Monday, August 15, 2016

Masters Track National Championships, 8/9-8/14/2016

By Dennis Pedersen

USA Cycling's Track National Championships were held at the Indy Cycloplex's Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis this year, named after the amazing African-American World Champion track cyclist (I read a good book about Major Taylor). This was the first Masters National Championships I've entered, so I was a bit nervous about it. But with my results at our District (State) Championships, I knew my form justified the plans I had already made to race at Nationals.

Who needs an SUV!
I'd never travelled by airplane to race before, so there were a ton of details that I don't usually have to deal with. Getting my bike, two wheelsets, helmets and tools to Indy was a bit stressful. Wade and Marin at Spokesman Bicycles were kind enough to provide me a Tri All 3 Sports case, which had plenty of room for my bike and two wheelsets after I removed the crank (I could have removed the saddle instead), the bars and the wheels. I used to ship via FedEx, which saves a bunch of money.

My team sprint teammate Ray Gildea, and Ken Lo and I rented an Airbnb cottage a few miles from the track. It was a bit of a frat house and a lot of fun. Ray also rented a U-Haul van instead of a rental car, so moving the bikes around would be a snap.

Nice track, humid weather
We arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday evening, and took an Uber to our cottage. The next morning our other TS teammate, Brian Moore, gave us a ride to U-Haul. We collected Ray and Ken's bikes from FedEx, and they got to work assembling them. I had mine shipped to Marian University which operates the track, and they even had those bikes delivered to the track for us. Very cool.

This track honors an
amazing black cyclist:
Major Taylor 
When we got to the velodrome on Monday we started by building a tent village in the infield, nick-named "Hellyerville." We had all chipped in some money, and Bess Hernandez-Jones bought awnings and chairs for our NCNCA riders... that was so awesome! I can't imagine trying to do all this as an unattached rider. After signing in, I assembled my bike under our awnings and we all got some track time on Monday afternoon.

The Major Taylor concrete outdoor velodrome is very similar to Hellyer's, but precisely 333.3 meters around vs. Hellyer's unintended miss at 335 m. The banking is 28° vs. 23°, and Major Taylor's straights are a bit shorter, with wider turns. The result is surprisingly different, with the transitions from the straights into the turns being noticeably steeper. This affects race tactics, and things like the windup for a flying-200-meter run. The track also has a huge permanent grandstand, and was used for the Pan American Games in 1987. Another difference is the weather: it was extremely humid, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. I have not sweated this much in quite some time!

Wednesday, Match Sprints

This event (read here for a description of match sprints) was not really my priority, as I was skeptical about my ability to compete with the nation's best Masters sprinters. But I sure do enjoy them and signed up! I had received an email from USA Cycling a week before, asking for my recent 200 m and 500 m times, to help them put together a start list for our qualifying flying-200 m rides. There were 12 riders signed up.
"God didn't make little green apples And it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime"
We got to the very hot and humid track, suited up with difficulty (here I learned that it's best to suit up in air-conditioned rooms!) and did some warmup... after which it started raining. They closed the track, and we all gathered under our awnings, scrambling to keep our gear dry. Fortunately it didn't persist, and after a short break they reopened the track.

My 200 m qualifier
Around 11:30 we did our flying-200-meter time trials, to qualify for the matches and "seed" us in our start list, which I did in my usual 96.4-inch gear (50x14 teeth). I was really hoping for a PR, but while I did get close, my time of 12.032 seconds was a tenth slower, partly due to some wind I'd guess. It was still good enough for 3rd out of the 12 riders in my 55-59 age group, which pleasantly surprised me. Kurt Sato, the defending champ, was 2nd with 11.468, and Brian was 1st seed with an awesome 11.407!

But before we could start our matches, it started to rain again, this time absolutely dumping rain (check out my video). They closed the track and announced it would re-open later in the day. We decided to drive back to our cottage, showered, ate lunch and waited for USAC's email communique with schedule updates.

Quarter Finals
Because of the rain delay, they cancelled the 1/8th finals, and those riders packed up and left. All of our matches were to be just two laps, and the best out of 3 heats would advance to the semi-finals. Since I qualified in 3rd I was matched against the 6th-place qualifier, John Schmitz, a big guy and a local at Major Taylor. The USAC communique gave us a new start time, and around 5:00 we were getting ready to race, and trying very hard to stay cool... I was frequently dropping chunks of ice down the back of my speed suit to keep comfortable, while constantly mopping the sweat from my face.

