at the rail. But Rich had wanted to just go for it from the start, without ever letting up. So for him it would have been better to be in the pole position rather than me. In the end, Bill really went for it first, and because he had a nice drop from the rail he was able to get a lead on everybody. Rich, Guy and I followed behind, but Guy pretty soon went around Bill and Rich, with me following. I tried to box Bill in behind Guy as we came next to him, but I bumped into Bill a couple of times, unintentionally, as he came up track, and that slowed me down a little and allowed Bill to move forward. So we ended up in that order: Guy in 5th, Bill in 6th, me in 7th, and Rich in 8th. Video by Margaret:

So, I didn't advance as far as I could have, but it's unlikely that I could have done much better than I did. Overall I was way ahead of where I had expected to be, and the feeling was exhilarating! I just wish the UCI also live-streamed the morning sessions; Match Sprints are exciting to watch!

Thursday, 10/11: Team Sprint

In addition to the drama I mentioned above, the UCI had more drama in store for us. On Wednesday, literally the day before our race was scheduled, UCI officials inadvertently were alerted to the fact that there were several teams of mixed nationalities. While this is allowed specifically, as mentioned above, it is not preferred and in this case there were enough US riders to form several non composite teams. So, very late in the game, with just a few hours to act, we suddenly had to abandon Guy as our man 3, and instead find a US rider from one of the other composite teams to ride with us. We ended up with Kenneth Todd (Kenneth goes by Dean), who I had beaten in the Match Sprints.
He rode a 21.228 lap 1, and a 37.330 in his 500 m on Sunday. So while he was fast, he was a bit slower than Guy, and not quite as ideal a match since he also is not a man 3. So our new US team had three riders who were all a man 1 or a man 2. No US man 3 specialists could be found. Still, it was better than not racing at all.

Conferring with Rich and Jeff for Team Sprint.

Warming up on the rollers.
Deciding on start positions is part science and part art. You don't want gaps to form during the Team Sprint between riders, so you have to make sure each rider’s strengths are matched to the others. In this case, because Dean had a slightly slower time in the 500 m than Rich and I, we decided it was safest to put him as man 1, while I switched to man 3. I haven't trained to be man 3 either. Not ideal, for any of us, but it was the best compromise with the options we had.

On Thursday morning I spent some time on the rollers, for warm up, and then did a few rolling starts on the track just to get the legs ready. We had over an hour wait before we raced, and I just got on the rollers of couple times to keep the legs awake. After consulting with Jeff, we decided I would stick with tall 98.4-inch gearing. In better circumstances I would have gone substantially lower, riding as man 1.

Me, Rich and Dean for Team Sprint.
When the officials called our names out for the bike check, Jeff and Margaret once again helped me get ready. We got the bike on the UCI’s jig again, while I rested in the chairs there, and soon we were called up to the track to get strapped in for our start. The timing countdown starts when the first bike is put in position in the mechanical starting gate. So it's always best to have that bike set up last. Instead, the assistant for Dean installed the bike in the starting gate before any of us were on the track yet. That gave us very little time to get strapped in on our bikes and get ready for the start. In fact, I heard the official say “15 seconds,” and was flabbergasted. I had only enough time to strap in my right shoe, and the left straps were never tightened for my Team Sprint. Fortunately, it never mattered and we were able to get a clean ride in.

Dean started very nicely, and Rich slotted in right behind him, followed by me. We rode hard, in fact, we rode so hard that even though I was riding in Rich's draft, I worried that I was going to be tired during my solo lap 3. During the 2nd lap exchange, when Rich dropped me off for lap 3, I went below him on the track to gain advantage of the latest rules which allow overlap of bikes in the exchange, and went so low that I nicked a sponge in the exchange area. I don't think it slowed me down, and I accelerated as Rich pulled up track, followed by my rear tire slipping out a bit at the exit of turn 2. But yes, my legs were starting to get tired, and I know it hurt our time.

