It has been a long time since my last track event. When my COVID vaccine appointment was scheduled for late March with the follow up in early April, Jim Lyman proposed that we hit up the Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill South Carolina which is hosting USAC track events starting at the end of April. By the first race, this past weekend, the vaccine would be fully baked in, so I figured it was time to get out of town for a few days.
After some back and forth, we finally had four travelers: Amy, my amazing girlfriend, Jim Lyman, and Lucas Koehler. In the end it worked out that we would all pile into my BRSV (Bicycle Racing Support Vehicle) aka the minivan and make the drive all together.
Also for this year I picked up a new track bike. For quite some time I had been toying with the idea of a new bike for this season, and after Amy reached out to Jason of Affinity Cycles, Jason sold us brand new Affinity Kissena frames in Film Grain and he also helped us build them up and get our fit dialed in. The bicycle pickup happened just in time for the trip, but due to “political” reasons Amy and I did not get a good chance to test the new bikes out at our Kissena Velodrome before departing for South Carolina.
Thursday, April 22, Day 1
Amy stayed over at my place on Wednesday night so we could get an easier start in the morning. I loaded the van on Wednesday night with most of our stuff needed for the trip. On Thursday morning, all I had to do was to load up the food and baggage inside, and our two new bikes on the roof. We managed to get out by seven fifteen in the morning and worked our way over to Jim’s in Queens place to pick him up. The morning was windy and cold, more so than I had anticipated. Once Jim was loaded up, we shot over to The Bronx in order to make our final pickup: Lucas.
Leaving The Bronx, we took I95 all the way down past Philadelphia, Baltimore, through Washington DC, then over towards Charlotte and down to Rock Hill. Of course we made stops for fuel but we ate lunch on the run. For dinner we made a stop about an hour out from our Airbnb.
We arrived at our lodging around nine thirty in the evening. I drove the entire way but it really was not bad since it was a lot of fun to have the car full of good company, which yielded some interesting topics for some great conversation. As soon as we got there, unloading our bikes and our bags was the first priority, but we all got settled and passed out pretty quickly. It had been a long day on the road, and rest was crucial in order to be functional for our program the next day.
Friday, April 23, Day 2
I woke up on Friday sometime after nine because I needed my beauty sleep. The rest of the folks were up, so after breakfast, I prepped Amy’s bike, then I setup my own bicycle with the disc rear wheel and the tri-spoke front wheel. I settled on a 49×14 gearing, clocking in at a 94.50 gear inch. Lucas needed to stay at the house to get some work done, so Jim, Amy and I loaded up the van with our bikes and gear and we set off to the track arriving around eleven.
We looked down at the track (since it is below grade,) and Amy and I were awestruck by the sheer steepness of the bankings of the turns. The banks are rated at about 42.5 degrees. Leading up to this, the steepest I have raced has been T-Town, but this made T-Town look flat.
After meeting Ivan, and checking out the facilities, we got our numbers and the okay to go ride the track. Lucky for us, there was only another couple on the track doing some TT training which gave us the space to become comfortable with the facility. Jim gave us some more pointers, and within a short amount of time we were riding off the apron in the sprinters lane. After building up our confidence, we moved up to the blue stayers line. I threw in some high speed laps to see how it would feel at race pace. Clocking in over nine miles on the track we called it a morning, not wanting to over do it since we would be racing in the evening.
Back at the house we ate lunch and got some rest before show time, we wanted to be back at the track between five and five thirty to get ourselves setup and ready to go. I would be lying if I said that my anxiety was increasing by the minute. This was going to be my first race in more than a year and to add to that, it would be the first on the steepest track I had yet ridden.
Due to low registration numbers it was decided that my field, the Masters 45+, would be folded in with the Juniors, and the Men 3/4. These two other fields were dominated by some college and high school folks that were very fast. It would put an interesting spin on our race.
Amy and I were getting more and more nervous as race time quickly approached. I think that I was also nervous for Amy, and that added a bit to my level of anxiety. As much as I was excited to be racing together (separate fields) I was also very concerned about her. Amy’s field was quite anemic numbing at four total racers. The added benefit is that it would hopefully spare her the stress of close contact racing.
Finally, the Race Director and Chief Referee called us up for the usual pre-race riders meeting to go over the events planned for the evening. It was finally show time ten minutes following the conclusion of the meeting.
The first race of the night was a twelve lap scratch race: first rider across the line wins.
I lined up on the rail and as soon as they let us roll off, we bunched up in turn one and two. The start whistle signified the race was on. Immediately I detected a nervousness in the pack, or maybe it was just me. Some riders where jockeying for position, and I felt very uncomfortable with movements in turn three and four, but I tried to stay out of trouble, backing off and being a bit complacent. I preferred to be safe than sorry. The goal was to survive.
Early on the pace was not super fast but quick enough. When I ended up on the front I would try to get off as soon as it was permissible in order to conserve energy. With about four laps to go, the young folks lit things up. I tried to follow and for a while I was on Jim’s wheel. Once the front group made their last acceleration, Jim got blown off their wheel, since he forgot to gear down before this race. I jumped past him, but in the closing laps, I was easily dispatched by Chris Knetsche, a Masters national champion who took the win for the Masters. I finished the race in second place and Jim bagged third.
As I came in to the infield, Amy was heading up to the rail to get her race going. Unfortunately, she was on a gear that was too light for her and the front ladies broke away from her leaving her by her self for most of the race. I felt bad but was relieved that she did not have to contend with squirrelly racing.
After the Pro/1/2/3 field where Lucas finished sixth, it was time to line up at the rail again for a ten lap snowball.
