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!

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