It is truly a fairy tale and a dream that comes true. Velodiva won the women’s 2K pursuit ages 55 – 59 in the United States Masters National Track Championships. It is an amazing accomplishment by a great athlete. Everyone in our racing club, bike shop, training partners and coaches are so proud of her. And me her bike slave, now called a Soigneur, could not be happier for her. And I get to hang out with the National Champ all the time.
What are the benefits? Besides the prestige of winning the race and being national champion, she wears the national championship jerseys in races for one year. New team kit jerseys will be adorned with red white and blue stripes on the collars and sleeves for life. She has free lifetime membership in our racing club.
On the podium
Every year USA Cycling holds National races to determine the best road and track bike racers in the country by age group. This year the US Masters (over 30 years old) National Track Championships were held at Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose, California. For one week, the best track racers fly in from all over the US to compete in several events to determine the best. The US Nationals fall under UCI rules and UCI Commissionaires are present to administer the event.
How in the world did we get ourselves into this?
It started with the Beat the Clock "Day at the Track" event on August 16. We had such a blast riding TT road bikes on the track, with Velodiva finishing first in the road bike category for the events she did (2K, 3K and 4K pursuits). We looked at some track pursuit times for both the district and national races and realized that she was competitive with the current and past winners. Since the race was local, it was an easy decision to enter. The tougher challenge was to find track bikes, practice on the track with real track bikes, train for National Championships and be race ready in 11 days.
It was my job to make it happen. I informed the coaches we planned to race in the track nationals and we needed a training plan and equipment. Buying equipment was not a practical option. The great thing about the racing community and the racers who participate is the camaraderie and shared goals that motivate us to compete. Within 24 hours, we had two riders who loaned us track bikes in our size so that we could begin training immediately. The next weekend before the race, we were at the Velodrome to take a beginner clinic. Riding on the track was no big deal. We tweaked our training and planned to go to the track on the weekend before the race commenced with our coach for a practice session to check gearing.
We chose two events – the 500 meter time trial and the 2K pursuit. Both events are raced on the track in heats with one rider starting at opposite ends of the track and chasing each other. In essence, you ride on the track by yourself. The 500 meters is a full out sprint from a standing start. We used a 51/15 gear. The technical aspect is the ability to accelerate from a standing start and immediately negotiate the curve while standing and sprinting after the first curve. Then you drop to the aerobars and keep accelerating. The 2K pursuit is a sprint to start and then settle in at an all out maximum effort for 3 minutes.
A kind and generous friend from Five Rings (who also participated in the BTC event) loaned Velodiva his Cervelo P3C track bike – with a few adjustments it was a pretty good fit. Hermes had a Felt track bike. Track bikes are fixed gear with no brakes or free wheel. Everything about them is beefy versus a road bike. For example, the wheels are bolted on with real nuts and you use a wrench to tighten the nuts. No quick release skewers. The wheels are 32 spoke, disks or carbon tri or quad spokes. The lateral acceleration in the turns at full power at 40 mph or more requires more mechanical strength. The bikes are still light since there is no rear cluster, brakes, shifters, or multiple chain rings.
Velodiva's Track Bike
Every bike had to go through UCI inspection. They had their UCI jig setup and a scale at the home and back stretch with a commissionaire checking bikes. I heard this was the first time that they did this at the track nationals. Well, there was some chaos as racers found their bikes to be too light or seat setback / aerobar setup out of spec. I saw a couple of guys tape allen wrenches to their top tube to meet the weight requirements. In reality, the inspector could have not accepted that solution because you cannot add weight that can be removed while riding.
Hermes going through UCI inspection
Velodiva’s events her narative:
My goal for the 2K was sub-three minutes, so I was happy with my 2:59.65. I used a 51 x 15 which felt right but it is clear by my splits that I need to really work on the start. First lap was 35:04, with subsequent lap times of 27:53, 28.66, 29.53, 29.34 and 29.32. My pursuit person faded after 3 laps and I easily passed her on the 5th lap. Next year (assuming I do this again!) I will have faster competition as Jane Rinard, the 50-54 2K pursuit winner, "ages up" to my category. Jane turned in a time of 2:46.
I also did the 500 m the day before for practice and placed 4th (out of 5) with a dismal time of 50:13. (My 500 meter split in the 2K was 49:02 – a bit better). The winner was Allyson Vought with a time of 44.08. That said, it was a "PR" given that I never did or practiced a 500 m before – and I did get a medal and a place on the podium. Doing that event was also a good way to get my nervousness under control, and I was able to put those disappointing results out of my mind for the next day's 2K.
Velodiva in action
My goal for the 500 meters and 2K pursuit was to beat someone. Hopefully, it would a man in my age group. The 55 –59 age group is one of the toughest and is populated by former National Champions and State Champions and generally very experienced track racers. I was pleased with my 500 meter result. - 46.12 seconds beating another racer by 1.56 seconds. This was great experience and the first 500 meter track race of my life was age 59 in the US Nationals and I beat one guy. Life is good.
In the 2K pursuit, the goal and situation was the same. However, now I am an experienced track racer. I line up on the home stretch with my competition on the back stretch. As the 5 beeps count down, on the long tone, I am off. Immediately, there is a double gun shot signaling a false start. The announcer says it would be great if the riders do a U turn on the track to speed things up. A U turn on the track. Hey, I just learned how to get on and off of this bike 7 days ago. I am going around. I did not see how a U turn was possible and even if it was, not by me. I came around and got back into position. This time, we had good start. My tactical plan was simple. Accelerate up to speed like I did in the 500 meters and then settle in for the first lap. On lap 2, I eased off every so slightly. On lap 3,4,5, and 6, I stepped on the gas increased speed each time. Laps 5 and 6, I was still accelerating and bleeding from the eyeballs. When I heard the bell on the final lap, I gave it everything I had. My time was 3:03.34. I beat my man by 2.74 seconds. Also, beat another guy by 3.31 seconds. I am really happy with my result for my first two track races. It was a great experience and shows it is never too late to try something new.
Hermes in action
What's next? The Worlds in Sydney next year. I mean how can you top winning the Nationals as your first race?