Saturday, September 5, 2009

State Championships report.

The weekend of August 28, 2009, a weekend around which much of my racing season revolved around, was quickly dematerializing in front of my eyes. The radar picture on Friday morning was grim. Just a week after suffering a storm which wiped out more than 200 of Central Park’s old hardwood trees, the New York State Track Cycling Championship and Elite National Qualifier was being threatened by the last remaining tantrums of Hurricane Danny. By Friday afternoon, Alan Atwood announced that the opening event, the Team Sprints, would be postponed. We were told that, if the schedule could accommodate it, we could run the event Sunday morning, first thing. But already the collective mind of New York’s track cycling community questioned how much worse this could get. As one might imagine, rain and racing on an outdoor velodrome simply do not mix. Many wondered aloud about what would happen if the rain did force further delays on Saturday.

Then next morning, I was greeted by the sound of steady rainfall that tapped a Morse code signal of discouragement on my window pane. Phone calls and emails quickly circulated, as everyone wondered how Alan was going to pull this weekend off. Ken Harris, Tony Slokar and I, half-heartedly decided to venture out to Flushing despite the dark skies and steady rainfall around 11:30 am. Racing was due to start at 12:00, but it was clear that the original plan would be modified. At the very least, we could get our numbers and be ready for a much abbreviated Sunday-only program.

When we pulled into the Velodrome parking lot, shoulder shrugging track racers huddled under a tent at the registration table. The reluctant smiles proved that we were not the only people taking a chance. Some riders traveled from out of town, out of state, and in the case of Alex Farioletti, a trip back from training full time in LA. We stood around and helplessly waited for the sky to clear and the track to dry off. Alan decided on a deadline of 2:00pm for race worthy conditions, or else the schedule would be further postponed. And then, the rain stopped.

By about 1:15, The track became dry enough that racing didn’t seem completely crazy. We would run the Kilometer TT first, and if time and conditions allowed, the Points race. Unfortunately, the 50 lap Madison, had to be cut. However, seeing as the Kilo was one of my primary objectives for the season, I couldn’t complain. I scrambled to warm up, got my head as focused as possible, given the situation, and hopped on the track. Ultimately, my lack of training this year has hurt me, but I still wanted to put down a solid time and figured it would not be too hard to beat my Opening day time of 1:12. I had a decent start, though probably too fast. As is always the case, my legs completely shut down with about 250 meters to go and I rolled in as best as I could. 1:12.23 read the time. My computer displayed a top speed of 38.7 mph. I started too fast. I was bummed to miss my target. Mike Garret, was the next fastest rider with a time of 1:14 (out of state), and Alex Farioletti rode a phenomenal 1:14.26 (NYS silver) without aero bars. Jon Linchitz rounded out the medals with a 1:15.10. Also qualifying for the sprint events at nationals was Tony Slokar, with his 5th place finish. Notably absent, Andrew Lacorte elected not to race due to conditions as well as to focus on the sprint-oriented racing on Sunday.

The weather continued to trend well, and Alan gave the thumbs up for the Points race. The Cat123 men would race 25 laps, with 5 sprints. Legs still heavy with Kilo-level lactic acid, I set my sights on trying to stick with Ken Harris. All attempts at marking the current Hour-record holder proved futile, as he slipped away to take a convincing win with a solo move in the second half of the race. In total he took 21 points and the gold medal for the fourth year in a row. Mike Garret once again grabbed 2nd place with a punchy move towards the end. He was not able to reel back Ken, but he did manage 2nd place points on the final lap to claim a total of 12 points. I managed to win the final sprint from the field, giving me a total of 12 points as well, but as Mike finished in front on the final lap, the tie-breaker went to him. Once again, Mike was not racing for a medal. Mike did score valuable points, however, towards the overall omnium (therby preventing me from limiting the losses to Ken on the event.) With four points, Tadeusz Marszalek won the bronze.

In stark contrast to Saturday, Sunday blossomed into an intensely sunny day after threatening with fog early in the morning. Many more riders showed up for the fair weather racing, though Andrew Lacorte did not suit up. Feeling under the weather, and having already won a Master’s National title, he decided to manage his health first. However, he graciously spent the entire day at the track helping Alan and the officials with the logistics of the event. He also qualified for Elite Nationals earlier in the year.

