Thursday, September 18, 2014

LAVRA Sprint Open Powered by Momentum, 9/14/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

Gorgeous bikes, down HWY 5.
This was my second visit to Carson, near Los Angeles, to race on the intimidating 250-meter wooden velodrome at the StubHub Center. I had a blast on my previous visit, but wanted to improve on my performance there.

My friend Rich Rozzi invited me to carpool with him, so that made the decision easier, and we drove down Saturday morning. That afternoon we got to ride in their open-track training session. I rode my new Dixie Flyer BTB that I had built up just after Track States (it arrived too late for that). It handled superbly, and it allowed me to focus on my form instead of worrying about the bike.

On Sunday morning we got up at 5:30 a.m. so we could have plenty of time to eat breakfast and schlep all of our gear to the velodrome for the LAVRA races. The track opened up for warmup at 9:00 and we were soon prepping our bikes and doing some efforts on the track; I started in a low gear for warmup (49x16; 82.7"), then switched to my race gears (49x14; 94.5") and Zipp wheels.

The Velo Sports Center lobby.
At 10:00 they announced our start order for the flying 200-meter time trials, used to "seed" us for the actual sprints tournament where we usually race two-man races of three laps. Only the top-18 riders (out of about 35) would get into the tournament, so I felt some pressure to go fast, and my 200-meter time of 12.312 seconds was just enough for 17th! Rich also qualified, but had some speed wobble... something I've often had too, but not this time thanks in part to my new bike.

So the standard tournament format matched me, the second-slowest seed, against second-fastest seed Ethan Boyes (who qualified with 10.99), and Rich against the first-seed rider, Nate Koch, a candidate for the Olympic 2016 games (who qualified in 10.92 seconds).

Rich tried his best against Nate, but not too surprisingly couldn't beat him; it's very hard to overcome a speed differential of 1.5 seconds!

I didn't feel too much pressure racing against Ethan; I just wanted to do my best and learn the differences of riding on such a track; the biggest one being that we can't just roll through the steeply-banked turns without slipping down! I wanted to make Ethan earn his win too, even though I drew the second spot, giving him the 'pole' (lead) from the start. But I feel I did well, as I seized the lead from him immediately, and ramped up the speed to make passing harder. But while I still had some reserve he passed out of turn 4 just before the last lap and held me off.

Rich, Ethan and Dana (on rollers).
I was still in the competition, but only in the "repechage;" it's a sort of 'second-chance' round. I was up against Aron Seiken who had lost to a faster qualifier just as I had done. But Aron qualified with 11.86 so it wouldn't be easy for me. I drew the pole and led from the start and held him off with varied pacing and swinging. I attacked in turn 4 just before the last lap and held him on my hip (just to my right, slightly behind me), but he passed at the end, beating me by about 4 inches. Oh well. I feel that the steeper banking and the extra height of the outside rider make it easier for them to pass there than at Hellyer. I'm learning.

Lunch , complements of Ethan! 
Ethan ended up in the final rounds, and got to contest for the overall win ... against favorite Nate Koch. It was fun to watch, but while Ethan settled for second he still took home $500! And bought us lunch!

So in the end I had a blast, and was so happy with how my bike handled and my own riding that I drove home in a great mood. I'll definitely be going down there again!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Masters District Track Championships, Hellyer Park Velodrome, 8/9-10/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

This season has been all about track sprinting for me. The only priority cycling races I had were the California state Masters championship track races (NCNCA District) at Hellyer Park's banked velodrome. I wanted to improve on my results from last year's state championships, hopefully with a gold, for that elusive state champion's jersey.

Dreams are nice, but to make them real requires action. I hired Jeff Solt (a nationally-known sprinter and record-holder) as my coach, and completely restructured my training to mostly include only short rides with all-out efforts, and heavier weight lifting at the gym (Capitola Fitness, owned by our teammate Mike Bodge). It also affected the races I have entered, so I skipped many races that I would have done in the past.

During the run-up to States I had the misfortune of losing my Serenity Marvel track bike from my car's roof rack; it was totally destroyed. While I was able to get AAA insurance to compensate me, the replacement bike I ordered didn't arrive in time for States. Fortunately teammate Nils loaned me his Giant Omnium to use... now that's what I call a teammate!

Lap split times from the Elite team sprints.
Since the Elite Track States were the weekend before Masters Track States, I entered the match sprints, team sprints and keirin race for practice and fun (read descriptions of the race types here). While I did fine, it's hard to compete against guys 20 years younger than me. Still, I ended up with a bronze in team sprints, racing with Tim Montagne and David Broekma. Since there were only three teams that wasn't very awesome, and I was riding as the third guy and thus had to ride the full three laps (1 km)... not my forte! But my lap-3 time was faster than fast-guy Larry Nolan's... a nice indicator of my fitness and something that makes me think I should try the individual "kilo" too, next time.

