Having to delay my inaugural track race for a year due to my injured tendon last year, I finally got a chance to get over to the track and actually race this time.
For those who don’t know, New York City has an outdoor velodrome located at Kissena Park in Queens, aptly named Kissena Velodrome. It is a four hundred meter track with the turns banked at about seventeen degrees. The surface is asphalt with many cracks and bumps throughout. As much as people would hope for a resurfaced track, I feel lucky that we even have something this close to race on.
After attending a track clinic hosted by the Pink Rhino team, it was time to get down to racing. Last weekend the weather was just to cold for me. The problem about track racing is that you get to race for about five minutes or less, then you need to wait for all the other categories to complete in order to race again. On a warm day, waiting thirty to sixty minutes between events is not a big deal but it’s a whole different story when the temperatures are between thirty five and forty five with wind. The last thing I want to do is damage my tendon again due to not being able to stay warm before a race.
Luckily for us, Saturday turned out to be the first spectacular day of the year. The sun was out, and the temps reached into the eighties. There was a bit of wind, which picked up as the day drew to a close.
It was nice that the events were not starting until afternoon, so I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. I made my way over to the track, arriving just after twelve noon. Two track experienced friends came to race, and that provided some comfort and company.
Since I’m a first time track racer, I am a category five. At sign in, I was told the category five field had been divided up into two groups: odds and even numbers. The more experienced riders were placed in the odd numbers and the less experienced ones were placed in the even number range. I was issued number 514, an even number, which was fine by me since I don’t have any track experience except for one and a half clinics.
My first race was a three lap Scratch Race, which means first rider across the line after three laps wins the race. The race was uneventful until the bell and last lap. The guys in the group picked up the pace, and I had a hard time staying with them in the top group out of the eight in our field. I found that even though I was spinning the pedals close to 130 revolutions per minute, I could not keep up with the top three. Thus, I finished in fourth place if I recall.
An hour later, my second race was called up. This was going to be a nine laps points race. Finding that I wasn’t strong enough to contest the sprints every three laps, I figured I’d let the group duke it out for the first set of points, then I’d try to counter right away in the hopes of getting off the front and then holding them off. By now I had realized that my bike was under geared for the guys I was racing with, and having no extra gears, I had no way of changing them out before this race. Thus, I was stuck with what I had.
Again, first two laps went well, easy parade laps. Then on the bell lap for the first sprint, the group picked up the pace, and I struggled to keep contact. Coming out of turn four, getting onto the start/finish straight, the group encountered a headwind. I finished the sprint in last place but now would be the time to put my plan in motion.
What I failed to consider, was that the group slowed up drastically from sitting up after the sprint, and still heading into the head wind. Me, sheltered behind the group and having ramped up my cadence to around 130 to stay on the wheel of those in front of me, came into the back of the riders with a lot of momentum and energy.
The slowup after the sprint in turned caused the group to bunch up, another side effect I wasn’t expecting. From the finish line to exit turn one, I was now fighting the bike to try to bleed off speed and energy so I would not crash into the riders in front of me. It felt like I was fighting a bronco. In my struggles to avoid disaster, I failed to see the opening down track to my left, which was the perfect place to initiate a counter by dropping down to the sprinters lane.
Alas, at the exit of turn one, disaster stuck, and I rubbed my front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front and to my right. Within a split second I was being thrown off my bike down track. I hit my head on the track with some force, cracking my helmet. Sliding to a stop at the apron of the track, I stayed still for a few long seconds to ensure I was okay.
Thus ended my first day of track, a scraped up and bleeding leg and a broken helmet. Fortunately, I didn’t get a concussion, a big thank you to my MIPS helmet, and I didn’t break or seriously injure anything else. Yes, I’m a bit scraped up here and there, and a few bruises but all in all very fortunate. I am also happy that I didn’t take down any other rider, I would have felt terrible if that had happened.
So, what have I learned from my first day at track?
- I need to gear up. The stock 48t x 15 is no good. I hope to try a 50t x 15 this coming weekend. I would rather be in the 95-110 RPM range for the race with sprinting taking me up to 120-130 RPM.
- Get a smaller cooler to make it easier to bring food to the track. Having rollers, a chair, a duffle bag, and two bikes (a road bike to warm up and spin the rollers in an easier gear) creates much back and forth from the track to the car.
- Don’t leave your bottles with your hydration fluid at home. This prompted me to use my backup plan: my emergency water bottles in the car and my powder drink mix I had brought with me.
- Bring sunblock.
- In a Cat 5 race, don’t expect the riders to be smooth, and or push through the finish line after a sprint as directed by the officials.
- While racing, always try to keep an eye out for an opening in case things start to go wrong. On the track, the situation changes very very fast. It was less than ten seconds from when I passed the finish line and where I crashed. In that time the situation changed drastically, and very quickly.
- Don’t crash.