When the final qualifying results, came in I was disappointed to see how slow my lap 3 had been. Our lap 1 was pretty good (21.116, 7th), followed by Rich's lap 2 (15.059, 2nd!) which was awesome. But my 16.512 lap 3 was only 10th fastest. So my lap 3 ended up costing us at least half a second. Combined with the half second our lap 1 cost us, our 52.688 for 5th place missed qualifying by just over half a second to 4th place's 52.156. We were bummed, knowing that our team had been sabotaged by events out of our control. My best estimate of what our team could have done with Guy as man 3 is about 50.6 seconds (20.6 + 15 + 15 = 50.6). That would have given us 3rd qualifying position, and a real shot at the podium. Still, we did the best with what we had and I'm proud of that.

Thus ended my second visit to the Masters Track Cycling World Championships. Margaret and I got to spend some time in Disneyland and in nice restaurants before driving home on Saturday.

Out of my three events I improved vastly in the Match Sprints, was slightly better in the Team Sprints, and was only slightly slower in the 500, so I think it's safe to say that I met my goal of improving over last year. It is very exciting, and I wish I could do it more, but for the next two years Track Worlds will be held in Manchester, England, and I am not inclined to travel that far.

Instead, my focus next year will be on the 2019 USAC Masters Track National Championships, which it happens will be held in Los Angeles, in August, on this very same awesome track! I'm much more motivated than I was last year after Worlds, so I'm looking forward to this very much! A week off, then I hit the gym hard. Please wish me luck.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Masters NCNCA District (State) Track Championships, 8/25-26/2018

By Dennis Pedersen

I haven't been racing much the last few years, because I have been so focused on just District, National and World Championships. It's hard to train properly while also racing local races. But Masters District Track Championships are still a big deal to me, and a great way to gauge my fitness leading up to Masters Track Cycling World Championships

When I got home from Worlds last year I took a week off to rest, but then started training heavily (pun intended) at Santa Cruz Strength again, and over the next few months I set a number of PRs in various lifts, including bench press, squats, and deadlifts. I also started training with Tony Colicchio, another track cyclist that my coach, Jeff Solt, coaches. Having a training buddy helps to push me further. There is a link between strength and speed on the track, but it isn't a direct link. My hope was that my higher strength would fill in some performance gaps in my racing fitness. 

I skipped Nationals this year and last, because it was earlier in the season and I didn't want another long training season. That's what's required to properly prepare to be fast in early July (Nationals), then again in late August (Districts) and early October (Worlds), and I didn't want to burn out. 

In July I started to train more intensively on the bike with Coach Jeff, increasing my rides from 1 or 2 days a week to 3 days, then 5 or 6. At the same time I backed off on the gym workouts, from 4 days a week to 3 days, then just 2 days. 

Because of my shorter training season Jeff and I agreed I would mostly train right through Districts, held at Hellyer Park Velodrome, San Jose, so as to prioritize my preparations for Worlds. (You can read about the various types of races on the NCVA site).

Saturday: Match Sprints

I was skeptical I could do well in the match sprints but I signed up anyway, because you never know, and they can be very fun and exciting, even for spectators. But I had some tough competition: Bill Nighan, who I barely beat last year, had been riding really strong this year, and Rich Rozzi, who beat me in 2014 when we were both in the 50 to 54 age group, was once again in my 55 to 59 age group. There were only 4 riders in our group, which was disappointing. 

For the qualifying runs, we did our usual flying 200 meter runs. It was a bit windy and cool, so not great for speed. But I managed to qualify fastest, much to my surprise, with a 12.15 second run, hitting 38.6 mph max (in 96.4-inch gears). Bill got a 12.34, Rich a 12.51, and returning trackie Craig Parker a 12.63. Our matches would be two laps, winner would be best-of-three heats. 


Heat 1:
I was matched against the slowest qualifier, Craig Parker. We drew numbers and he took the lead in the start, while Coach Jeff held me on my bike next to the rail at the top of the banking. He rode very slowly along the rail ahead of me, which left him vulnerable to attacks. I won by seizing the lead in turn 3 by jumping below him from behind, and into the pole lane. I then floated a bit into turn 1, did a bit of a jump on the back straight, but never hit 100%. 