I was feeling a bit more confident, but with points on offer each lap, things got lit up as soon as the whistle blew. I do not remember what went down in the race, but Jim was a bit upset we did not get to keep the pace high through out the race to string things out. Chris managed to collect eleven points, and I somehow got nine points to Jim’s seven, putting me in second place again. It was discouraging to get spanked by the young college folks, but I was glad we were being scored separately.
In Amy’s second race, she once again had an off the back race, while Lucas finished sixth in the elimination race which was in place of the Snowball for the Pro/1/2/3.
Time for the final race, a forty lap points race with points every ten laps. I worked out with Jim a strategy to get on the front of the Masters and just rotate to keep the pace high, maybe give us a chance to catch the young folks, and also to keep the other Masters from bunching up and causing issues. The sun was now gone, the air was cooling, and I was eager to get the race over with. For another first this would be my first race under the lights.
Rolling off the rail, I got on Jim’s wheel, this way I would be ready to go when the 3/4 folks would kick things into high gear. Before the start whistle, while transitioning from turn one to turn two and riding the stayers line, Jim slowed up a tad because he did not want to be on the front, and in the process righted himself up more than he should have. Consequently, he struck his pedal on the track, sending him to the deck. At first I crapped my pants. Then I realized I would miss him. Then, on his way down, Jim nudged my front wheel, causing me to hit the deck, and slide down the track to the apron. In the end three of us where involved. Jim felt terrible about his rookie mistake (although he has plenty of 250 meter experience,) and even offered to pay for the rolled tubular for the other rider. Besides some skin, the damage to the three of us was minimal.
The officials gave us some time to put ourselves together, and soon enough we were back up at the rail to restart our race. A few laps before the first points, the young folks turned up the heat. I jumped and tried to go with them. I could not match their surge but Chris Knetsche slingshotted around me. Which means Chris got the full eleven points, and I got nine, to Jim’s seven.
Due to my effort, I was now stuck in no-mans-land. Luckily for me, Jim bridged up and we started to take full lap pulls, and after a few laps, we switched up to half lap pulls. We started to set a blistering pace. Drool quickly started cascading out of my mouth as I pushed hard to keep the pace high. At some point Chris dropped back to our group and due to his superior strength, he hovered just behind us never taking a pull. Anytime points were on the table, he would get ahead of us, and collect the full points. Any time Jim tried to force Chris to get into the rotation and do some work he managed to weaseled his way out.
No matter, I was happy putting down a strong effort with Jim. With less than a few laps to go, Jim stopped taking pulls. It was obvious he was setting up for the finish. My mind was quite spent at this point and I was struggling to come up with a strategy to try to finish ahed of Jim. I figured I had no chance of outsprirting Chris, but I was hoping to beat Jim to the line.
In the end I cracked in the last lap and I let Jim and Chris pull away. After an exhausting race, finishing the forty laps in under fifteen minutes, I was able to roll off the track and get off the bike in third place. I felt accomplished that I put in a good evening of racing, and in the overall, I placed second to Chris Knetsche, and Jim Lyman placed third. I was also stoked to find out that we shattered the Masters field.
Amy had a twenty lap points race with points every five laps. She got lapped and in the end was feeling mortified at loosing track of the laps and possibly doing an extra or two. I felt really bad, instead of shoving my lungs back inside after my race, I should have spotted her from the infield. But I am so proud of her that she got out there and mixed it up on the track.
Lucas finished fifth in the points race, ending the evening in fourth in the standings. This race, even though a bit low on participants, allowed me to get a better gauge of my fitness. There is nothing like a race where I can push myself towards my max. In training I can never quite achieve the intensity of a race. Also, the young folks in our race definitely helped push me, even more so then if it had only been masters. Either way, snagging a podium felt good.
Things to improve:
- Keeping track of riders off the back and or just gone from the race. I kept pushing the pace in the points race, thinking that the rest of the group was going to catch us at any second. Had I known they were off the track, I might have tried to be more cunning in the final laps.
- Work on some tactics to try to force riders like Chris to do more work, and not allow them to sit back and rely on their short bursts of power to overcome all of our hard work.
- At this point in the season the 49×14 gear served me well. Anything bigger and I would not have lasted. Lighter and I would not have been able to keep up.
Saturday, April 24, Day 3
The evening of the race, after we packed up the car at the track, we struggled to find a place to eat that was open past eight. After a few misses we landed in a decent burger joint. I guess we are used to New York, where finding food at all hours of the day and night is not that hard.
Lucas, Jim, and I had registered for the Individual Pursuit (IP) and Individual Time Trials (ITT) events on Saturday morning. Unfortunately the weather was threatening us with rain, and the call was going to come in the morning. After passing out after midnight, and waking up at six to check on the situation, we collectively decided to head back home. The rain was moving up from the south, and by race time the area would be wet.
Luckily, we managed to avoid the rain by out driving the weather as we headed back up north through Virginia, hitting Pensilvania before turning east towards New York. The event refunded our Saturday registration fees which was very nice of them. I drove the first two or so hours to the first fuel stop, where we also got some snack items. I gave the keys over to Lucas who happily drove the rest of the way to The Bronx. After dropping Lucas off, I drove back to Queens to deposit Jim at his house, and then back out to the island where Amy and I grabbed dinner at a Diner before collapsing.
It had been a long weekend, and Amy and I were glad to have Sunday to recover before returning to the weekly work grind. Despite my slide down turn two, I am happy how the racing and track time turned out for me. But most importantly this was the first trip with Amy, and I must say that I had an awesome time with her. So much so that I can not wait for future trips together. She is truly my missing piece, and I am so lucky that we are in each others lives.