Heat 1: I drew the #2 straw for the start position, so I was placed high up on the track while John started low on the track. Jonathan Fraley (owner of Serenity Bicycles) was my holder, and did a nice job of sending me off. John went up-track to the rail ahead of me, and I followed a few bike lengths behind him on the rail. The 28° banking provides a greater advantage than at Hellyer, so I wanted to stay high as much as possible to use that drop down the banking when I needed to accelerate. He remained on the rail through turns 1, 2, and 3. In turn 4 I knew waiting would be a mistake, so I instantly dropped down the banking below him and into the sprinter's lane... he tried to block me, but too late. I then "floated" along, keeping him close behind me. In turn 1 he stayed there, but tried to pass me again in turn 2. I was able to stand and sprint to keep him next to me, and in turns 3 and 4 I moved ahead and took the win.

Heat 2 start against John Schmitz 
Heat 2: We swapped starting positions, and I started fairly low, slow and ahead, and feinted up-track a few times to keep John guessing. I started to speed up on the back straight to avoid any surprise attacks from him. Out of turn 4 I went a bit harder as I could tell he wanted to pass, so he ended up only being able to try out of turn 2 on the last lap... he couldn't pass me, and he gave up in turn 4 allowing me to sit up before the finish line for the win.

I had advanced, as had Brian, winning in two rides in his match against Richard Toller (the 8th qualifier). Kurt Sato beat Brian Wind (7th qualifier), and Jim Thiele beat Mark Pelletier (5th qualifier). So we would compete for 1st through 4th while the others raced a four-up match for 5th through 8th place.

Heat 1 start against Kurt Sato
Heat 1: Since I qualified faster than Jim, I was matched against Kurt, while Jim faced Brian. Jonathan and Lee Povey both gave me some tips too. Very cool. I drew #1 straw, so Kurt started up-track. I stayed fairly low on the track, but knew from my races at the LA velodrome (VELO Sports Center) in Carson that Kurt has an amazing jump, so I tried to keep the average speed a bit higher to minimize his advantage from a low speed. I again feinted a few times, zig-zagging a little, to keep him off balance. And I also kept the gap back to him at a good size, not big efor him to rush. By turn 3 I could no longer block him from the sprinter's lane, so I seized it as we started to accelerate pretty hard. I floated as much as possible, keeping him close behind me, and started to go 100% in turn 2 as I knew he'd jump... he did! After I kept him out of the sprinter's lane for a while by keeping my front wheel even with  his rear wheel, he passed me in turn 3 in spite of my best efforts. I tried to catch him on the home straight, but he won by over a bike length.

Heat 2: This time I started up-track. I told Jonathan to delay releasing me at the start, so I'd be able to start with a gap ahead of me to Kurt that I could rush when needed. He started mid-track as I followed slowly along the rail. We feinted a bit, and in turn 3 he moved higher on the track. I rode about even with him and out of turn 4 I passed above him and took the lead, at a moderately fast pace. Into turn 1 I could see he wasn't trying to pass, but I knew turn 2 would be different... I jumped as hard as I could but on the back straight I saw his front wheel to my right, then his rear wheel, then he was past me. I was done and rested to save some energy for the bronze final.

The Major Taylor velodrome has great stadium lights, so we continued racing into the night. Jim Thiele lost to Brian, so I was matched against Jim for the bronze final. But Brian now had to race Kurt in the gold final. I hoped my longer sprints had tired Kurt out for Brian!

Bronze heat 1: I drew straw #2, and started up-track and stayed there. Jim rode nicely lower on the track, with a few feints. In turn 3 I moved closer to him and out of turn 4 I was able to pass above him and into the lead. I floated a bit, but he tried to pass and I had to stand up and sprint a bit. Into turn 1 he went up-track slightly, but not enough to be able to make his next try out of turn 2 work. I was able to hold him behind me for the win.

Bronze heat 2: I seize the pole
Bronze heat 2: I started in the pole (sprinter's lane), and we rode very, very slowly in turn 1. I made a few up-track feints, but then I went a bit ahead of him in turn 2. Clearly he wanted a large gap to rush for a pass. So I slowed quickly and turned up-track, almost pinning him to the rail. As we entered turn 4 I had no trouble dropping down into the pole and when he tried to pass I was able to hold him off, next to me. In turn 2 he again tried to pass, but with no luck. Bronze was mine!

