Back in the fall of 2016 I got a chance to ride the Kissena Velodrome track in Queens and found it quite interesting. I signed up for a clinic last year but I wasn’t able to stay to the end, and I then got injured right after ending my 2017 riding season.
So, now that my injury is mostly behind me, and I’m working to get my fitness back, I decided to give track racing another try. Thus, I signed up for the first of two clinics hosted by Pink Rhino Racing, held on Sunday, March 25.
Just like last year, it was quite chilly and windy at the track. This made for a lot of shivering and three to four layers of clothes, as we all huddled on the bleachers to listen to the presentation. I must say, that the members of the Pink Rhino Racing team appear to be very knowledgeable. They covered many of the basics, from the bikes, to the track, and some of the races.
After freezing for forty minutes or so, they then had us walk the track and further explained the markings, and concepts specific to track racing. This took another half hour or more, but again it was very informative.
Now it was time to suit up. Due to the cold there wasn’t going to be the shedding of sweats, so the task was putting on shoes and helmet, and then getting the bikes on the track. They divided us up into smaller groups and assigned us to a Pink Rhino rider. This way, we could become more familiar with how a track bike handles (no brakes), the banking of the track, drafting, etc…
After completing many laps with our confidence increasing, the guys had us came back to the infield to get ready for some races. Numbers were issues, and we pinned each other up. The group was divided into two groups. I ended up in the B group with fewer riders.
All three races started at the rail. Our first race was scratch race. First person over the finish line of a five lap race wins. Simple.
Rolling off the rail, we tried to keep together through the exit of turn two, at which point a whistle was blown, and racing was on. I quickly tucked in behind one of the ladies who appeared to want to stay up front, nose in the wind. There was a decent headwind coming off of turn four on onto the final straight towards the start/finish. So for about three laps, I stayed right on her wheel, and made sure if she moved over a bit, to stay behind her forcing her on the front.
With two laps to go, a Pink Rhino guy (manning the lap counter) yelled at the lady in front telling her to get out of the wind and that I was just using her. Damn straight I was, it’s called tactics.
So, she finally pulled off in turn one and two, leaving me in the wind. Thus I slowed down, and moved a bit uptrack letting a few more racers slip by so I would not blow myself up. With one lap to go, things started to heat up. Shadowing a few racers who were in the sprinting lane, a big guy started to accelerate in turn three/four. I started to spin up the legs and I tried to chase him down, but it was too late, and he got first and I got second.
Second race was a points race. After a neutral lap, the bell would ring every other lap. After completing the bell lap, points would be awarded by position for the top four riders. At the end of the six/seven lap race, the points are totaled up and the finish order is then determined.
What this meant was that every other lap, you need to sprint for points. Now this was a simple practice race. In real races, with many more bell laps, it becomes more complicated and much math needs to be done while in oxygen deprivation to figure out what to sprint for, etc…
In this race, I found that I was depleting myself quite rapidly. I had had two hard consecutive training days leading up to the clinic so I was now feeling the effects. First two bell laps, and the same big guy from the first race outsprinted me to the line. On the third and final bell lap, the field was starting to come by in the sprinters lane, and thus I was pushed a bit uptrack.
But looking back, I think this was a good thing. Coming out of turn four, I felt the bike surge, and I was able to spin up the pedals and pass everyone and sprint to take maximum points. Unfortunately, two, two, and one does not best a one, one, two, so I ended up in second place again.
But analyzing my positioning on that final sprint, I think the combination of getting good wind cover from the three riders around me, two in the sprinters lane, and the big guy next to the lead rider in the sprinters lane, gave me the draft necessary to out accelerate the others. I also think that being a bit uptrack, gave me a bit of gravity assistance coming off of the last turn which I found to be lacking in the sprinters lane, even though the sprinters lane is the shortest distance around the track.
The last race was an elimination race. Since we had eight competitors, we would have, I beleive, nine laps, since the first was a neutral lap. After the neutral lap each last rider across the line would be eliminated, thus whittling the field down every lap by one rider. Initially it wasn’t so bad. I had to sprint just enough ensure my back wheel wasn’t the last one across the start/finish line. But suddenly I looked back and we are down to four riders. That was fast.
Now, it was time to play. I had to sprint hard to stay in the top three, and I succeeded. We were now three riders left. I was lucky, that the big guy got into the sprinters lane, and the other competitor was on his wheel. I decided to risk it and move next to the second rider, but just slightly ahead, effectively boxing the third guy in. By the time we approached the line, the third rider realized out loud that he had nowhere to go, thus I had successfully eased his elimination.
Now it was down to myself and the big guy. But, alas, it wasn’t going to be. Going into turn three and four, I had nothing left. The other guy made a jump, and I could not get my legs to go anymore, and once again I got a second place finish.
The end of the last race brought the clinic to an end. We packed up and headed back home.
Reflecting back, I had a fun time, and I’m looking forward to trying out some actual track races. I do believe that it will be a key asset in developing my racing abilities. As pointed out to me by several people, a track race can be thought of the end of a road race (crit/circuit/etc…) and being that you get to race at least three times in one day, you get to try out different tactics more often.
I also think that track racing will sharpen up your race reading skills. Since you can’t downshift and quickly spin up a gear, I realized that by the time I saw the guy kicking it up, it was too late for me to get on his wheel to try to outsprint him. I need to anticipate more, and, react quicker to changes in the race. All useful skills for the road races.