For the Masters States I entered the match sprints, 500-meter individual time-trial, and team sprints.

Match sprints: 
This is the Olympic one-on-one race, for two laps. We first "seed" the riders with a flying-200 m time trial (see race descriptions above, or extremely detailed info here), and I could only manage a 12.3-second run; 0.21 slower than my best. My first match was against Bill Nighan, who tied my 200 m time, while defending champion Rich Rozzi (12.0 seconds) raced against slowest-seed Martin Harris (12.6 seconds). I had the "pole" position at the start (we drew lots) and my coach, Jeff, was my holder. I was able to keep Bill behind me while I watched carefully for any attacks. Bill tried to pass me a couple of times, but I was able to fend him off while keeping a gap behind me that was hopefully the right size. On the last of our two laps I was able to move him up-track a bit in turn 1 and then attack down into turn 2. I held him off in turns 3 and 4 and won. This moved me up to the final against Rich. I drew "2" so he started in the pole. I tried to get past Rich at the start, but he was alert and accelerated to keep me behind him. I rode up-track to gain the advantage of height, and made a few feints to keep him down-track so I'd have more room, but he did ride smart. Even so I caught him off-guard in turn 4 and was able to quickly drop down from the banking and pass him before turn 1. That was cool, but since we'd been going fairly fast I was worried I'd be too tired to hold him off at the finish, so I backed off a bit. Exiting turn 2 I knew I had to be careful, because that would be the perfect place for Rich to attack, and so he did; he blew by me and into the lead; darn, I must have slowed too much! I couldn't pass him again and he won. Usually we'd compete for the best two out of three matches, but this year it was just that one match so he got gold and I got silver.

Masters match sprints podium.

500 m individual time trial: 
This is one racer at a time against the clock, from a standing start as we are held up, fully clipped into the pedals. I took a few deep breaths and focused on my form. I channeled my inner Incredible Hulk and pulled off a personal best of 37.2 seconds! Cool! And something I credit to the training Jeff has prescribed. But that only gave me silver as Rich beat me by 0.4 seconds.

Team sprints: 
Masters team sprint splits.
We have the track to ourselves and only the last rider's time after three laps is counted; the other two riders merely help him get up to speed. For the Masters States my team was with Rich Rozzi as the second and Martin Harris as the third rider (funny how we're suddenly friends again!). We were the only team in the 45+ age group; even less compelling than Elites, but there was still some coolness to be had from it as we of course compared ourselves against the other age-groups' teams. I led our team for the first lap, and my lap-1 time was the second-fastest of the teams. Only the youngest team beat my #1 lap (by 0.37). So while I finally earned gold, and a California State Champion's jersey, it's not one I can brag about... except that my lap was pretty fast and one I'm proud of.

USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships are at Marymoor velodrome, just south of Seattle, starting next week. And while I did consider going I think that will have to wait until I can justify the expense. Maybe next year!

A humble Masters gold medal.

Monday, June 2, 2014

LAVRA South Bay Wheelmen TT Cup, 6/1/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

I have long wanted to ride on a steeply-banked, wooden cycling track, as used for most Olympic and World Cup track races. I was told these tracks are an amazing adrenaline rush to ride on, especially after you've circled a relatively moderate concrete track like our local Hellyer Park velodrome a few thousand times. I finally had my wish granted this weekend when my friend and competitor Rich Rozzi invited me!

45-degree banking;
it's impossible to walk on it!
Wooden cycling tracks are usually 250m ovals with banking up to 45 degrees, vs. the 335m oval with 23-degree banking at Hellyer. The nearest one is in the Los Angeles area, on the California State University, Dominguez Hills campus in Carson, and is part of a huge sporting complex called the StubHub Center; pretty impressive and very nicely appointed with vast numbers of tennis courts, soccer fields, etc. It was built as an upscale replacement for the 333m outdoor concrete track used in the 1984 Olympic Games (that was similar to Hellyer's velodrome) that had become somewhat rundown. Rich and I drove down there on Friday as did several other "Hellyerites," which added to the fun as they are a fun-loving bunch who aren't afraid of a beer the night before a race! Oh, and Rich, like most sprinters, shares a passion of mine: eating!

