I barely knew what a "match sprint" was when I signed up for this afternoon of track racing. But I vaguely recall watching match sprints on the wooden, indoor velodrome they built for the '76 Olympics in Montreal (I guess that dates me)... I thought it looked bizarre then and I still do! Here's a brief description from the NCVA FAQ:
A short event with 2 to 4 riders competing at a time in a tournament format. The final 200m of each race is sometimes timed, however, the racers are competing against each other, not the clock. Each race is either 2 or 3 laps long. It's in the Match Sprint that you may witness a "trackstand," wherein a rider will bring his/her bike to a complete stop and remain upright, balancing precariously. The reason for this peculiar behavior is that the rider in front is trying to control the race and wants to force the rider in the rear to come around, so that they can "draft" off of the front rider, following their rear wheel very closely, to decrease wind resistance and therefore conserve energy. By following in the slipstream of the other rider, a rider can not only keep a watchful eye on their opponent, but can also save enough energy to put on an extra burst of speed at the finish. When the tournament has whittled the field down to just 2 riders, the final contest is often best 2 out of 3. A Match Sprint tournament may also contain a second change bracket for riders who have lost their heats. This second chance bracket is called a "repechage". Before a tournament begins riders are often asked to do a timed flying 200m test. This is used to seed the tournament, but does not directly affect the race results.
Ergo, I had a rough idea what to expect. Our match sprints are 3 laps (1km total) at Hellyer.
Vlada and I carpooled to Hellyer Park in San Jose on a gorgeous, cool day. I had just installed a new 14-tooth sprocket on my rear track wheel that morning. My wheel has threads for a sprocket (cog) on both sides so now I can just flip the wheel to chose between my 14t and 15t depending on the type of race.
We started by "seeding" all the riders into three groups, within which we'd each pair off against one other rider in a "round robin" elimination. Our seeding was based on our flying-200m "sprint" times. My friends Rob and Chris recommended the 14t for the 200m sprints so I flipped the wheel to use the 14t with my 48t chain-ring. Then we all went out one at a time to set a nice, fast time in the 200m.
But I had my doubts about whether I wanted to be fast in my 200m sprint, since then I'd be matched against some impossibly fast, experienced "trackies." So... there may have been some sandbagging, though I also wanted to set a respectable time for my own reference. They aren't really sprints, because you actually take 2.3 laps to get up to speed, then just get timed for the last 200m. Ideally you hit the 200m-to-go line at 100% top speed and try to hold that as long as possible to the finish line. I was almost the last to sprint, and set a nice 13.11-second flying 200m time. But, as luck would have it, that time made me one of the slower guys in the fastest "A" group. Darn. Slow fast-guy vs. fast fast-guys. Vlada was a tad slower and was seeded with the "B" group.
My first match sprint was against a young rider, Ryan Gadow (SJBC), who I have seen out there in the "A" races before and knew to be fast... in case his 11.7-second 200m seeding time, aero helmet with full-face visor, disc wheels etc. didn't alert me! He won the coin-toss and chose to lead. We started off nice and slow. He kept pressing me against the upper "rail" edge, while I nudged him a bit with my left elbow to let him know I wasn't too nervous. But I had a lot to learn; after 2 laps of this he jumped at 100% down turn 1's banking and set a ferocious pace through turns 2, 3 and 4 with me trying to match him... not a chance! His initial gap was way too big for me to close. It was funny, and I learned a lot. I was ready for the next round... after switching back to my 15t cog since I felt the 14t was too sluggish from a slow speed.
Wouldn't you know, my second match sprint was against Mark Rodamaker, with his World Champion's striped jersey. He won the coin toss and chose to follow me; I thought that was nice of him and it would allow me to see how that works in comparison with leading. Well, I was schooled again! Mark followed me cautiously, and I kept him just even with my rear wheel so he couldn't jump around me from behind, on the left side (smart, eh?). Well, I suspect he's seen that before and had a trick: As we finished lap 2 he started pushing around my right but I held him steady just behind me by pushing a bit harder to match his pace. Then... he launched his attack by first backpedaling so hard he dropped behind me and then jumped 100% down turn 1. I was again forced to chase, but unlike with Ryan I was able to catch Mark and set myself up to draft him. Just as I started to move down the bank to his rear wheel he slowed down a tad, keeping me outside to his right. I had to either sprint hard for the last half lap, taking the longer route around him in the wind, or slow down even more to get behind him. Well, I didn't recognize the problem for me in time and he kept adjusting his pace to hold me in that poor position for the rest of the sprint, which he won by a bike length or two. Oh well, another schooling I can learn from.
After that I was paired against Jacob, who had a similar 200m time to mine. I won the coin-toss and followed him. I was determined to apply some of the lessons I'd learned, and I did, beating him rather comfortably without the need to overdo it. I basically did what Mark had done, but without the need for the subtleties since Jacob wasn't as vigilant and jumping around him from behind turned out to be easy. Out of turn 4 I was able to just hold him steady behind my right elbow without hurting myself. That was fun!
Next up was Andreas Vogel, in his California State Champion's skinsuit. He led me out and did a sort of swooping left-right ahead of me, on the "stayer's line," to keep me from jumping. But I think it ended up just being his super-strong jump that allowed him to win by a bike length. Oh well, I don't feel too bad about losing to guys like him.
The last sprint, just for fun since the official racing was done, was against Jim Purcell. He was actually from the slower-seeded "B" group. He won the coin-toss and chose to follow me. I decided to try Ryan's tactic against him, on the premise that Jim was less experienced, as I had been earlier that day (now that I'm a seasoned veteran... kidding!). Worked like a charm! It's really nice when lessons can be learned and applied in such a short time!
So I have no idea where we ended up in the results, and it really doesn't matter. I had a blast and learned a lot and I think Vlada did too. Looking forward to the next tournament!