Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pista 2008 - Rounds 1-3

Friday March 28th
The 2008 Superdrome race season opened with a bang. A bumper field of nearly 50 riders was welcomed back to the track by race officials, a smattering of cold-weather resistant fans and enough adrenaline to keep most of us warm for much of the evening. By evening’s end we had four photo finishes, some new winners, a spate of team tactics and separate races for Cat 3, 30+ men, our women racers and the largest-field-of-the-night honors going to the 35+ men!

For my own part the evening provided an amazing mix of team tactics and an onslaught of attacks, both of which were working hard against me in the form of GS Tenzing. The quartet of Tenzing riders were all competing in two categories (30+ Cat 4, Cat 4) but this didn’t stop them going for wins in both classes. In fact, they swept the podium in 35+ Cat 4 and were denied the same in Cat 4 by my solo effort for Metro VW. A collection of independent and affiliated riders, including Junior racer Cody, comprised the balance of the Cat 4 grid and provided plenty of action and close racing.

For me, race two provided the best learning experience, although my worst result. I had more fun finishing third in this race than winning the final of the evening, and worked far harder in the process. At 16 laps in duration I expected more of a slow crawl to get things started, but almost immediately I was out off the front with one of the GS Tenzing riders as we looked to lap the field. This never materialized, and only a few laps into our early push I found myself all alone at the front as the GST rider (Rob) dropped back to get help from his teammate, Jim. Out front, I pushed hard to stay out alone but ultimately made the mistake of looking back to check their progress. This kiss of death only worked to slow me down, and the pair of teammates caught me with about 5 laps to go. We slowed dramatically in a game of cat and mouse allowing the balance of the field to catch us and even things up going into the final laps. From there, Rob and Jim would alternate their attacks in an effort to break one rider away for a sprint to the finish. I responded to every attack, sometimes twice in the same lap, and found myself locked on Jim’s wheel when the bell rang and we gunned for the final sprint. Into turn three I swung wide to break the draft and slingshot past, but Rob had the legs on me and motored around the outside, closing my window and boxing me in behind Jim as we approached the line. The tactics were well executed; I immediately saw my folly and chalked it up to a great learning experience.

April 4th
Having already lost the first two races to riders half my age (14 and 16) I decided that I would need to depend on my warped sense of race tactics. I don’t normally take much pride in losing, but this week was quite exceptional. In the final race of yet another evening long battle with the forces of GS Tenzing I found an impromptu teammate in young gun, Josh Wade. Josh and his father Ron had driven five and a half hours from Kansas to race that evening as well as at several road races in Mineral Wells. Having been stomped by GS Tenzing and Cole, an impressive independent racer from Oklahoma, Josh and I turned from foes to friends in the third race of the evening and decided to work together on the fly. We made a quick plan and I told Josh to be sure and stay on my wheel, reduce his work and I would do all I could to set him up for the sprints for points.

Our plan, which was probably a better plan than any I had ever hatched for a bicycle race, ended up working quite well. In the end we stole enough points between us to take 1st and 3rd in the race, as well as in the Omnium.

April 11th
In one of the biggest Cat 4 fields of the year I found myself working alone, yet again, and fighting aggressively for track position. In an effort to work on my leg speed I successfully picked the wrong gearing for the opening scratch race. The mistake cost me dearly in the race one and I managed to go from leading the race on the bell lap to being completely out sprinted and out gassed by eight other riders. The unceremonious trouncing was enough to make me add two teeth and get back to the business of mashing, at least in track terms.

Race two brought the excitement of a 25 lap point race with sprints every five laps. The point payout is 5-3-2-1, and the challenge of enduring the event as well as sprinting hard for points adds a welcome dimension to the event. From the start four of us made a break off the start and opened a very nice gap over the field. We worked well together for the first ten laps, allowing me to take a single point in the first sprint and winning the second. From there we began to fall apart and were caught by Cole and a rider from GS Tenzing who had bridged up and brought the pack a bit closer as well. From there everything is a bit fuzzy, but I think I managed to take a few more points before a miscommunication created an interesting issue with lapped traffic. The traffic was comprised of the ever impressive women’s Cat 4 racers and Cody, who normally races as a junior. With the bell ringing 8 riders sprinted for turn 1 in a large mass and quickly ran up on three riders low in the sprinter’s lane as well as one up high above the Stayer’s line. Needless to say it was difficult to judge the gaps, and with one rider going well high on the banking for a diving sprint I managed to create an opening and then hope for the best. In the end I crossed the line sixth, taking another single point and second in the event.

Race three brought forth the lung shredding joys of an unknown distance race. This is where the referees make an executive decision that is a careful balance of their appetite, relative temperature and desire to be evil. You start the race as usual, but the bell lap can fall anywhere between 20 and 50 laps. Have fun. For this we also saw the combination of the Cat 4 and 35+ Cat 4 fields, which meant we started the event with a monster field of some 20+ riders. Having struggled with track math in the past I never tried to count, but we didn’t really all fit on the rail without some curious amount of overlap. Off the start I made a break with Royce from GS Tenzing. His lead out felt as though we’d been fired from a canon and it was all I could do just to hang on to his wheel. From there we swapped pulls every one and half laps and put an easy half lap on the whole field before the inevitable… someone’s team orders dictated that they crash. Now, I don’t know if that is entirely accurate, but it does make me smile so I’m sticking with that as my reason. We heard the hollow thwack of a carbon bike landing on the boards and were forced to slow as they neutralized the race. Sitting at the rail with 10 laps down we knew we wouldn’t get away with it again, but once they whistle blew Royce and I tried anyway. It didn’t work. In the end, after 29 laps, I think I managed a 4th in class.

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