By Dennis Pedersen
This year the NCVA has held several Sprint For A Wish Series match sprint events. I raced my first event earlier this year and had a blast. I am getting to love the mix of brute power and tactics so typical of match sprints!
Nils and I carpooled to San Jose on a gorgeous, warm afternoon with highs in the mid-80s. A nice relief from Santa Cruz's drizzly mornings. Like usual, we first signed up, then warmed up for the timed 200-meter runs they use to "seed" us into groups, by speed. Last time I used 48x14 gears (also known as 90.1 gear-inches per the gearing calculator here) for this and liked it. I later tried that gearing for some mass-start races, and decided it was a better choice than the lower 48x15 (84.4 gear-inches) for them too.
The 200m runs sound easy, just cover 200m as fast as possible, but they are actually pretty tricky, and it's hard to time our efforts just right. It seems it's best to ride high along the outer railing of the track, accelerate exiting turn 4 into turn 1, and increase to 100% power just before we hit the start of the timed section in the exit from turn 2. Then angle down the banking into the inside edge of the track at the entrance to turn 3 and just try to maintain as much of that speed as possible out of turn 4 and across the finish line. It's hard to get the timing just right, and we try to study the approach that experienced racers take. It seems like there is more than one right way.
There was a light wind, so I didn't think any of us would set any new records for our 200m times... was I wrong! Nils improved to 12.48 seconds, and I improved to 12.66 seconds (from 13.08)! Even that put us both in the "B" group this time (the "A" riders were in the low 12s, with one guy even breaking into the 11s!).
Match sprints are usually just two guys on the track, the first one to cross the finish line wins. You might think we'd just sprint from the very start of each match. But... because of the tactical nature of racing, it usually ends up with a cat-and-mouse game between the two guys as each tries to time his attack for the maximum benefit and to avoid giving the other guy the advantage of a draft to follow. Each match would be just two 335m-laps, 670m total. I switched back to my 84.4-inch gearing for these, because the lower gearing really helps me "jump" from the low speeds we start at.
My first sprint was against Stefan Eberle, who I know well from the Tuesday night track races. I decided I preferred to let him take the lead and we slowly rode off after the whistle blew. We mostly just rode along, slowly, while watching each other. That's harder for the guy in the front though, which is one reason I wanted to follow him. On the second (last) lap he occasionally swooped down the banking a bit, as if to attack, only to swoop back up. That's done to make predicting his moves harder, but I maintained my position well. With about 250m to go I jumped 100% down from turn 2's banking and opened up a big gap ahead of him, watching him carefully to ensure he didn't pass me. He did approach me, but I beat him to the finish line. It's best to not go faster than you need to, so as to conserve energy for the following matches.
Next up was Alex (Alto Velo). I started ahead of him, but by forcing the pace a bit high, riding ahead of him and then up to the rail and backpedaling, I was able to get behind him. He then tried really hard to force me to lose my position behind him. Several times we almost did "track stands" (the Hellyer rules don't allow that; these races are slow enough already!). I then jumped from turn 2 as before, and took another win.
I was then matched against Tim Lydon (San Jose Bike Club), who I remember took 3rd at the State Criterium Championships the Sunday before. He also proved to be very crafty, swooping and sometimes almost stopping in order to get me out front. But I stayed firmly behind him, until turn 2 on the last lap when he slowed abruptly and started to bump into my right side from the banking above me. I held firm even though my handlebars vibrated from the impact, then jumped 100% for my sprint. But... I barely held him off for the win. My 84.4-inch gearing is woefully low against fast finishers like him. This may all sound scary, but we both agreed it was great fun!
Next was Judd. After simply leading me along for the first lap he then accelerated to a very high constant speed that I couldn't match... my cadence was so high I couldn't possibly spin the pedals any faster! I thought I might have been able to hold his wheel if I had used taller gearing, but I'm still not sure I could have ever passed him. He's fast, and a former State Champion. Oh well, can't win them all.
My last sprint was against Nils. He thought it would be really fun while I was a bit nervous at trying to beat such a fast, young guy. I finally decided to switch to my 90.1-inch gearing as a test... am I glad I did! He led the way, swooping and slowing at times, but I maintained my place behind him. And, once again in turn 2, I was able to time my jump perfectly: Just as he swooped up and looked over his right shoulder, I jumped down to his left and opened a big gap that he couldn't close. That taller gearing is really useful!
Man, I sure had fun. I haven't seen official results yet, but I know I did well. And I learned some more about tactics and gear choices to use in match sprints. One thing I did after these matches (in addition to retiring my 15-tooth sprocket!) was to buy new carbon handlebars, because the front-end of my bike shimmied frighteningly in hard sprints. I look forward to the next sprint event, on September 10th. I hope to see you there!