Tuesday, October 16, 2012

US Elite Track National Championships

This year, the end of my cycling season looked a little bit different: Instead of 3-4hr road races I focused exclusively on the track. Yes, correct...track! People ask me: "I didn't know you raced track". And also "There's no velodrome in Austin, or"? True, there's no velodrome in Austin (not yet) but I grew up racing left-turn only and fixed gear. My hometown track was in Heidenau and I spent a TON of time there training and racing when I was a Junior and U23 racer. I remember doing 160lap Points races pretty much every Wednesday during the summer when I was a Youth(15/16) and Junior(17/18) rider. As a junior rider in Germany it's pretty much standard that you race on the velodrome so I did Nationals a few times but never with outstanding results. It was more to work on speed, learn how to race in large fields w/ out brakes and become a better rider overall.

Fast forward 12-15years and I'm in Carson, CA for my first US Elite Track National Championships. Well, I already did the Omnium Elite Track Nats in August (which USA Cycling separated from the regular Nats for the first time this year) and came away with the Silver there. But racing in L.A. at the Velo Sports Center at the "regular" Nationals was a bit different. Olympian Bobby Lea, who raced the Omnium in London 2012, was in attendance and several other heavy hitters (mainly road pro's) so the competition was a bit stiffer in L.A. But I was confident and knew I trainer hard for my 2nd National Championships as an US Citizen - finally, at age 31!

Individual Pursuit #1: Go as hard as you can for 4 1/2 to 5min and don't blow up or go out too fast. That's the rule of thumb. You can prepare pretty simple for it, on the track and off the track. I did a bunch of 5min intervals (see the screenshot of a training ride below), over and over, back-to-back with some short breaks. At Nationals you race a qualifying round first, and if you make it into the Top 4, you go on into the finals. I thought Top 5 (American Podium as I call it) was possible. I've done 4:55 in Houston on a bumpy track 2 weeks before and with the power numbers I was hitting in the intervals I knew I can go faster. I ended up 3rd into the qualifying around after I rode high 17's and low 18's for the 4K. I got a bit too excited and caught the other rider just 1K into my pursuit but I was able to pretty much hold the speed and didn't blow up. 4:43. 1.5seconds away from the 1-2 final, which Bobby Lea and Donoghue (guy who won Pursuit at Omnium Nationals) were going to contest. 

Scratch Race #1: For the Scratch we had qualifying heats not much after my pursuit. Change bars, gears and get going again. For those of you who never done a Scratch race, it's basically a Crit on the track. First rider across the line wins. So if it comes down to a sprint you gotta be in the Top 12 if you wanted to qualify for the Final in the evening. Halloway lapped the field solo early on after everyone in my heat let him just ride away. I figured I don't want to risk anything and wait until the final sprint and try to get Top 12. With 8 or 10 laps to go I went for it, attacked hard from top and just solo'd in for 2nd in my heat and ahead of the bunch. Morning session complete, back for more in the evening! 

Individual Pursuit #2: Back to the track for the "Little Final", where I raced Ian Burnett (Competitive Cycling). Basically you're trying to go as fast as possible again, just have to dig deeper. It's been a while (10+ years?) that i've done two 4K pursuit races in one day but I knew I had to go a bit faster than 4:43 (my morning time) to make sure to get that Bronze medal. Both of us rode very equally and made it a race. It was pretty awesome actually. For the first 2000m I looked over and saw Ian hitting the s/f line at back-stretch the same time like I did on the home-stretch. Since I started a bit more conservative and only rode a 1:11 for the first 1000m I knew I had something left in the tank. With 8 laps to go I dug deep and I came in w/ 4:41 and a new PR and secured 3rd behind Lea and Donoghue. 

Scratch Race #2: 15 minutes after my IP little final we already race the Scratch race final. I could tell I had a long day already. I didn't really have time to change gears so I raced a bigger gear than usual for that race and combined with some heavy legs that made for only a mediocre Scratch and a 9th place. Kind of disappointing but besides Lea (who placed 5th) all the other guys who raced the IP finals didn't do so well. Friday: off-day! Sleep-in, Ride to the beach and checking out the $$$$$$$ homes along Torrance Beach etc. Relax.

