By Dennis Pedersen
Track races in the U.S. are traditionally weekday evening events for some reason, except Championships and such. Since I'm a sprinter body-type and also work in The Valley, it sort of "makes sense" for me to swing by Hellyer Park in south San Jose on Tuesday evenings and race on the banked oval track there, instead of going home and watching TV. On Tuesdays I usually train my sprint anyway, so this way I get to combine my usual sprints workout with training in the tactics of sprinting.
I have been entering the regular Tuesday night race sessions for the last three weeks and will probably continue doing that for a while longer this season. Cost of entry is $10. I've been riding their rental bikes (just $5!) but am really missing having my own track bike that fits me correctly (road bikes are not allowed). Someday.
The only requirement is that you first attend three Beginner Training Sessions with mentors which I have done over the last few years. They are also offered on Mondays at present. We self-select our race category at the track, since they aren't usually held under USA Cycling permits (again, except Championships and such) so we don't need to worry about our official race categories. I started racing in the "C" races, but after one night of cleaning up I knew I needed to move into the "B" races. The B races are actually pretty intense, like a typical criterium, so I get a fantastic workout. I do well, but by no means dominate since I'm up against a lot of very good sprinters (for some reason climbers don't show up often).
The races have lots of breakaways, attacks, and sprints. And because we get so many races in we can really fine-tune our tactical sense which helps in other racing, even road-racing. The B and C racers usually do a 25-lap "Scratch" race first, which is just like a regular criterium, but on the track (each lap is 1/3 kilometer). That is followed by a 40-lap "Points" race in which we sprint periodically (usually every 5 laps) for points. The winner is the one with most points at the end, not the first guy over the finish line necessarily. They sometimes shorten the race lengths or combine categories if turnout is low. The "A" races are longer.
Surprisingly, perhaps, even a fast track session isn't the same workout as my previous sprints workouts. It is said that "cycling is an aerobic sport, dammit" and so it is, even on the track. We usually push the pace to force a selection so we end up sprinting while we're already nearly hypoxic, with tunnel vision, burning legs and all. When I do sprints on my own I do each sprint separated by 5 minutes of easy riding so I'm fresh enough to do them all at maximum power. Hence my sprinting power on the track is a lot lower, but for a longer duration; more like our team's Wednesday 5-minute "L5" intervals at UCSC, plus some higher "L6" efforts... and a lot of "intermissions" where we try to catch our breath!
The Hellyer Park Velodrome sessions are mostly all put on by The Northern California Velodrome Association. They have a busy schedule, including Beginner Training Sessions with mentors (Saturdays and Monday evenings), various Intermediate/Advanced Open Training sessions, the weekday races and more. Check their calendar.
A very good document to read, if you're curious about track cycling, is available online:
TRACK CYCLING – AN INTRODUCTION. What a roadie needs to know to start racing on the velodrome. Dan Currell.
I hope some of you will join me there!