Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Elite Track Omnium Nationals

Whenever USA Cycling announced last Fall to hold the Omnium Nationals separate from the regular US Track Nationals and at the brand new, 250m Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill I knew I'm going! At least I was planning on. I just had to take care of one thing: get that blue passport in time. And it came; 3 weeks before I rode for the first time on the smooth concrete of Rock Hill's newest cycling track I was standing in San Antonio giving the oath and getting my US citizenship. Just in time.

Giordana Velodrome, Rock Hill, SC

It's been a while that I raced track so I knew I had to put in some work to get my form just right in time for the two-day, 6-event race. You never forget riding fixed gear and turning left, but the leg speed, high cadence, and accelerations is something you need to train if you want to get on that podium. And I did. Quite a bit. I went out many times doing multiple 4:40-5min efforts on S. Mopac here in Austin, trying to hold 400W on the road bike in a 92-96inch gear. Followed by a all-out flying Kilo. Couple that with a few moto-pacing sessions behind the car driven by Jen P. The local Thursday Crit, the Driveway, was another key component of my preparation. Lots of hard crit racing stuffed in 50-60minutes attempting to just go hard and setting new 20min wattage and TSS records. But most importantly, it was hitting the boards at the Superdrome in Frisco a few times, doing the local Friday night race, and some specific Flying Lap and Pursuit practice. Tim Goodwin gave me some sprint advice, whereas Suzie Tignor Goodwin made me chase her on her moto on the track. I also ventured to Houston to the Alkek Velodrome twice, never haven't raced there before all those years I lived in Texas. It's a a bit of a rough track but great for practicing and it sure helped doing some timed events there.

Omnium started with the 250m Flying Lap, a combination of skill and leg speed. I'm not a sprinter but with a good enough, fast lead-out I can sprint pretty okay. Riding on the track the day before and finding the line helped for sure. I ended up 5th w/ a 14.7 which I was happy with since I expected this to be my hardest challenge. Kovalcik, a former bike messenger from Protland, OR won easily with a 14.2.

In the evening we started with the Points Race and I was looking forward to it. 120laps is 40laps shorter from the format they do at Nationals or what I used to do back home but still, 30K is a good fit for an endurance guy like me. I was conservative early on and stayed busy keeping track of what's going on in the race. There was a time board but no intermediate results or standings were displayed. So you try to pay attention to the announcer and keep an eye on who's off the front and who's got a lap or not. That's the great thing about the mass start events, besides the physical strength and fitness you need to be on top of things in terms of tactics and knowing what's happening in your race. A guy from Chicago (Liam) ended up taking 2laps and I went with him once about half-way through. We were sitting 1st (him) and 2nd (me) after that. He had 17 or so more points. I was good with 2nd and just made sure nobody is trying to leap-frog me. After the Points, I was sitting 2nd to Kovalcik. The Elimination race was going to be a fast drag-race to the line, with 1 rider being pulled every other lap. I was sitting by the blue line, just making sure to make it to the last 2 or 3 riders. Everything went according to plan until it got down to Kovalcik and Dan Holt (Type 1). Both have a good kick, which I couldn't answer and I ended up 3rd. Still 2nd Overall, a few points behind Kovalcik. Day 1 was in the books.

Scratch Final (That's Wes Jerman's Speedsuit!)

Having teammates in the Omnium does not help too much but it was good to have some Texas folks around. Andrew Armstrong and Jake Boone (both of RBM, Dallas) were racing, too and we had some fun in our stall and it was great having someone around to give you splits for the Pursuit which started Day 2, the final day of Nationals. I knew this was going to be a event where I could make up some points on the current leader, Kovalcik, who's a much better sprinter than me. Since we were leading 1-2, we were seeded in the last IP heat. Liam of XXX Racing from Chicago had set a fastest time so far, a 4:46, pretty quick on that outside track. It's been a while that I did a true 4K effort on the track (besides the training on the road bike w/ the power meter) but I found my legs pretty quick and mainly 18's to come in 2nd with a 4:51, 7sec quicker than Kovalcik. 6seconds faster would have given me one less point in the Omnium and tie for first but that wasn't in the bag. It came down to the Scratch and Kilo later that evening. Fun Fact: Both Liam and I rode FELT TK2 alloy bikes to 1st and 2nd in the Individual Pursuit. Same goes for the Points race the night before, the FELT alloy bikes went 1-2, too. It is or is not about the bike I guess!?!

Pursuit. Thanks to Greg Saxon for the Assos Speedsuit :-)

The 60 (?)-lap Scratch is kind of a hit or miss - especially when it's an Omnium. If you mess up and finish 15th then you're Overall hopes are gone pretty quick. If you do well, you can stay at the very top. It was a fast race with lot of attacks but the race got tactical very quick. Holt was 3rd Overall and Kovalcik's teammate was not far behind. So we all chased each other down a few times and also Liam (the guy who won the Pursuit & Points) tried to get away; so did Holt who looked like to win w/ 10 laps to go but he got brought back. I did what I could and rolled in 8th in the field sprint won by Andy Crater. Still 2nd, a good cushion to 3rd, but the Overall was pretty much gone by now where Kovalcik had a 4 or 5pt lead now. Having the Kilo TT last, takes away a bit of pressure because you don't have a mass-start race to worry about for the last event. You just have to be motivated to do one last HARD effort against the clock and be done with it. I never went quicker than 1:13 on wood or concrete in the past and I saw some quick sub 1:10 times while warming-up. I thought I'd really have to dig deep to make sure I stay "on track" for Silver and not get leap-frogged by someone because of a messy Kilo. The Kilo was done in heats again and Kovalcik and I did the last heat again. I went as fast as I could and it was a painful minute and change but I surprised myself with a 1:10 which was good enough for 5th, secured 2nd place and a 3sec PR for this endurance guy.

There was no way I could have beaten a on-form Zach Kovalcik. So very happy with 2nd place in my first Elite Nationals. USADA intentionally picked the Top3 from the Kilo and I was happy to save some time and get out of there. But then they realized they made a mistake and needed the Top3 Overall so I had no time to pack my stuff together. My chaperon was like: "Let's go upstairs." Okay. Upon arrival, USAC guy said, "No, let's do podium first." Okay, down again in the elevator. Yes, you take the elevator down to the tunnel. Pretty cool with some tired legs. Finally, after the podium it was back upstairs and let USADA do it's thing. It was a short night, with packing all my stuff together, and we got up really early to drop off some wheels etc. at 24hr FedEx, return rental car at the airport, and get to the Terminal for flying back to Dallas. My Accelerade powder almost got confiscated by TSA, but they finally figured it wasn't 'coca' after they did some testing right there in front of me.

final podium (Holt, Urbanski, Kovalcik, me, Donoghue)

Special thanks to Thad Fischer, a good friend of and former DS of mine for making the Giordana Velodrome a reality and hosting a great Omnium Elite Track Nationals there.