Points Race #1: As for the Scratch race, there were two qualifying heats for the Points Race. With Lea and Dan Holt (two-time Elite National Points Race Champion) in my heat I knew I had to pay attention and go with those guys to make sure I roll through easy. That's exactly what happened. 30 laps or so in 5 of us, including Lea & Holt) got off the front and ended up taking a lap to secure our spot in the Final in the evening; I ended up 4th.

Points Race #2: Saturday Night was pretty crowded, a lot more spectators, live-video coverage on the internet, and some big finals (Men's Keirin, Women's Sprint etc.). The Points Race was pretty much the last event of the evening so it was a long time before we actually got to race. warm-up, staying hydrated, eat some but not too much, keep mentally focused until 8:30 or so for 160 laps of Points Race fun. Again, I was confident I can pull of a podium, but it was going to be a bit tougher than just racing 4000m all out like in the Pursuit. Nothing would go far for the 1st 3rd of the race and I stayed conservatively. I rode in a bit smaller gear then the Scratch, too which allowed my a higher cadence and being able to jump/react quicker. At one point, Lea and 4 or 5 others got 1/3rd lap, then a 1/2 lap and looked like to lap the field. I wasn't there and not happy. Lea was the only rider who managed to gain a lap on the field, the rest came back. So we were racing for 2nd. I managed to win 5 points going off the front once. I sat out one sprint, relaxed, and went after another rider solo, caught up, got the sprint/points and was back in the field. With 10-point I sat 5th or 6th with maybe 30 laps to go. To be on the podium for sure, I need to get some more so I went off the front with another ride and we timed it just ride and I got the full 5 pts again, getting me to 15 pts, tied for 3rd before the last and final sprint. 3rd, 4th, and 5th was all at the same points and 6th wasn't far down, 1 point. I figured I won't be out-sprinting Halloway, Lea & Co. in the final sprint so w/ 2 laps to go I went after Moir who was off the front since 4 or 5 laps to go. I caught him with a lap to go but there were too many guys still trying to get onto the podium and I was caught with less than 1/2 lap to go and got no points. Still, 5th at the end of the day behind Lea, Halloway, Donoghue, and Holt.

The Madison: For the final day I teamed up with my main "rival" from Omnium Nationals earlier in August: Zak Kovalcik. He's got a sprint/acceleration I don't have on the track so we knew we could be in the hunt for a Podium spot. Only thing is: we never raced a Madison together! Last time for me was at Texas Cup at the Superdrome in Frisco a few years back and before that as a Junior back in Germany. So we just had a little bit of time to "sync" our throws and make sure our technique is good enough to give each other enough momentum. And we knew we had to make up our lack of never having raced together before by just pedaling harder! The Madison field was not too big, 9 or 10 teams; pretty normal for Nationals actually. Still, it was fast from the start and we it took us a while to make things smooth. Once or twice I ended up having to sprint whereas we had planned to have Zak for it. That cost us a bit but Zak did win the points when he was in position and we were sitting 5th or 6th for most of the 200 lap/50 km race. Several teams tried to take a lap but just came up short by less than 30 meters or so. That evened the way for Lea/Simes to take the win by 5points. We were doing okay, nothing stellar but had to fight hard for 5th. Zak scored another 2 points when he was "on duty" and we ended up 5th, just 2pts ahead of TeamTyper1's Holt & Eldrigde in 6th. Whew. Overall, not bad considering it was our "first rodeo" together. But yeah, we both know that with a bit more specific training and a few Madison's together we can compete for the Top3 rather than fighting for 5th place.

All in all a successful first trip to L.A. for Elite Track Nationals. Special thanks to my team, Tulsa Tough pb ICEdot, for their year-long support; the Superdrome and Alkek crowd for helping me at the local track/races etc., Shawn from Laguna Beach Cyclery for letting me use one of their Colnago road bikes while in L.A.; Todd Minehardt for donating some of his track gear to me; Max Bookman of MAX Training for helping me with some core/strength conditioning to get ready for Nats; and last but not least Wes for letting me use his super slick Speedsuit for the Individual Pursuit!

Now it's time to take some time off, and get back to some basic strength, conditioning training and a bit of Cyclocross here and there!

interval training example leading up to Nats. Goal: 375-380W for 4:45, and repeat!

IP Qualifying (photo: Erika Fulk)
IP Podium

Points Race Action (photo: VeloImages)

Felt, time to sponsor someone ;-)

Points Race Podium

My "cubicle" for the weekend

Torrance Beach

Was looking for "The Hoff"
Torrance Beach

Madison Podium with Zak

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