Heat 2:
I led this heat, in my second  round with Craig. I won by steadily increasing my speed, looking over my shoulder almost continuously; I just had to match his speed when he attempted to pass. But he always left too small a gap to run, or none. So I was never caught off guard and I advanced to the Gold finals round. 

In the meantime, Rich beat Bill, so Rich advanced to the Gold finals with me, while Bill would be matched against Craig in the Bronze finals. 


Heat 1:
Rich and I drew numbers, and he got the lead at the start. We started slow, with me just slightly behind and above him, but Rich quickly accelerated until we were moving along at a fairly brisk pace. I dropped in behind him to draft, save a little energy, and coming out of turn 2 on the last lap I was able to drop down from the banking a little, run the gap, and pass him into turn 3. I held him off, hitting 35.5 mph max, for the win.

Heat 2:
Me, Rich. I went as slow as I could reasonably do, zig-zagging a bit up-and-down track, and he followed fairly closely behind me. In turn 3 on the first lap, I was about halfway up the track and he was still going too slow and too close. Out of turn 4 I was able to use the banking to attack. He followed too closely behind me, and when he tried to pass me in turn 3 I was able to accelerate one more time to maintain my lead. As we exited turn 4 I knew he would try to attack, so I jumped instead, and held him off at the line. It's unusual that I have the legs to jump three times, but I felt good today. We hit 35.8 mph max.

Match Sprints Podium: Rich, Dennis, Craig

In an upset, Craig beat Bill to seize the Bronze. And I was the Champion for the 3rd year in a row. So, for me, the match sprints ended up being a super fun, exciting, and motivating experience. 

Sunday: Timed Events

The weather continued with cool, windy mornings, which isn’t ideal for high speeds. 

500 meter Time Trial

This standing-start time trial is just about 1.5 laps at Hellyer, but still a pretty cool race. For the competitors anyway. Our bikes are held by an official, and we strap ourselves into them, get a countdown timer, and try to channel all of our anger into forcing the bike up to speed when the clock starts. I apparently had more anger than the others, because I not only got Gold in my age group, but also set the fastest 500m of all the age groups that day, out of 26 riders, with a 37.06-second run. Rich got 2nd, with 38.02, Larry Nolan 3rd, with 38.08. My legs did feel good, throughout the run, but I was still not at my PR level. 

500m time sheet.

I used a lower 92.6-inch gearing for this as an experiment, resulting in a max cadence of about 130 RPM, in case you were wondering, based on some research I’d done on the pedaling cadences (pedaling RPM) of Pro track racers. There is an optimum cadence for power, and I believe I may have been geared too high in the past… while I’m still not certain, this event shows that perhaps I was right to “gear down” this time. 

Team Sprint

Earlier this year, Rich Rozzi, Bill Nighan and I had decided to form a team for the team sprints. But a couple of weeks before Districts, Bill dropped out to join a different team. That was disappointing. But we were able to get Kurt Bickel to join us instead, and we got to train together a little before this race. 

There were only four teams competing, of which just two were in our 55 to 64 age group. We were "Team 1," and felt confident we had a good chance against "Team 4," which had strong riders: Ray Gildea, George Miranda, and Larry Nolan. In other times some were my teammates, and almost were this year too. But putting together a team is complicated. 

I was man 1, the starter; Rich was man 2; Kurt was man 3, the “anchor.” My start felt great, my legs felt strong throughout my lap, and as I pulled off after lap 1, my job done, I was very happy to see Kurt closely following Rich. They continued around until Rich pulled off, and Kurt's lap 3 looked good to me. Our main concern had been that Kurt would not be able to stay right behind Rich, because standing starts aren't his specialty. But Kurt had a nice start, only getting gapped for part of lap 1. 

