Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to California! Elite Track Nationals, Carson, CA

After my first ever Omnium Track Nationals at Rock Hill, SC and later on the Elite Track Nats at the Velo Sports Center last year I was looking forward to compete again this year on the boards of the only indoor velodrome in the US - the 250m track in Carson, CA just a few miles South of Los Angeles.*

Leading up to Track Nationals I had about 4 weeks of solid training time. Not a whole lot but plenty enough to get yourself into shape and work on "track legs". Things are a bit more tricky when you live in a town without a track but you have to improvise, and just make the best out of it. That means: 1) specific rides/training on the road bike with power meter 2) travel to Superdrome in Frisco for some moto-pacing on the track and specific workouts 3) off-the-bike workouts to work on overall strength, agility, speed, flexibility etc. 3) and of course competing in some crits like the Driveway here in Austin. And finally, ride my Cervelo T3 track bike on South Mopac and "simulate" a pursuit in almost same gearing as I would race on the track a few weeks later. All that went into the built-up for Track Nationals. And I can say I was prepared as best as I could have been.

Day 1: Pursuit Quali, Omnium (Flying Lap, Points, Elimination)

The goal was clear: be on the podium again. After last year's 3rd behind Bobby Lea and Liam Donoghue I knew I wanted to be at least in the same spot if not a tad better. Bobby is riding in another league so I knew Silver is the only realistic chance. But Liam has been racing the track quite a bit and he's usually a few seconds faster. And he brought a front disc, too! I was joking with him he would need to be a lot faster now with no spokes! In qualification, I was seeded in last heat vs. Bobby and - realistically - my goal was to not get caught. Almost made it until the last 250meters. Ended up with 4:41 and Bobby rode a 4:34 or something. I was 3rd in qualification as Liam rode a 3:39 (?) to make the final vs. Bobby. I had to ride the next  morning vs. a guy from Arizona I have not raced against on the track .

Before racing, I had my bike (with drop bars) checked and sure enough the Cervelo T3 came out 250grams too light (6.55kg, needed 6.8kg). Shoot. What to do? a) Swapped front wheel for the more sturdy ROL 80C. Still not enough! b) Took extra chain link and stuffed it into my stem. c) Borrowed some (heavy) washers from neutral mechanic and put underneath bar tape. d) Took chainring bolts and put them into the bar end plugs. e) Taped one flat wrench under saddle. Okay, 6.81kg. Bingo! I was sweating more from "making weight" rather than exercising I thought!

The evening Session consisted of 3 of the 6 Omnium events we were going to do over two days. 
My Flying lap is my weak spot but I was still hoping I can get a decent run. But it wasn't meant to be and I ended up coming in only 13th and 1/10th of a second slower than last year at Omnium Track Nats in Rock Hill. Bummer. Next up was the Points Race and usually something I can do well in. With Bobby L., Jacob Duehring, we had a bit stiffer competition this year vs. last year's Omnium but I knew anything can happened in a 120lap race. I got a few points early but was only sitting 5 or 6th halfway through. At one point, I joined a two man move (Hillier/Jacks) off the front nobody really paid attention to and about 20laps later the three of us had lapped the field. I took some points on the way and ended up winning the points race ahead of Patrick Jacks and Bobby Lea. My Omnium felt like a roller coaster from here on ;-) I guess I was a bit exhausted from the Points race because the Elimination race didn't go so well and I only came in 8th. A few mistakes mid-way through and there I went whereas last year I scored 3rd in same event. Oh well.

Day 2: IP Final, more Omnium (Scratch, Kilo)

Since there were three of us (Bobby, Liam, and me) who rode the IP Finals AND the Omnium USA Cycling gave us a break and were going to count our IP final time as our IP Final time for Omnium IP event #4 time. Otherwise, we theoretically would have done another Pursuit just for the Omnium! Anyhow, like last year, I had to ride the "little" final against another ride to get my Bronze medal. Opponent was David Swanson from Arizona which I had not raced before. Everything went well: Warm-up, bike-check, all good and I was chilling on deck with Mike Baranoski (Matt B.'s dad) who volunteered to time me for the pursuit events. 3min to go. USAC official comes running towards me and tells us I can't have bar tape on my aerobars for my race. I'm like "What"? My bike went through bike-check probably 3 times already and it's being hanging on the rack there for anyone to see and NOW you come and ask me to modify stuff? He hands us a knife and Mike and I scramble to remove some bar tape I had wrapped around my aero base bar for comfort. It actually made my aerobars less aero...and now USAC wanted me to remove it. Sure enough I cut my finger w/ the officials sharp knife. I'm bleeding pretty good. We found some duck tape and I tape my fingers. I have my bronze-medal ride in 1minute and this sh%$t goes on. Oh well, I still brought it home... barely, though but I won my ride by 2 seconds thanks to some 17'ish splits and Mike's great pacing/split calling. Whew. That wasn't easy but happy with third. That meant 3rd in the Omnium event # 4, too. The little bar tape thing didn't effect my ride luckily or otherwise I'd been "a bit upset".

