I asked a local master for advice about racing at the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. He agreed with me that I should gear up one tooth, told me about some bumps in the 'drome's surface, and left me with one piece of advice. Bring sunscreen. Thanks, Baz Luhrman.
Of course, what I found out was the following:
*riding at T-Town is just like riding on a velodrome, which I've done.
*I would either get used to the larger, faster pack on a smaller velodrome, or I wouldn't and I'd get dropped.
*The borrowed sunscreen I used was really, really helpful, so I should have brought some. T-Town is like chilling in a giant satellite dish in the hot weather!
I drove down with two other riders, registered, changed into my bibs in the locker rooms, and stolled to the infield like the new kid at school, wondering where to sit in the cafeteria where I wouldn't make a faux pas that was invisible to me but blatantly obvious to everybody else. Fortunately, we were early enough to stake a claim to some space under the tent, and set about reintroducing ourselves to other riders while we waited for the peewee program to wrap up. Riders were gathering and I noticed many folks who I'd met at the rare weekend events at Kissena.
I geared up to 50x15 and went out for some quick laps, doing a few sprint efforts and feeling the way that, at speed, you feel the G forces pulling you down. It was nice to see that it was very easy to hold a line in the pole - but later, during the Miss and Out, I learned it's much harder to hold a line coming our of turn 2 midtrack.
First up was a 5k scratch race - a bit longer than scratch races at Kissena. The cat 4 field rolled almost 30 riders deep - much bigger than the 15-person fields I'm used to at Kissena, which on top of being longer, is wider and slower. I stuck to my "unfamiliar territory" plan - stay near the front, ride aggressively, and figure out which wheels to grab. It worked out pretty well - pace stayed high and I stayed in front, positioning myself well to lauch a good sprint in the last lap which netted me 6th. I could have gotten 4th, but was momentarily sketched out by another rider's behavior with about 100m to go, and had to back off and resume sprinting - it left enough time for 4 and 5 to get away, and they had a wheel's length on me at the line.
Next up was a 6k points race with 3 sprints. Unlike at Kissena, the final sprint wasn't worth extra points - too bad, cause I rock final sprints after the Studs have tired themselves out. The pack was strong enough to exhaust itself reeling in the people who hurt themselves in the first two sprints, and getting in position for the 3rd found me 3rd wheel in a 3-person breakaway - thanks to a strong effort bridging up to it. With about 130m to go, first wheel had the sprinter's lane, 2nd wheel started coming around, and I had to kick hard to come around both of them. They were sprinting each other and not me, and I was able to nip First wheel, who was also nipped by Second wheel - who took first. So, second in points for that third sprint.
Last up was a miss and out. I like miss and outs, and I'm good at them, but at T-Town, it was a different story. Very different pack dynamics. In the backstretch, riders go wide and surge up, and then come back down cutting off people who are accelerating. Everybody swings up on the home stretch, squeezing people against the rail, and then dive back down toward the pole to try to grab a wheel - a whole lot of touching going on, and whole lot of not-looking. I didn't think it was safe, though I stayed alive until there were 12 to go. I got bumped, and while I was cooling off on the apron, another rider gestured to the field still alive and said, "well, there's the who's-who of the cat 4s, for sure," and I responded with scowly bravado, "then how come i'm not out there?" The miss-and-out was definitely the most challenging race due to the track and the field - I would have loved to stay in it until 6 to go and contest for a weary sprint with a smaller field.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my performance in the points race had netted me 5th in the omnium, which qualified me for the B Feature, a 12 lap snowball. Steve, one of the collegiate kids, broke to grab that first point for the first lap, and I what-the-hell'ed after him; sucked his wheel for a few seconds and went right around him to take 2. The pack was just noodling along, so I put my head down and went around again for 3. They were picking up the pace, but I thought, hey, why not? Put in a good effort and got 4. One more!
I thought to myself, but I couldn't get 5 - I was caught on turn 4. I spent the rest of the race desperately trying to grab a wheel, and then was spit out the back. Alas. Well, it was nice to hear my name over the loud speaker while I was out there pushin' it.
And I heard my name over the loudspeaker again - announcing the top three, with me as the third, and going on to inform us that we qualified for the A Feature, a devil's scratch.
I like devil's scratches.
There was no time to rest. I went right back to the rail. 20+ riders were whittled down to 10, and I stayed in. Maybe it was because it was the last race of the day, or maybe it was because there were a lot fewer cat 4s in there, but nobody was taking stupid chances. After staying in until we got to the 7 lap scratch, I sucked wheel as we went around and around at a very quick clip indeed, and came across the line with nary a sprint remaining in me, in 9th place.
Actually I'm pretty pleased with the results, but I wish my traveling buddies did well, too - N. had more than his fair share of mechanicals on his lovely bicycle. He only got one race in. He did, however, get lots of shutter time, so I look forward to providing multiple glorious shots of the races at T-Town.
Next up - Wednesdays at Kissena. I missed them this past week, thinking it was going to thunderstorm and get cancelled. It did rain - after the races concluded. Alas.