But while we managed to beat two of the other teams with our time of 1:13.29 (my lap 1 was at 35.6 mph max, in 94.5-inch gearing), we ended up losing to "Team 4" (with 1:11.97). And since they were in our age group we ended up with Silver. Our lap times tell the story:

Rider: Lap Time: E.T.:
Team 1:
Dennis 25.61
Rich Rozzi 23.27 48.88
Kurt Bickel 24.41 1:13.29
Team 4:
Ray Gildea 26.35
George Miranda 22.59 48.94
Larry Nolan 23.03 1:11.97

Unexpectedly, it was our lap 3 that hurt us, though admittedly Larry's lap 3 was pretty amazing. When I won TS at Districts in 2016, our time was 1:10.96… and I know we can be faster. So, if we wanted to be competitive at Worlds, we had just 6 weeks to do it! 

So my long off-season and short training period didn’t hurt me at Districts, that I can tell, and I’m hoping my current training will add even more speed to my legs for Worlds. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

UCI Masters Track World Championships, VELO Sports Center, 10/9-13/2017

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.

Locked into the start gate for my 500 m TT
(video here, starting at 2:32).

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.

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 the time came, Jeff took my bike to the UCI check-in, and I followed him there to wait for my name to be called up. I sat there and focused, breathed deeply, and was looking forward to the actual run, because I knew I would be calmer then. And sure enough, when they called my name Jeff and I went up to the apron, and waiting in line for my start I felt pretty good. At this point we are strapped into the bikes and are held up.

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.

The End

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.

Thanks for all of your support! I could not have done this without all of the people out there who have made this possible for me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Masters NCNCA District (State) Track Championships, 9/9-10/2017

By Dennis Pedersen

This year I had a number of setbacks that delayed or interrupted my training, and I had elected not to participate in Nationals this year as a result. So I was skeptical I’d be able to do as well at our NCNCA District Championship track races as I did last year. But, as always, I try to race my best and did my best to prepare, with advice from Coach Jeff Solt.

Saturday, Match Sprints

I only entered one race on Saturday; the match sprints (read track race type descriptions here). These short two-man, two-lap races are explosive, exciting and very tactical. Last year at Districts I narrowly beat out Brian Moore, who ended up with Silver at Nationals. This year there were seven riders entered. The weather was clear, and it got up to 86 degrees.

Me and my Dixie Flyer
Like usual, we started the match sprint tournament with a flying 200-meter time trial. One at a time we try to cover 200 m as fast as possible, and the times are used to “seed” the riders. I could only manage a 12.35-second run (at 38.0 mph max, with my 96” gearing), putting me in 3rd seed, with Bill Nighan 4th just 0.01 behind me! George Miranda was 1st (12.01), and Brian was 2nd (12.02). I was disappointed, but I never give up, as I know that these results are merely the opening shots of the battle and much can change during the individual matches.

Quarter Finals:

As the 3rd seed, I was matched against 6th-seed Jeff Vanderwerf, a former racer returning from the real world. Bill raced 5th-seed Randy Armstrong, while both George and Brian got “byes” (meaning they didn’t have to race that heat) because the 7th-seed rider elected not to race, and they needed an even number of matches for the elimination rounds of the tournament.

I drew a “1” from the official, Matt Martinez, which meant Jeff V got to choose where to start from. He elected to start as #2 at the top of the track while I started to his left, lower on the banking, with my Coach, Jeff, holding me. We both varied our speed a bit, swerved a bit, but for the most part it came down to Jeff V trying to pass me out of turn 4 just before the last lap, while I held him off using as little energy as possible so I could save some for the next rounds. I hit 35.6 mph max and took the win to advance to the next round.


I was next matched against George who now raced his first match, against me, because of the “bye” I mentioned above which he earned because of his faster 200 m qualifying time.

George drew the lead and rode slowly in the pole (sprinter's lane) at the bottom of the banking while Coach Jeff delayed releasing me in order to allow me to have a gap between us. So I rode slowly behind him at the very top to maintain the advantage of altitude. I had allowed the gap to open a bit, and he soon went fairly fast so I had to drop into his draft to avoid wasting more energy at the top, but was easily able to close the gap by dropping down the banking. He gave another acceleration out of turn 4, I allowed a small gap to open, but in turn 2 he hesitated and moved slightly up track. After a brief hesitation of my own, I quickly accelerated into the gap, over him, and held him off, barely, to win by half a wheel, hitting 36.5 mph. I think I probably could have raced slightly smarter, but it was enough for me to advance to the final heat, for the Gold round!