First on the program, rescheduled from Friday, was the Team Sprint. The team sprint is a three lap race contested by squads of three riders. Where a modern Olympic track would create a 750m event, Kissena’s large 400m oval makes the race a bit longer. The lead rider starts at the front and pulls off after one lap. The middle rider pulls for the 2nd lap and then retires, while the third rider anchors the race with the final lap sprint after sitting in the accelerating draft for the first two laps. The time is taken by that final rider. I like to think of it as a three stage rocket, and when properly executed, it's a pretty cool race to watch. Ken, Tony and I had planned on racing this event all year. Although we hadn’t practiced at all, we were excited to give it a go. I even embraced the composite-team professionalism by wearing a very nice Jonathan Adler Racing skinsuit, though I am not sure that it now entitles me to discounts on funky designer house wares. Without much warning, we were called to the start line. I believe at least one of us was still bolting something or finishing a gear change or swapping wheels, so we clearly didn’t get much of a chance to talk. All we knew was that Ken would start, Tony would take the middle, and I would anchor. We lined up, waited for the gun and went. Ken started very strongly, and provided a large draft, smoothly accelerating us up to speed. Tony “crushed” the 2nd lap (his own words), and I, burst out into the wind with one lap to go. I actually felt as if I had been in a recliner for two laps, thus was the quality of my team mates’ pulls. I finished as strongly as I could manage, and then we waited. Our time of 1:25.98 was enough for gold. In silver, the Affinity team of Alex Farioletti, Jon Linchitz and Chris Barbaria finished with a time of 1:28.17. The Kissena squad of Eric Ragot, J.P. Partland and Mike VanDerWerker rounded out the medals with a 1:33.73. After the fact, Tony did some research. The Kissena website lists results back to 2000, and as far as he could find, 1:25.98 is the fastest time recorded on that track in the team sprint.

Next up, were the flying 200TT’s to seed the match sprint heats. I am not sure of times, as they are not listed online as of now, but I do remember Jon Linchitz posting the fastest time, breaking 12 sec fairly handily—which is extremely impressive on Kissena’s slow, shallow and bumpy banking. This is made all the more impressive when you understand that Jon, essentially new to racing this season, was sidelined for medical/injury reasons (can’t bring myself to violate HIPPA) during a large part of the season. I managed to come in 2nd with a 12.09 sec to shave about 2 tenths off my previous best. Unfortunately, I can’t remember anything more specific than that.

The scratch race was another event where Ken Harris was sure to show his strength. Very quickly, He attacked the group, and instantly built a lead of nearly a half-lap. I was not prepared to go with him so early in the 8 Km race, but I was wary, as he was riding as my biggest threat for the omnium. The shrewd attack was enough to ensure a victory, as no other rider was willing to work to bring him back. A bit later on, Mike Garret, once again gained a gap on the field. He failed to reach Ken, though managed to stay out for a well earned 2nd place. After a tough race that reduced the field significantly, I responded to an attack by Dan Lim with a few laps to go and was able to take third place, once again earning the silver medal. Barry Miller took the bronze and Dan Lim rounded out the qualifiers with his fifth-place finish.

The match sprint turned out to be the biggest surprise for me during the weekend’s events. Eric Ragot’s attack from the rail during our 3-up preliminary heat with Ken sent me to the repechage round. I was not happy to get “kilo’d” as they say, especially because it would make my route to the finals all the more difficult. I was hoping to earn a top-3 in order to secure valuable points in the omnium. I managed to get by a very dangerous Chris Barbaria in our repechage round match-up. Chris knocked me out of the running during last year’s Cat4 match sprint at states, and can never be discounted as he is one of the hardest working and quickest sprinters at Kissena.
Relieved to be back in the running, my heart sank when I found that my draw for the semifinals put me up against the most dangerous competition available. Jon Linchitz’s sub-12 sec. qualifier says enough. He’s a big guy with tremendous power. Alex Farioletti is a former bike messenger who has spent this season out in LA honing his craft with some of the best in the West. He’s focused on sprint disciplines while featuring in Gatorade’s reality show, “Mission G.” Most recently, he earned a silver medal in the 30-34 age-group of the Master’s National Match Sprint Championship. After a slow first lap, watching one another, I made sure that I stayed in 2nd position behind Alex. Between turn one and 2 he began making some false accelerations. He was baiting a move. At the moment he slowed slightly and angled back up track, I decided to get out of there. I jumped with about 300 meters to go and dove into the sprinter’s lane at turn 3. Never letting off the gas, I came around and down the finishing straight clearly ahead. I had managed to win myself into the final with none other than Mike Garret. The ride had also clinched the New York match sprint gold medal.
I was shocked to make the final. I had all but secured the omnium win, I had the gold, but now it was a matter of local pride. With Lacorte offering encouragement and guiding advise, I rolled up to the line to defend the home field. My strategy was to dictate the pace. I stayed high, while Mike was obligated to take the lead. He came up track as well, and I waited for the right moment before I swung under him and pinned his front wheel between my bottom bracket and the fence. From that position, it would be impossible for him to attack first. As we came around the second time, bell ringing, I slowly picked up the pace. By at turn two, I jumped and dove sharply for the sprinter’s lane, claiming the inside line. I could feel Mike on my tail, and gave it everything I had to keep him from drawing even. By the exit of turn four I had held off the charge, but kept on the gas through the straight in case of any last-moment surges. In the second final, Alex Farioletti secured the silver medal over Jon Linchitz in bronze.

