Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kissena Track Racing blog has got photos of every night of racing. Awesome. Here's one of me winning the sprint for 2nd in the miss and out this week.


I have a track racing pet peeve: people talking about what they can't do. As in, oh, it's barely worth trying in that 5 lap scratch - it's pretty much going to be a 4 lap leadout for the sprinters.

It's definitely true that some races just favor some racers, and for folks like us who stock up the ranks of mediocrity at the velodrome, well, it's damn hard to beat folks who are racing in races geared precisely toward their strengths.

But what's even harder is finding the motivation to do so if you think it's not even worth the effort.

Ceya taught me to race my race - back when I did one of the first things I was proud of, breaking away in a points race to score a few uncontested. He said, "Don't look back. Don't worry about them. Keep your eyes forward and race your race." I like to apply this widely around the track. Don't take yourself out of contention by waiting for the pack to swallow you, or by telling yourself what you can't do.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I've got a Modolo Especial and I ate a big plate full of beans, salsa, yogurt, avocado, and pepperjack cheese. So satisfying after a night of racing.

It was my second night in the 4s. Last week went well, but it was a small 4 field, combined with the 5s - the threat of rain kept everybody away, and in fact sent us all away after only two races per field. Tonight - warm but not hot, a mix of sun and clouds - brought out a lot of people.

First up was a win and out. I have mixed feelings about this race. It's in the "-and out" bucket of "races I like," but it's a hard race (what isn't?) and you've got to be smart (when don't you?). Fortunately, I did race smart - after bridging up to the leaders who were blown from the first sprint, I put myself third wheel with a lap and a half to go for second place. A bike moved up the field uptrack of me - what's-his-name - and I moved over to get on his wheel. Perfect. In turn 4 he dove and attacked and I was right with him. I had plenty left to come around him before turn 3, and opened up some room - or did I? The shadows were in my favor - I could tell someone was trying to come around me. 50 meters, then 20, then the line - and I had him by half a wheel!

John Campo, the track director/cheerleader and former Olympian, had a huge smile, high five, and hug for me after the race. "That was awesome!" Wonderful to get such enthusiastic praise for a guy who's done so much for local cycling.

Unfortunately the other two races were a bit of a bust - a 5 lap scratch that was basically a mile long leadout for the sprinters. Epidemic in the 4s and 5s are fast guys who will just pull attacks back to the pack rather than bridge and work together to hold a lead. It makes me very much interested in having a team that will work together, including blocking or sweeping those dead weights off an attempt to really get the race moving!

Last up was a snowball. I moved strong to take the 5point lap, but was edged at the line by the guy I had beaten for 2nd in the win and out. I tried to grab his wheel to recover for the next lap, but got sudden chills and a strange, cooked sensation. I sat up and the race was over for me: disappointing.

However, that 2nd place finish was enough to earn me a spot in the A feature - just barely. I had been talking about wanting to race longer scratch races than the 5-8 lap races that are standard in the lineup, but I groaned when I saw that the A feature was a 20 lap scratch race. "Damn my tongue!" But I was excited to roll with the big boys. I shot off the front a few laps in and held a gap working with somebody else, but the pack only humored us for so long before hauling us back in. I spent a little time in the back, a little time in the front, and bridged up to another short-lived gap - it was a fun race. It was faster than other races I've been in - higher sustained speeds, which get everybody rolling fast together rather than just shattering the field cause some sprinter is sprinting for points or a win or something. Fun stuff.

A Feature, I'll be seeing you again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

From the NYTimes, "An Olympic Cyclist's Levelheaded Advice". A reporter speaks with Christian Vande Velde about the basics of training to race.

Unfortunately, the writer didn't seem to know whether or not she was writing for a lay audience, so the article comes off sounding really lacking in direction. Explain the basics or pick apart the particulars? Depends on who you're right for, doesn't it?

Quite regrettably the article starts out by talking about spending money, which I think is bullshit. Yes, you need a race-worthy bike to race (and it's good that they mention that the difference between spending $600 and $1500 is much, much, much more than the difference between spending $1500 and $8000), but the article is really about training, and in order to train all you really need to be able to do is get comfortable on a working bicycle.

