By Dennis Pedersen
Elites are 18 and over riders, Category 3 and better. I'm getting old, but I don't feel it yet, so I'm willing to compete with youngsters!
This year the NCVA's board decided to separate the NCNCA District Championship mass-start races from the sprints and timed events. So this weekend the track at Hellyer Park Velodrome was less crowded and we had time to properly conduct qualifying, and adequate warm-up and cool-down breaks. It was hot, from 89 to 93 degrees at least, dry, and somewhat windy.
Saturday: Match Sprints
We had a nice turnout, with 20 men and 8 women. I used my 96-inch gears (50x14 teeth), a bit taller than I used to, in my flying 200 m run: 38.2 mph max, for 12.04 seconds. While a good time for me, it wasn't quite a PR, as the wind kept most times a bit slow. I'm not sure exactly where I qualified, but roughly in the middle. I decided to see how the 96" gears would feel in the races too; these would be 2 laps only.
In the first heat I was matched against Mark Andersen: We drew numbers and I started at the top of the track, with my coach, Jeff Solt, holding me. I stayed up-track as we started, almost even with him, but had to feint a bit on the back straight to maintain that position as I didn't want to lead him out. In turn 4 I felt we were going too slow, as he qualified faster than me (it's easier to pass at low speeds), so I seized the lead with a hard effort. Fortunately I was then able to "float" into turn 1, and when I looked back I saw he was only a bit up-track, with only a small gap… that meant he wouldn't be able to rush past me as easily. On the back straight he tried to pass, but I was able to maintain the lead. Into turn 3 he moved behind me, but in spite of my best efforts he managed to barely pass me at the line, hitting a relatively modest 36.4 mph max.
In the second heat we were 3-up; I was matched against Ray Gildea, and Tom. I again started at the top, and I moved down-track fairly soon, as Ray pushed the pace. Tom drafted him, thus allowing me to box Tom in by riding slightly behind and next to Ray. In turn 3 Tom sensed his predicament, backed off and went up-track to launch an attack. I saw the gap back to him was rather large, though, and I didn't hesitate attacking first. Ray, though, reacted very quickly and held me off, on his hip, through turns 1 and 2. But on the back straight I had enough power to pass him for the win (37.2 mph max).
Next I raced Ethan Boyes, the top qualifier: Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me. I once again started up-track, and he tried to force me down track, but a ground squirrel distracted him, and I jumped below and around him, back up to the rail. Yes, that really happened. I then dropped below him out of turn 4, but he had no trouble passing me on the back straight for the win. Speeds were moving up too: 38.2 mph.
I was out of the medals, but 5th through 8th had to be decided in a 4-up: Me, Lee Povey, Brian Moore, Mark Andersen lined up. I wanted to follow my coach, Jeff Solt's, advice to disrupt any attempts at teamwork (they're all on PCC). I did that by not attacking early, but slowed so I'd be mixed in with them. I then let Brian lead us out, while I boxed in Lee, and Mark stayed behind/above me. Lee wanted out, and I obliged, and when he attacked I was able to follow him (barely) around Brian. I'm not sure why, but Lee and I opened up a gap the others couldn't close (maybe because we hit 39.3 mph!), but while I gained a bit on Lee at the finish, I lost by almost a bike length. That was fast and fun, especially since they had all qualified faster than me! So, I ended up in 6th place out of 20, which I was happy with.
Sunday: Time Trials
In Elite-level racing my favored event, 500 m time-trial, doesn't exist. Instead they ride a full kilometer ("kilo"), which I'd only done twice before in competition. I signed up anyway, just for training. The real contenders use aerobars, but I simply used my regular drop-bars. I held back a bit at the standing start, compared with my 500 m starts, to save a little for the last lap or so. Even so, there's a reason kilos are nicknamed "killers!" With legs and lungs on fire, I maxed at 35.3 mph, finishing in 1:15.30 (37.24 split time). This kilo was a PR for me, actually, so it was motivating! I was 7th out of 10.
Next were the team sprints. I signed up with my teammates for Master Nationals (coming in August, in Indianapolis), Ray Gildea and Brian Moore. Each rider leads for one lap before pulling off, and only the third rider's time counts (my time, as man #3) In the standing start Ray is very hard to keep up with, but Brian did great, and I slotted in behind him. After Ray pulled off, Brian accelerated a bit, almost opening a gap back to me, but I held on and when Brian pulled off I jumped a bit too and felt like I had decent power to the finish line. We hit 36.3 mph max, finishing in 1:11.41. That was quite good, and could perhaps be a winning time at Master Nationals, but was only enough for 4th place here. We all agreed this was great prep for us!
While I didn't place in any event this year, I was quite happy with my racing, as was Jeff. Masters Track States are July 16 and 17th, and Masters Track Nationals are August 9th through 14th; I feel ready!