Finally, thanks to the beautiful Sunday weather, the last race of the men’s 1/2/3 program was held. The last weary racers—tired, hungry, and sunburned—would line up for the always exciting keirin. Andrew Lacorte, once again the team player, drove the moto to pace the field up to speed over the first 5 of 6 laps. Still in the hunt for a gold medal, Alex Farioletti was defending his title from last year. Josh Chambers, a Trexlertown regular was also a fast guy to watch out for. I believe Jon Linchitz drew the first position, giving him the obligation to ride in front, right behind the moto when the gun went off and Lacorte swung by. In a hectic final lap, I lost my position, lost my rear wheel's contact with the ground, but managed to find a hole to squeeze through in the last 100m to grab 2nd place behind a well deserving Alex Farioletti. While I was having my troubles, he came flying past, and I knew I was watching the winner ride away.

To sum up my experience, this year’s NYS track championships provided a similar emotional ride to the rest of the season. Anxious anticipation, frustrating weather, agonizing near misses and disappointments as well as satisfaction and reward. I have never once been a state champion before, and clearly I owe some of my results this weekend to good fortune. At the same time, the task of remaining a full-time medical student has taken much of my training time away from me. My road season was cut short and limited to a very sparse schedule of frustrating results. A season that started with high hopes and unrealistic expectations was brought crashing to earth by the reality of working 12 and 13 hour days on the Labor Floor of Mount Sinai. Still, the Kissena Velodrome has provided a unique outlet for my competitive drive. I spent this entire summer, scheduling much of my free time from the hospital around getting out to the track. I am very proud to have been able to complete one of my season’s main goals in spite of the challenges and while I missed my goal of a 1:11 kilo, there’s always next year. As for now, I will try my luck at Elite Nationals in Carson, CA at the end of the month. There are many questions that need to be answered, and heading out there seems to be the best way.

Full Results:

State Champ.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Track to the Future

Team Sprint; photo by Eloy Anzola

Scorching summer heat welcomed the return of racing to the Velodrome in Kissena Park, Queens this past weekend. I finally made my way out to the track for the first time towards the very end of the season last year. Racing at the track on Wednesday nights became one of my favorite activities of the entire cycling season. By the time the state championships had rolled around, I was completely hooked and immediately set my sights on opening weekend 2009 to resume racing on the velodrome.

Opening weekend, which I missed out on last year, is great. It is a perfect bookend to the states that will take place at the end of the season. It is a two-day-long event with plenty of racing, bigger-than-normal fields and some race formats that are less likely to be included in the Twilight series programs. For me, the Kilo is an event that I would like to really nail down this year, and the Opening Weekend is one of the few opportunities to practice in a race environment out in Queens. Similarly, match sprinting is a rare treat to be enjoyed only on special occasions.

This year, over 100 racers greeted the scorching sun and melting tar with eager smiles and sunscreen. It was a great chance to catch up with NYC's "other" bike racing scene, and the guys who often don't race on the road as much. Saturday, I also had the pleasure of introducing my team mate, Chad Marion, to the world of fixed gears, no brakes and left turns. I had been talking up the track for a while to him, so I was eager to see him hit the banking in the Cat5s. I lined up in the Cat4 field, as road and track categories are wholly separate and I have yet to earn my Cat3 on the track.

The first event of the day, the Kilo, is a major target for me this year. I have always loved the simple and brutal honesty that this race has. It calls for the rider to go as hard as possible for just over a minute. At Kissena, a very slow track, Andrew Lacorte posted the fastest kilo since the resurfacing of the velodrome at last year's state championships. That time was a 1:11.86. At the same race last year, I posted the third fastest time of the day, a 1:15.67, on my chrome Bianchi Pista with 36 spoke wheels and drop bars. This year, armed with a new bike, aero equipment and a little bit of experience under my belt, I wanted to go faster. Of course, its hard to know what to expect. Winds change the race remarkably, as do temperature of the track and probably forces that I'm not even aware of. The goal for this early attempt was to set a benchmark for the year. Something to use as a starting point when training towards States. A frantic last-second gear change left me with a less than relaxing warm up and I was off to the staging area for my ride. Kissena Velodrome is 400 meters and the Kilo is thus 2 1/2 laps. I took my position, clipped in and tried my best to project the mental image I have of Chris Hoy's famous start. Hearing the gun, I accelerated the bike as fast as possible. Between 120 and 150 meters in, I dropped into the aero bars and tried to hang on. The first lap and a half flew by, and I did my best to maintain control. Meanwhile the bumpy track did its best to knock me out of the sprinter's lane a few times. The last lap, riders really suffer. I tried to keep the pedals moving with the bell sounding like a distant echo. The last 200 meters came and went, and I crossed the line with no idea of how my ride went. I had to wait a while until guys started congratulating me on my ride. I still didn't know my time. When Ken Harris and Tony Slokar speculated that it may have been a 1:12, I didn't believe them. The official time came out to a 1:12.09. Now, I will look ahead to States, and see what I can do there. To be in such close company with a rider as accomplished as Andrew Lacorte, so early in the year, is truly something I'm proud of.