Gold finals: Brian, in the meantime, was unable to beat Kurt's jump. Tactically he rode well, but not well enough, and ended up with silver, which was still very impressive.

The award ceremony was a lot of fun, and held under the stadium lights late at night. I cheered for my friends and was pretty happy to get a bronze medal at my very first Masters National event!

The 55-59 Match Sprints podium, L to R:
Jim Thiele, Brian Moore, Kurt Sato, Dennis, John Schmitz.

Friday, 500 m Time Trial

It's a simple one: from a standing start, ride as fast as possible for 500 meters. I had long felt that I had a shot at a podium appearance in this event. My Wednesday results confirmed that, but it's never a given. And this day the wind picked up to about 12 mph, so even though it was humid (which helps speed), I doubted I'd PR... but I always try my best!

It's cool that USAC
is conducting doping
I used the same 96.4-inch gearing and tri-spoke wheel (a loaner from my Coach, Jeff Solt) that I used in the 200 m qualifiers on Wednesday. We all use the same holder for our standing starts to avoid any chance of a helpful shove. I felt my start was pretty decent, though I always feel that I could have dug deeper... hard to say, really. So much psychology goes into these short, maximal efforts. I'm pretty sure I dug very deep for the rest of the ride, though, because I got that blurry tunnel-vision effect that makes staying in the pole rather tricky.

So, I ended up with a time of 36.579 seconds, missing bronze by 78/1000ths to Jim Thiele. I was a bit disappointed with 4th place (out of 16 riders), and will keep wondering what tiny changes would have put me ahead of Jim. The good news was that Brian won gold, beating Kurt with a 35.548 vs. Kurt's 35.617. Very impressive ride, Brian! Ray also won gold, in the 60-64 group... and even had to pee in a cup for the USADA anti-doping tests!

The 55-59 500 m ITT podium, L to R:
Dennis, Kurt Sato, Brian Moore, Jim Thiele, Russel Murphy.

Sunday, Team Sprints 

Team sprints (also called "Olympic sprints") were my priority event for 2016, so I was very focused on how our racing unfolded, looking for hints to how our chances in the 55-64 500 m team sprint race would be (read here for a description of team sprints). Ray Gildea and Brian Moore were my teammates for this, and I had to admit that there were some real advantages for us:

  • We'd practiced our team sprint standing-starts numerous times throughout the season, at Hellyer Park's track. 
  • We raced as a team at both our NCNCA Elite and Masters Championships, winning gold at Masters with a time we knew to be faster than previous years' winning teams at Nationals. 
  • We had the new 500 m ITT Champion (Ray) as our man #1 (starter). 
  • We had the new 500 m ITT Champion (Brian) as our man #2 (my lead-out man). 
  • My 500 m ITT time was faster than that of most other #3 guys on the other teams (I was the "anchor"). 

However, we also faced some teams with both national and world champions as members. Very fast and experienced riders. It promised to be an awesome event!


The rain became progressively worse throughout the week, forcing occasional delays, and by Friday it was starting to become rather obtrusive, to say the least. By Saturday the weather forecast was positively grim, and the start of racing was postponed several times through the day. We all pondered what would happen if it didn't stop long enough to allow the races to continue. All day Saturday we stayed inside resting and hoping the race schedule could be followed. But they finally cancelled all Saturday racing, and shifted some of them to Sunday at 7:00 am. More delays followed on Sunday morning, and on Sunday the final USAC communique confirmed:
"The forecast is looking worse and worse the later it gets. For this reason I’m going to go ahead and cancel the remaining sessions for this event"
That sucked. Previously there'd been communiques proposing shortening races, e.g. by making flying-200-meter times be the final result for the women match sprints originally scheduled on Saturday and the like. Now they would simply not take place at all. But there was also a new proposal:
"If USA Cycling was able to put together a single day of racing for team events in mid-November at one of the covered velodromes, would there be any interest?"
So, we shall see, but it's possible I'll be doing my Nationals team sprints in November, in either Colorado Springs or Carson (Los Angeles), the only covered velodromes in USA. It's a hassle, but I can't just let this go down the drain.

Another storm, above the now-empty grandstands

I had so much fun at Nationals and am very happy I went, in spite of the hardships. I plan on doing this again next year, and even have my eye on the Masters Worlds which will conveniently be in LA in 2017 and 2018.

Stay tuned!

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