As I cooled down in the infield, I watched Brian and Bill race… much to everyone’s surprise, Bill managed to outfox Brian and take the win, meaning I'd be racing Bill for Gold.


So the 3rd and 4th seed had beaten the 1st and 2nd seed! George and Brian would fight for Bronze, while Bill and I fought for Gold. A bit of an upset. The finals were decided by best two out of three heats.

Heat 1:

Bill lead the start, and Coach Jeff held me back again like before. Like George, Bill went slow, but in turn 2 he noticed I’d let the gap grow too big, so he started to accelerate harder. I had to drop down into the sprinters lane and take a dig to make sure he didn’t escape. When he saw I was drafting him he turned hard up in turn 3, I think to force me to lead him out. But I squeezed over him, to his right, just as he looked left. But he continued to move up-track, and we ended up bumping each other, and my right leg and pedal scraped the rail. We kind of looked at each other, he asked if I was OK, and I promptly attacked out of turn 4, and won by a big margin, hitting 37.3 mph max.

Heat 2:

For the second heat, we switched start positions, and I lead Bill. I went slow again, but in the pole, while Bill stayed up-track a bit behind me (but maybe too close). After a few feints, I was able to keep his gap small, but without slowing so much that he could pass over me. Out of turn 4 I went fairly hard, while looking back at him, and managed to out-sprint him out of turn 2, hitting 37.4 mph max, and won by a bike length for my second win against Bill, so no need for a third heat... Gold!

In the meantime, George beat Brian in the Bronze heats. So the final podium was perhaps not what anybody would have predicted.

The 55-59 match sprint podium:
Bill, me, George.

Sunday, Timed Events

It was hotter, up to 94 degrees, but I would be spending less time on the track for these short, explosive, individually timed races. As a special bonus, my wife stopped by to cheer me on!

500 m ITT

This race is solo, from a standing start. We had a relatively packed 55-59 field: 9 riders. That doesn’t sound like much, but it included world-class riders like Kevin Metcalfe, Larry Nolan and Don Langley, as well as the guys I usually compete with. I was of course worried about them all, as these short, intense drag races require extreme focus and it’s easy to let distractions and such prevent you from going all-out.

Strapping in for a standing start.
At the start line, as I was held up, tightly strapped into my bike’s pedals, I tried hard to focus and channel my power. My start was perhaps slightly tentative, but I powered pretty well after that and kept my bike as low on the track as I could, almost hitting some of the sponges in the turns. But at the finish, I could tell my legs were pretty well fried, and my line a bit wobbly. In the end, I managed only a 37.23-second run, at 36.2 mph max. That was disappointing, as my best is a full second faster. That's a big difference. Still, it was enough to gain me another Gold, by just 0.01 over George Miranda! while Don Langley took third at 37.39. Whew, tight racing!

Team Sprint

George, me, and Ray, waiting for our team sprint.
For the 55-64 age group Team Sprint I'd been talking with Ray Gildea, George, Brian and a few others, partly for Districts and partly with an eye toward forming a team for Masters World Championships in October. But in the end it was down to Ray, me, and George. We were the only team in our age group, but we wanted to use this as training for Worlds. Our run actually ended up being pretty good, and we got smoothly up to speed without any big gaps, maintained it, and even had some very nice exchanges using the latest rules from UCI. It was pretty cool! While we were slower than my team from last year (1:11.82 vs. 1:10.96), our time was the fastest of any of the teams that day in any age group. That was also pretty cool. And another Gold. Let's hope we can do better at Worlds; we will likely improve, as we did at Nationals last year.

So, the weekend was a surprising success for me, and great prep for Worlds. My next racing will be at Masters World Championships in October, to be held in the beautiful indoor wood track in Carson, just north of Los Angeles. A stretch goal for sure.