It has been a long two weeks, or at least that is how it came across to me, but finally back at T-Town. A bunch of my buddies could not make it out so I gave John Hale and his Girlfriend a ride out there. This would be John’s first experience at a different venue, and a slightly smaller track with bigger banking, and smoother surface.
After dropping out of bed at three in the morning, I was promptly on the road by four. With fewer pickups, we managed to get to the velodrome a few minutes past seven. This was nice because it gave us ample time to unpack and get our gear to the track through the tunnel. They close the tunnel at eight to open the track up for warmup, which forces us to use the overpass to get to the track. With equipment, it can be a bit more troublesome.
After we placed our gear under the big tent, we headed back to registration to get all squared away. John and I were able to get on track for a nice warmup, which I followed up with spinning lightly on the trainer.
I registered for the Masters Men 45+ field, but again, due to low numbers we were combined with the Masters Men 35+. Our field was comprised of the following folks: Johnathan Chambers (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe), Elspeth Huyett (IAMICANIWILLIDO), Adrian Monza (ABRT), Andrew Brennan (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe), Terrence Chioffi [TC] (CRCA/42x21ATQ), Ted Michaels (Total Civil Construction p/b Battley Harley-Davidson), and myself.
One must not be fooled as many of these racers pack a lot of experience and are of a higher category than myself. The result is that I usually get my ass handed to me, but racing in this field has it’s advantages too. Racing with these folks tends to wield cleaner, possibly a bit faster, and better tactical races, and therefore it is a good place for me to work on my racing knowledge.
4Km Scratch Race (12 Laps): The race started off a bit tame for the opening laps but once we were a few laps in, TC tested the waters with a mild attack. We all responded well and we did not let him get away. After this move fizzled the group ended up track by the rail again. On the back stretch with three laps to go, I kept trying to anticipate TC’s next move, which I knew was coming. He was quite sneaky and did attack at some point in turn 3 off the high bank. Andrew, and Johnathan responded and I hopped on. We might have had one of the other riders with us, but the last two laps was a drag race around the oval. TC managed to finish first with Andrew and Johnathan ahead and I claimed fourth place.
5Km (15 Lap) Snowball Points Race: There was a crash in the Junior race which delayed the program for a good ten minutes. Once the track was cleared up, and things were rolling again, our field set off for the Snowball. This is a race where on each lap, the first rider across the finish line collects points, starting with one point on the first lap and increasing by one point on subsequent laps. On the final lap, the second and third place finishers also score two and one respectively. Elspeth attacked for the first point and I believe she got it. Right away the field was strung out, and I did not feel I had what I needed to challenge.
After the first lap, TC took over and got a sizable gap on the field. It did not feel like the field wanted to chase him down. For sure I was not going to do the work alone, so in the end, we all took half lap pulls in order to manage the gap. Nearing the end, no one wanted to pull as we were setting up for a sprint finish in order to try to claim the last points for second and third place. Just before our bell lap, high up in turn 4, a lot of cat and mouse games were playing out.
I was trying to maneuver myself to be in a good spot to possibly launch, but the situation changed very quickly and suddenly I was in a really bad place. Johnathan was to my right up high and he was starting to ramp up and come down. In the process his bike came very close to my front wheel, and him being ahead of me I knew he was not quite aware of my precarious position. Below me was Elspeth so I had no where to go. I slowed my self up as fast and hard as I could and by some miracle Johnathan’s rear wheel did not contact my front. Elthepth said she thought we both were goners and congratulated me on the save after the race.
Unfortunately, I lost contact with the pack and no matter how hard I chased them down on the back stretch, I only managed to finish fifth or sixth in the finishing order. As of this writing, results are still not available in order to ascertain where we actually finished based on the points collected by the other racers. As disappointed as I was, I was happy that I kept it together and did not need a trip to the hospital on a stretcher.
5Km (15 Laps) Win-And-Out: Bell at 7, 4, 1 to go: A Win-And-Out is a race where the field will sprint at the first bell, in our case with seven laps to go, and the winner of the sprint can then pull out of the race as the winner of the race. A few laps later, with four to go, the bell is rung again, and the winner of this sprint may pull out as the second place finisher, and then the field will get a bell with one lap to go for the sprint for third place and the also the rest of the finish order.
Mentally I had a bit of a plan going into this race. We were going to race eight laps before the first bell, and there would be no way for me to attack this from the gun. I also knew with ninety percent certainty that TC would be the likely winner. The other issue is that once committed to the sprint, if it is not worn, then screwed you will be, because the tank will probably be emptied during the attempt.
At the start of the race the group did not want to do much work, so we all rode high up the track for a bunch of laps lollygagging around. At some point things started to pick up, but with one lap to go to the first bell, TC attacked and he took Andrew and Johnathan with him. I got on the wheel of one of the other riders and this individual towed me back up to Johnathan and Andrew, who had failed to beat TC to the line, and were now pulling up track quite gassed from their efforts. The rest of us joined the two of them up at the top of the track and the field was now back together.
We had two laps to sort ourselves out before the bell for the second place sprint, and at this point, the pack was quite soft and as a result we stayed up high. Coming out of turn four at the end of lap 11, the bell starting to ring for the second sprint. I sensed hesitation in the pack and in a split second decision, I decided to take advantage and just empty myself, putting all my eggs in one basket. Aided by gravity I launched down the incline towards the sprinters lane in the hope to get a gap on the field. I passed the start finish pounding on my pedals trying to settle in for a lap at full gas.
In my head, I kept telling myself to just spin my legs as fast as I could. My vision was focused on the bit of track ahead of my front wheel. I was trying to be as aero as possible. In that state, I had no idea what was going on around me. My mind was playing tricks on me. I kept thinking the field was on my wheel and they were about to blow by at any time but I did not dare look back. Approaching turn three my body wanted me to just stop. I willed myself to pull faster with my hamstrings in order to keep my cadence up as fast as I could.
Coming out of turn four I poured out all that was left in me turning myself inside out to get to that finish line. After an eternity, I crossed the line with no other wheel with me. I glanced back half cross eyed and I saw that a rider had tried to bridge but was probably about forty meters behind me. Entering turn two, I heard over the PA: “Rider 421, Andrew Johnson, second place and may retire from the race.” I was so ecstatic, I looked over my shoulder and pulled all the way up to the boards, letting the rest of the field pass below me before heading down to the apron of the track and back to the pit.
It was such a great feeling to take that sprint. I knew I had to go long since some of the folks in the field are fast over short distances knowing that my only chance was to stretch out the sprint. I was completely surprised that I was able to drop the main field on that lap.
I skipped the Feature race since they combined the two features with all riders, including the novice category. Additionally, by then, my legs were completely gone, and I did not want to go back out there.
After a long drive home through New York City traffic, I finally got home around five in the evening. A long day but a good day at the track. I feel my confidence is growing along with my form. Johnathan Chambers praised my improvement over the past weeks. I still have ways to go, but racing is fun…