For our next event, the Cat4's lined up for the team sprint. This is a three lap race, similar to team pursuit, with the exception that the teams have three riders, and only one rider finishes the three laps. With each lap, a rider pulls off, basically setting up a 2 lap lead out for the final rider to rip off their fastest lap. Deverell "RSun" Smith of Luzzo's, Luke Stiles and I formed our composite team before the race, and coincidentally had the three fastest kilo times in the Cat4s. Luke, as a fast sprinter, led first. RSun took the second lap while I anchored. We rode smoothly and were able to keep a tight pace line through the ride. RSun gave me a great draft for the final lap and we came in with the top time of somewhere in the vicinity of 1:28.XX.

In the final event of the day, the 12 lap points race, we had 3 sprints on the table. Lining up, I had my eye on Giancarlo Bianchi, who won the points race in the Cat4s at the State Championships last year. He took off early, and I stayed at the front, making sure he didn't get too far away. I began reeling him back in with two laps until the sprint. With the bell for the first sprint, I began to make my move. By turn 3, I had enough of a gap to ease off the throttle, and after taking the points for first, I waited for a few guys to catch on and form a break. From this smaller group, we were able to contest the sprints without the chaos that would ensue with the full field of 22 riders in one bunch. I was able to take the top points in the final two sprints and win the points race. Heading home for the evening, I had accumulated 21 out of 21 possible points in the omnium by winning all three of my events.

Day two at Kissena provided even more sunshine and heat, if slightly smaller numbers of racers than Saturday. On the program for the Cat4s was a 9 lap scratch race, match sprints and a miss and out. The scratch race is a simple affair, where the first rider to cross the line wins--no additional explanation is necessary. I honestly don't remember much about this race, but I was able to go with an initial attack, and eventually pull away for the win on the last lap.

The match sprints, though fun, take a very long time. All the fields must be bracketed and even with 3-up match sprints (not what one thinks of in match sprints) we still had to go through several rounds in each field. In my first round match up, I benefited from my top-placed omnium standing as it determined the seeding. At Kissena, match sprints take two laps. got through my first two rounds without any complications. In the final, I decided to let the other riders set the early pace. I patiently sat high on the banking in third position until the first attack came with a lap to go. I sat in the draft until just about 200 meters to go and opened up the sprint, coming across in first.

After a very long weekend on the infield, we only had one event left. The miss and out. This race format is pretty fun, but can be dicey. It works by eliminating the last placed rider from the field each lap until 5 riders are left. Once the field is down to 5, there is a neutral lap and then the bell. Often, since most of the race happens at the back, riders get trapped on the inside. When this happens, and riders have nowhere to go but desperately want to stay in the race, crashes happen. Unfortunately, it only took a lap or two before our race was neutralized with the sound of the starter's gun due to a crash on the inside. When we came back around the track slowly, the sight of Jody, one of the friendliest regulars at the track (with one of the most beautiful steel bikes), lying face down on the apron was enough to make all of us sick. Fortunately, he was able to get up and make his way to the infield to await transport to the hospital. They lined us up to restart the race, but naturally, the wind was really taken out of our collective sails. I did my best to stay safe. I rode above the stayer's line the whole race and towards the front. I would rather suffer in the wind than get trapped down at the bottom of the track. When we had 5 guys, I upped the tempo and then upped it again with the bell lap. I gaped the field and was able to come in safely at the front for the last race of the day.

In the end, I won all the events in the Cat4. Hopefully, I will be able to advance to the 1/2/3 races as soon as Alan gives me the nod. I know that I am ready fitness-wise, but tactics will be a whole new ballgame. Most of the riders in the A-fields on Wednesday nights have a lot of experience under their belts. I can't wait to learn from them. In addition, I want to wish a speedy recovery to the few victims of crashes late on Sunday's program. Heat, dehydration, and large fields likely made for slightly sketchier than normal racing towards the end. Its always unfortunate to see that happen. I also want to shout out to my team mate, Chad, who won his first omnium, racing in the Cat5s. I have no doubts that he will have no trouble continuing his transition to the track this year.