Thursday, August 09, 2012

20 Miles, the Other Hardest Way

My last post notwithstanding, this hasn't been a great season for me and mountain biking.  BuDu Racing's series fell victim to a Really Hard Math class.  The Indie Series has pretty much folded, although I did race Padden this year.  The Fat Tire Revolution series is on the wrong side of the Cascades.

Whine whine, moan moan.

When I first moved to Seattle in 2008, a friend of mine predicted that I'd either get a fixie within months or rebel against the whole fixie thing completely.  I'm not really sure where this fits...  I decided to try track racing.  Track racing is midweek and relatively close to home.  I often feel like I don't have enough top-end power, and my power output in general could stand to drift up.  It's an excuse to buy another bike.

I've been to a class and 10 races now.  I'd hardly call myself an expert.  In fact, I feel like I'm still just figuring out what I'm doing.  But it's been a lot of fun.

On any given night, there are three races.  In endurance track racing - anything that's massed start - there are a ton of different formats.  Most track races are points based, and those that aren't still award points in order to fit into a program with the others.  Most track races are also somewhat strategic.  Track racing is quite fast, with my races having average speeds in the mid-20s, even in second lowest category.  So drafting is very important.

Last night's program featured three races:  a Scratch race, a Snowball, and a Points race.

A Scratch race is the most obvious race, the one most people will think of as how bike races must be conducted.  Riders ride around the track for a specified number of laps, and the first one across the line wins.  Points go five riders deep.  There are some very powerful riders who come out for Cat. 4.  The excuse that people give themselves for not being those riders is that they're already in fast categories on the road - they'll breeze through Cat. 4 pretty quickly until they hit the level appropriate to their fitness.  The fastest guys last night never separated themselves from the pack, but they set a pretty fast pace.  It was challenging for me to stay near the front.  I hung on for dear life, and when the last lap came around and the acceleration happened, I kept hanging on and managed to finish fifth.  This was a big deal for me - the first time I've placed highly enough as a Cat. 4 rider to earn Omnium points.  Or, one point, anyway.

A Snowball is a race in which points are awarded every lap.  Only the first rider across the line gets points.  On the first lap it's one point, on the second it's two, and the number keeps increasing until the end of the race.  There were 24 riders in my group and I didn't start in a brilliant position.  The faster guys attacked off the front immediately.  I felt like everybody else wasn't working very hard to reel them back in, even though as a group of 20, we should have had a big advantage.  I tried to get to the front to set a little faster pace, but from the back of a group of 20, it was a lot of riders to pass.  So I'm making excuses too.  I, and a lot of other riders, was basically just shut out of this race.

The Points race is one of the staples of endurance track racing.  There are a certain number of sprints, say 5, separated by a certain number of laps each, say 4.  That's a 5x4 Points race, and what we did last night.  Sometimes riders get away with things on the track, like attacking in a small breakaway and managing to stay out front.

I started off doing about the same as in the Scratch race, just maintaining my position near the front.  Nobody was really breaking away.  I found I couldn't outsprint the other riders near the front when we came to the lap line the first two times.  The second time, I decided to see if I could get away with something.  So I kept riding hard after the sprint.  I looked around and nobody was with me.  I knew it was a little early to break away, but since the pack starts picking up speed pretty far in advance of a sprint, I also thought that to get away with something, I needed to do it early.

Something I find freeing about track racing is that there are three races each evening.  If I fail badly at one, I get a chance to redeem myself in about twenty minutes.  I didn't do much of anything with a race a few weeks ago because I thought that some of the other riders wouldn't let me get away with anything.  I realized later that nobody else was attacking and I couldn't contest the sprints with the more powerful riders.  I decided after that that I was giving myself permission to try attacking off the front, even if it meant I might blow up and be out of contention for the rest of the race.  After all, there'd be another one in twenty minutes.

So last night, when I looked behind me to see if anyone was going to help me and nobody was there, I just kept pedaling as fast as I could.  I managed to keep the gap open for all four laps to the next sprint, so I won it.  I didn't accomplish anything else in that race, but that was enough for another fifth place finish.  The second time I've placed highly enough to earn Omnium points, and basically because I was willing to risk the rest of my race on the chance that the pack might let me get away with taking the sprint that one time.  I'm still sore today.

My points haul, such as it was, put me in eighth place for the evening, and on the season rankings for the Velodrome.  I'll take that.

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