I’ve been training at both the Encino velodrome and the ADT velodrome for a while now. Last year I had borrowed a bike at the Master’s Pan American Games in Cuba, qualified for the pursuit and then won a bronze. Because of that, I’ve gotten into riding the track. I’ve even done some practice races at Encino; however these races weren’t sanctioned by USA Cycling. Today would be first time registering and riding a USA Cycling track event.
Encino is an outdoor track and today was a scorcher! The track is 250 meters with 28 degree banking in the corners, a bit of a downhill on the back side and a bit of an uphill on the finish straight. I signed in and got my number; 808. Today would be an omnium of three races: a flying 200, a point’s race and a miss and out. The rider who has the greatest aggregate points or places the best in all three races wins the omnium.
A flying 200 “Encino style” is when all the riders slowly ride around the top edge of the track called the Balustrade. One at a time the riders “get the bell” which indicates they should go “like at bat out of hell,” for 200 meters. With only 200 meters, everything has to go perfect. One of the hardest things to do in track racing is to learn which gear is best for each event. Track bikes don’t have gears or brakes, so you have to choose the right gear. I had been using an 88 inch gear or even a 90 inch gear, but today I was trying a 94 inch gear. The inches are how far the bike will travel with one revolution of the crank arm. When it came my turn, I gave it all I had. I finished with a 12.79 (that’s in seconds), my fastest time ever! Only problem was, I didn’t wait for the bell so they didn’t time me. Honestly, I didn’t even care. I was so glad the gear had worked. I was learning how to be a better track racer.
The second race was a 40-lap point’s race. Every 10 laps you sprint for the first three places. At the end of the race, whoever has the most points, wins. On lap 10, I sprinted and got 2nd. On lap 20 I sprinted and got first, but the kid who got second passed me after the line and yelled “let’s go.” I was out of breath from sprinting and was reluctant because there was still a lot to go in the race, however since the kid was pulling and doing the work, I got on his wheel. We got a gap! The field wasn’t really responding. By lap 30 we were gone and I beat him again for the max points. This time he was done and couldn’t keep the pace. I was feeling good being out on my own and I was really close to lapping the pack! I hammered and hammered until finally I was on the back wheel of the pack. On the 40th lap I let them sprint it out and won by a long shot!
The miss and out is a fun race. On designated laps, the officials pull the last rider across the line. Sometimes called an “eliminator” race, you don’t want to be in the front, but you definitely don’t want to be pulled in the back. I went early for the first elimination so I wouldn’t get pulled first. Made it on the next two eliminations and now it was down to three riders. One of the riders (Sam) is much faster than I. He’s a brute. At 23 years old, about 6’3 and 220 lbs, he’s hard to beat in pure speed. He was leading it out; he didn’t want to chance losing. However, he kept looking back to see who was going to jump around him. As we went around the last corner for the sprint he looked to his left as the other racer dived under him. With his attention on him, I gunned it and was able to come around him! Now it was down to the last two Mohicans. The kid thought he could lead the old man out, but the impetuous youth ran out of steam in the last few meters as I came around him to win the race and the omnium! What a great day!
P.S. Well, almost a great day. After my races, I decided to remain and watch the Madison races. I have never seen one before. A Madison is where two or three riders trade off throwing each other to gain speed. It involves superior riding skills and impeccable timing. The last team to go was a man and a woman. The woman was Dena Eaton who in 2010 swept the Master World Track races in Portugal with five world titles. As they came around turn four for their first exchange, she lost control of the bike and crashed at about 32 miles per hour! It was horrific! She hit the pavement so hard that she bounced into the wall and then tumbled and spun around like a rag doll, sliding face down the track. She didn’t move…… Blood was pouring everywhere. The officials were told not to move her until the paramedics arrived. I later found out she broke her cheek, nose and her back! So sad…… It was a poignant reminder of how dangerous cycling is and how, in a split second, a life-altering event can happen. It totally took the wind out of my sails and I had to leave the track. I hope she recovers.