The indoor velodrome is called VELO Sports Center and is run by former pro and Olympian Adam Duvendeck, a really nice guy who has made big improvements to the track. The VELO Sports Center is also an Official U.S. Olympic Training Site and is the home track to USA Cycling's national track cycling program, and we got to meet several women who are candidates for our 2016 Olympic team. The infield of the VELO Sports Center velodrome is used for basketball and volleyball, but there's enough room there for a changing room and bike racks, plus a very nice weights area that's used by Olympic team candidates. They have a full electronic timing system unlike Hellyer (where we rely on handheld stopwatches). One glaring omission is a convenient restroom, as you have to take a bit of a hike to get to the nearest one.

Following Alissa for a "ribbon ride."
To ride this track you must first attend a certification class, with the option of either a four-session class for those with no track experience, or a one-session accelerated class for those with sufficient prior experience in track racing. I was able to complete a Saturday-morning accelerated class, with Andrew Mirzaoff as the instructor (with help from Allissa Maglaty, an Olympic team hopeful), and then hop on the track that afternoon for an open training session. By the end of the day I had 1:25 hours and 27 miles of experience there. That track is a blast to ride! The feel of riding along the top rail then dropping down what looks like a vertical two-story drop to the sprinter's lane takes a bit of guts... but what a rush! But the very different nature of this track also requires a very different approach to riding it.

One thing I was told is that I should maintain at least 17 mph to avoid slipping down the banking. That also affects everything from your warmup (it's best to warm up on rollers first) to race tactics (you can't do a track stand or even ride slow in the turns during match sprints, e.g.). They also recommend using soft-compound tires and wiping them down with isopropyl alcohol beforehand. Another thing to do is make sure printed-on tire labels are either removed or facing downtrack as they can be a bit slippery.

The track also requires a very different and more critical approach to riding flying 200m time trials. They have marked the optimum line for the flying-200m with small orange "X" markings on the track, as it's just too easy for people to get in trouble if they don't follow this. I didn't know about them at first and tried my usual line around the track, at max speed dropping down from the top rail out of turn 4; it was rather scary as my bike was pushed uptrack in turn 2 by the G-forces! After Rich explained the orange Xs to me I tried again; what a vast improvement! Rich has front and rear disk wheels, which is great for indoors, but I only have a rear disk wheel so would want a front disk too if I ride here regularly.

Winding up for my flying 200m.
On Sunday Rich and I were registered to race in a LAVRA Track Racing event, the South Bay Wheelmen TT Cup. We were just entered in the individual flying 200m and standing-start 500m races, but they also had other timed events and a Madison race. I was trying to learn how to ride flying 200m from watching local racers, but I must admit I still messed up badly; I spent too much energy getting up to the rail during the windup laps, then dropped down too soon into turn 1, and then stopped pushing at the home-straight's mid-point line rather than the actual finish line. Argh! My 12.972-second time was much slower than my best at Hellyer (12.09). And Rich also was disappointed with his 12.334. Yet surprisingly nobody else even broke into the 11s... something we usually see at Hellyer's races.

For the standing-start 500m races they have sweet starting stands with a pneumatic clamp connected to the timers, just like at World-class races (at Hellyer we have human holders). So we just clamp the bike in, hop on, and wait for the timer's countdown to release the bike. I managed a nice 37.802-second run, almost equal to my personal best 37.74 (hand-timed at Hellyer), while Rich ran a nice 36.809. This made me feel much better about my weekend's racing.

So I have a lot to work on if I want to do well at 250m tracks, but man, I sure had fun!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

World Championship Prep Races, Hellyer Park Velodrome, 2/16/2014

By Dennis Pedersen

Nils and I went to these low-key timed events for practice and fun. I won the standing-start 500m time trial in 38.3 seconds, Nils won the standing-start 1k time trial in 1:16.5 (known as "killers" because they are very painful!).

It's always an open question what equipment to use, and Nils swapped his bars and stem between some of the events to test his setup. I mostly used my training equipment, including my heavy "faux" disk rear wheel with a PowerTap hub (reads my power output in Watts), so I can provide data to my coach, Jeff Solt ( track sprinter extraordinaire). I used a 48x14 (also known as a 92.6-inch gear) for my flying 200m, but a lower 50x15 (90-inch gear) for my standing-starts. In retrospect, after Jeff checked my data, it seems I should be using taller gears. I may go with a 94.5-inch gear for all events next time.

Here are a few photos:

Dennis in his flying 200m time trial (12.4 seconds, 37.27 MPH, 2nd place). Notice the tongue.

Nils in his flying 200m time trial (12.5 seconds, 3rd place). The guy is super-aero!

Dennis as #2 in a team sprint (1:17.1, first place)

Nils during his 1k time trial (1:16.5, 1st place). These are aptly-named "killers" ...I don't think he's smiling!