If I were writing the article, I'd have written something like this: "If you're a road cyclist looking to get into racing, no need to buy another bicycle. Instead, spend money on a few things that will keep you on the bike longer and let you put in good training time. A professional fitting can run a couple hundred bikes, but can get you set up in the perfect intersection between comfort and performance. Saddle comfort is a very personal area; try buying several, from cheap ones to more expensive ones, to see what works for you. And make sure you're comfortable in your shoes. Setting up your contact points on the bike - the bike fit, saddle, handlebars, and shoes/pedals - will ensure that you won't experience pain or discomfort that would block you from training to achieve new personal highs. These, much more so than buying a new titanium/carbon/whatever-material-is-in-vogue-right-now racing bicycle with the latest gimmickry (11-speed? Really, Campagnolo?) will get you competitive - which, after all, is about your strength - not the bike."

It could also have benefited from a section like, "For those who don't care to spend a cool grand on a power meter, there are other ways to train. A basic $15 cyclecomputer can guage your speed, distance, and ride time. Ride the same training route and see if you get faster during key splits. Train for sprints by keeping an eye on your maximum speed, and also by improving your leg speed - in certain mid-range gears, aim for target speeds that have you spinning at 150+ rpms (32mph at 42-16, for example). Try to climb the big hill on your ride (yes, it should be much, much bigger than the lump in Central Park) in ten fewer seconds next week. A minute less by next month."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yesterday evening, I pinned a new number on my jersey while hoping that the predicted rain would stay away. We rode out in a shower - one of those short, bright, heavy summer rains - but the streets were dry by the time we got out to Kissena. It was my first night in the 4s, I didn't want it rained out.

Unfortunately, the field was small due to the threat of the weather, and the 4s and the 5s were combined, since there were very few 4s out.

While warming up, Niki was taking dives off the banking. Last week he showed that he can hold a breakaway, and I gathered that he was working on his technique that would allow him to break away again.

The first race was a six lap scratch. "Roll it off, stay together, and I'll give you the whistle on turn 2!" Alan hollered. I stayed high on the banking, right in the front, as we crept around. The whistle blew and I heard somebody swing up the banking toward me; I looked over to see Niki diving down again. Racing is about split second decisions and some good luck; I was in the right place to respond, tilted down the banking, jumped, and caught his wheel. After a lap we had 100 meters on the field. "Half lap pulls," I said. There was another guy with us; when I pulled off to let him forward, he didn't take it. Niki stepped up, I fell in behind him, and we dropped the third. We kept the rhythm going; every so often I'd hazard a glance behind me. The field was still over 100m back, and Niki and I were feeling smooooth.

The bell rang, one to go, while I was in front. I thought about feinting to get Niki to take the lead, but didn't want to risk having the pack swallow us with half a lap to go. I put on an in-the-saddle acceleration and hoped Niki would lose my wheel. I glanced under my arm and thought that he did; I did my best to keep the pace high. But between turns 3 and 4, there he was on my elbow, coming around me with a strong final kick. I gave him a good run for it, but he had me. "No," he said later, "I never lost your wheel. You just gave me the perfect leadout." But I don't consider it a loss when you breakaway with a pal for six laps and come in 2nd.

The next race was an unknown distance tempo. For races where each lap is worth points, I like to give it a couple laps until the handful at the front have exhausted each other, and then attack. After two, I moved right up the field and bridged up to the three or four leaders, winding up on Niki's wheel with the leader in our sights, saying, "Let's catch him." Half lap pulls and we left him in the dust, holding a gap on the pack. I picked up one second (1 point) and two firsts (2 pts each) before the pack started threatening us again. Confident that I'd placed, I sat back and let them fight it out for the two remaining sprints. Khary, that initial leader, probably got first, but I think I got 2nd again.

We were all set to roll off for our third race when the rain started coming down in earnest, and everybody went home. Andras and I rode toward the triboro, stopping at the Astoria Beer Garden for a pitcher of pilsner.

Not bad for my first night in category 4.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Whew. My last race night in the 5s, and it was a doozie. The first race was a snowball - points for the winner of each lap, increasing in value each lap. I attacked hard with 3 to go but was edged at the line, tucked in behind him, and attacked again on the next lap - got it, pushed hard, held it as he tried to come around me, barely winning the final lap.

Three hard sprints in a row and boy was I hurting. I managed to keep myself in decent condition during a scratch race with an improbable breakaway. Assuming it couldn't last, the leaders never launched a chase. I wound up moving hard at the end and got 3rd place. But my legs felt too wobbly for their own good on the miss and out, and i missed, getting pulled with 5 riders remaining.