In the evening session I was hoping to make up a bit for my not so pretty Omnium position (7th or 8th?) but was realistic enough to know it's going to be hard, especially with a -anything-can-happen Scratch race and a the Kilo, an event I don't really focus on. I ended up 7th in the Scratch race and came in 10th in the Kilo. That meant 6th Overall. Nothing to write home about but I was happy I could win that Points race at least and my roller-coaster Omnium was officially over ;-) Podiums are now 3-deep only at all Nationals (since no other country besides US did a 5-man podium and apparently some other Nations kind of joked about it) so I wasn't too upset to finish just one point down on Liam who got 5th.

IP Quali

my T3 and T4 (Bobby Lea) just hanging out
Individual Pursuit Podium with Bobby & Liam (photo: Brian Hodes)
Day 3: Team Pursuit

With Liam Donoghue (2nd IP), Jacob Duehring (5th IP & 4th in Kilo in the Omnium), Mike Zagorski from Boulder, CO and myself we had a solid team for my first ever Team Pursuit Nationals. I've done team pursuits back in Junior Days in Germany on the tracks of Cottbus and Augsburg (200m, wooden indoor track) and some small stuff here in Texas but this track was fast, we had a great team, and just needed to finish it off. Our quali went good, we executed our "Australian" plan and had Mike ride lap 2, 3, 4 (?) all-out before we took over and rode mid 16's to finish in 4:30. Thanks again to Mike Baranoski again for calling our splits.
The final ride vs. the Oregon/WA team needed to be faster in order to finish ahead. We knew that and so we went with the same plan as in qualification...Jacob and then Mike got us off to a good start. After that, it was a real race and I could tell we were pretty damn close. None of the two teams seemed to get tired/slowed down and there was maybe a second between us two teams. I knew Liam, Jake, and I could go a bit faster and so we went up a notch in the last 1000m and by the time the clock stopped we rode a 4:27 and almost 3sec faster than Team #2. Whew! Winning as a team makes it even more special and I was happy to get that over with and be done!

The next few hours were a bit of a rush. Liam actually had a flight to catch in 2hrs and rode straight back to the booth (no cool-down) and started taking his bike apart and pack his stuff. My flight left 5pm so I had a bit more buffer but not too much. USADA must have not known about our time crunch and picked me & Mike for testing. The sweet USADA lady stood by my side the whole time and she even took pictures of the podium with my phone for me. Nice staff all around! Luckily the podium ceremony was ready & done pretty quickly and I was done at anti-doping in 10-15minutes thanks to "very proper hydration" ( I think I drank like 1.5gal water throughout the 3hrs hanging out at the track). Then it was time to pack my bike in parking lot, take all the stuff to FedEx, ship bike, wheels, rollers back to Austin, return the rental car, take shuttle to airport and catch my flight to DFW. Finally made it back to my aunt & uncle's place in Southlake around 11pm and got some good sleep before heading to Germany the next day for some vacation with the wife.

Big thanks to the following sponsors/friends/people for their generous help & support: my wife for here moto-pacing skills, Joe Morgan for driving his scooter for uncountable laps in front of me at the Frisco Superdrome, Austin Tri-Cyclist, Team Tulsa Tough, ROL Wheels, MAX Training,, Sommerville Sports, and Acu-Tissue.

On the way to winning the TP Final (photo: FELT)

Team Pursuit podium with Mike, Jacob, and Liam (l to r)
photo: Brian Hodes
Team Three plus One
Only had 5minutes to soak in the beach & sunshine of Redondo Beach

FedEx is your friend when it comes to getting bikes & gear home
for 1/4 of the cost what an airline would charge you!

*Note: USA Cycling changed the format of Track Nationals this year (again) and the timed races (pursuit, team sprints) and Omnium were held in L.A. whereas the mass start races (points, madison, sprints, keirin etc.) were raced in Rock Hill, SC two weeks later at the Giordana Velodrome. For an athlete (no matter if you're a sprinter or endurance rider) that means two big trips to two different locations within 2 weeks. Very cost-intensive, and logistically a bit of a challenge. Everyone I talked to (riders, and even some track racing promoters) thinks the decision to split Nationals like that is total nonsense and not athlete-friendly at all. There was even a (online) petition floating around the www when they first announced it but obviously nothing changed. Will see what happens next year but I heard the "rotating" schedule of giving the mass-start Nationals to a different venue every year will continue.