Man, almost everybody turns very wide around turn 4 at Kissena. It's worth watching. I could have moved harder to stay in during the miss and out, but it could have been a bit sketchy. Everyone - myself included - should remember to turn all the way around that turn.

Well, I qualified for the B Feature, but it was a 12-lap Tempo - points for 1st and 2nd on each lap. These are fast, hard races to do well in. I told BA that I'd go hard to launch him forward on the 2nd lap, but there were already strong attacks being launched by that time. I burned hard for a lap and a half to move him forward, which was successful, but didn't stick. I did half-lap pulls with another rider to settle into a rhythm and work our way up to the shredded leaders' field - with two to go I caught one of them, kept plowing forward, and got up in time to sprint for 2nd across the finish line. The story of the day was that Niki, holder of the track's Hour Record, broke away and held the lead for the entire freaking Tempo.

Next up - me figuring out how to sustain a strong pace for a long enough time. I have a good sprint and I can sit in and position myself well, but I have a hard time doing any kind of solo effort.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I don't ride with a computer - a speedometer plus a bunch of other bells and whistles depending on how much one spends (including in the $1000+ range, if you want to measure your power output).

I don't ride with one because I could see myself staring at it too much - twenty four? hmmm. i can be going twenty six on this section. UH OH TAXI! - and possibly getting myself into dangerous situations.

I also don't like to think too much about data. Even getting into racing and "training" (scare quotes to differentiate it from an actually serious training regimen), I try to remember that it's supposed to be fun. I succeed, too - I backed off of alleycat racing when it was getting stressful. There were too many races that I wanted to do, and I started doing well enough to be disappointed with myself when I didn't do even better. That's when I realized that a) I felt like a dickhead to myself and b) it would be really dumb to get hurt doing a sport that I wasn't enjoying because I was too busy trying to win because I had gotten in the top five in some other (very different) race.

Where was I? Oh, right, not having any data. Until recently, that is - I clocked 13.84 seconds in my first flying 200, which gives me an average speed of 33mph, which makes me say a) daaaaamn, okay; b) what would my Mom say? and c) I can do better.

Friday, June 06, 2008

3. Thoughts on my new bike.

The Felt TK2 that I picked up last week has seen three days of Velodrome action thus far - two Wednesday night omniums and Super Sprint Sunday.

My first impressions were good - it's got big ugly welds but they're fairly clean and uniform, though without the filing or smoothing that Cannondales or Bianchi Pista Concepts use. No matter - fit is way more important. The Felt is a 52cm, which would be too large for me, except that what's called a 52 is much more like a 51, whereas other companies' 52 size closer to a 53cm. It's always good to get familiar with reading geometry charts and knowing what sizes you can ride - you don't want to exclude possibilities because of what size name they're given, nor do you want to buy a bike that fits too small for you.

I think that bikes at the small end of the size range should come stock with 165mm cranks, and Felt says that their 52 does, but this one has 170s. I'll trade them for 167.5s, to get the tradeoff between spinning and power. The Felt comes stock with Deda Pista bars - 42cm wide, oversize clamp, and just too damn big for most people.

I did use the 170s for the three events, and the Deda bars for two, however. The Dedas kept me slightly uncomfortable and I felt as though my spin was sacrificed somewhat with the 170s - this was noticeable toward the end of my sprints. That's also a fitness and strength issue that I'll have to address with training, not parts trades.

I was slightly nervous about the Felt's very steep traditional track geometry. Kissena is bumpy and though I had the opportunity to buy the Felt, given the choice I might have gone for a Cannondale, with its somewhat slacker geometry. However, the Felt has exceptionally stable front end; especially with the better-fitting handlebars I put on it, it handles well. The rear end skipped around a few times on turns 2 and 4 during hard efforts, but everybody's bike does that. My Pogliaghi did that a few times. It's a reminder not to exceed 120psi, which I've done when ambitious a few times.

My only gripe is the trackends - they're short, and without steel inserts. I don't know if the aluminum will get chewed up, but I do take out and re-insert my wheel frequently, to change cogs once I get to the track (note: Miche splined cog and carrier system totally rocks). The trackends barely accomodate a 2-tooth difference. Felt has addressed this with both longer trackends and steel inserts in their 2008 model, but I wish they had the foresight earlier. Oh well.

Anyway, enough talk. I'm at work, which means I should be daydreaming about some really long miss and outs.
2. Bike fit and track bikes

I was just going to make a post about bike fit (well, two nights ago when I started writing this) when I read this post by Gui. It was particularly timely, because while waiting up at the Queensboro Bridge for others to join our caravan out to Kissena Velodrome on Wednesday night, I took off the 42cm Deda Pista bars that came on my Felt TK2, and put on some 38cm B125s. The difference is significant and delightful - immediately the fit felt much more locked in.

Track body position is interesting, especially considering how it's been influenced by a bunch of different trends. One is the trend toward compact sizing in road bikes - these days, a racing bike doesn't look like one unless it's got a whole bunch of seatpost going up there to compensate for the toptube sloping downward from the headtube (there's more to compact sizing than just this, however). Another, thanks to NJS import trends, is the aesthetic of deep drop stems and handlebars - people who haven't fit themselves to a whole lot of bikes assume that they've just got to get super low on a track bike. Combine the two - lots of seatpost on sporty, racing bikes, and low bars - and you wind up with people reaching very low indeed for bars on bikes that might be a cm or two too small for them. In the process, they may be sacrificing power, comfort, and handling.

I think that a lot of people can comfortably ride track bikes that are a hair larger than they're used to - especially people coming at track bikes from the track-bikes-on-the-street heritage. Additionally, standard road stems and handlebars like Cinelli Criteriums and Nitto B125s deserve consideration - particularly for shorter people. I've found that I get better low positioning by bending my elbows rather than having my bars very low. I think that some people who have their arms sticking straight down to their track drops are putting too much weight on the front, and might have some sketchy handling because of it.

Taking a look at how Japanese keirin riders ride the totally hip NJS bikes - they're using the classic "fistful of seatpost," which means that the bikes they're riding are larger for them than American kids who ride bikes size the frames. That's why they use deep stems and B123s - not to mention they're pretty damn fit athletes, and have a use for the extremely aerodynamic, bobble-heads-down low position.

Speaking of keirin, I've had a few conversations about how Japanese Keirin is pretty different from the ordinary keirin event in non-Japanese track racing. Here is a cool blog post about Japanese Keirin (and a bit more; and a good read is Ben Kersten's diary as one of the few non-Japanese cyclists invited to compete in the International Keirin circuit. I really liked reading about the three different sprinting strategies, that you've got to declare in advance. That really changes the race. And, of course, his faux pas was a great read.

Which reminds me of my own nervousness the first few times I got to the track - like middle school, I was afraid I'd ignorantly make an egregious error that everybody would notice and would just be awful and underline my complete idiocy.

But it didn't happen. Moral of the short story is, if you're thinking about racing on the track, get your ass on to the track.
1. Messengers: I like 'em!

Messengers might be the friendliest group of people in the city. So often, while riding, or while locking my bike up, some dude will roll by babbling a barely coherent greeting - "allrightallrightallrightallright!" or "what's good, what's good?" seem to be the common ones, with a rhythm that matches the pedal strokes. It never fails to put a smile on my face. Once while leaving my building, a dude and I just put up our hands and high-fived, without a word and with barely any eye contact.

I'm not talking about the young twentysomethings on dirty track bikes. I'm talking about the grizzled veterans who are unfazed by trends in biking, who haven't let cameraderie curdle and sour into contempt for outsiders or intruders. I'm talking about the guys who smile when they're riding, like the guy who raced me down 5th Avenue during our commute a few weeks ago. Like the hispanic kids who seem to stick together, on color-coordinated vinyl-wrapped mountain bikes, but who would return a nod and mouth "buenos" across the street when I was delivering food in the winter. And then there was the dude who approached me when I flatted coming off the Williamsburg Bridge - already late to work and without a repair kid (what a gn00b!) - with a tube, and wouldn't even let me buy his coffee from the streetcart.

It reminds me to go out of my way to be friendly to strangers. It reminds me that moving all around the madness of this city are highfives waiting to happen.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A good week for track racing - 2nd place in Super Sprint Sunday; today during the twilight series, I took 2nd in a Win and Out, 2nd in the Scratch race, and placed in the Points Race.

Next week will be my last week in Category 5.

Sprint workouts are helping my sprint; the Felt TK2 is starting to fit really well.

And I love Kissena Velodrome.

Monday, June 02, 2008