And that can only mean one thing: I attended another track session! This is my second beginners session at Hellyer Park, San Jose, and when I complete my third session I will be eligible to race as a "C" racer. The California State Elite Track Championships I raced probably doesn't apply, otherwise I'd be eligible right now, though I could probably persuade the guys at the track. Funny.
This unusual Sunday afternoon session was run by Richard Brockie, of Fremont Freewheelers Bicycle Club, and I was very happy with his instruction, much more so than the instructor at my first session last fall. The session is pretty low-key, and way easier than racing, say, a criterium. But you do have to keep on your toes as some of the students are not used to riding in tight groups. There were about a dozen students and two instructors, Gary of FFBC and Alex Miller of Alto Velo. I rented a Specialized "Langster" track bike, named after none other than Don Langley of the Morgan Stanley team; the guy who keeps winning my criteriums! I brought my bike fitment chart and adjusted everything to fit my physical dimensions, and installed my own pedals. They charge $5 for the bike, and $5 for the entry. Pretty cheap thrills.
Richard had us start out with a moderate 30-lap paceline, with each of us pulling for a lap at a time. The instructors watched us for errors. It's a good way to warm up and practice pacelining on a banked track.
Then he had us practice bridging by forming us into groups of four riders, and having two groups on the track, one half lap apart. When he blew his whistle the leader in each group had to jump forward and catch the other group. A good workout, and good track practice again.
Next we practised team pursuits, using the same groups as before, and chasing each other around the track in pacelines. I accidentally dropped one of our riders when I took my first pull... I didn't want the other group to lap us! The second time I held back and we all stayed together, at the cost of a slower pace.
I asked Richard if we would get to try some flying-start 200-meter sprints, as we hadn't gotten the chance at my first session (my friend Rob Jensen had to sneak one in for me after the session was officially over). These are important for track competitions as they are often used to "seed" riders, and a great sprint workout too. He told me we would, and he'd even time them! I wanted to use the time as a benchmark for future reference.
We all lined up for our 200m sprints, and he showed us the start line, right at the exit of turn 2, and the usual finish line after turn 4. Gary gave us a demo run. We each took turns with the track to ourselves, starting with a warmup lap, then a windup lap, then we were on the clock for the final 200 meters. The trick is to position yourself to travel the shortest distance around the track, and also to use the banking in turn 2 to use the "downhill" to advantage. It's also really important to understand how hard to push yourself in the windup lap, leading up to the start line.
When I did that underground 200m last fall, I thought I should go at maybe 95% effort up to the start line, then accelerate up to 100% down turn 2's banking toward turn 3. I also stayed "on the rail" at the top of the track almost until the start line, then dropped down diagonally toward the "pursuit line" in turn 3. Wrong! Those techniques gave me a mediocre 13.8 seconds or so for the 200 meters (32.419 MPH). This time I instead drew an imaginary straight line backwards from the back straight up turn 2, and used the point where it hit the rail as a reference point for starting my drop out of turn 2. And I also made sure to hit 100% at the start line. With these new techniques, and even with a headwind out of turn 2, I got the best student's time, 13.04 seconds! Cool! That's 34.308 MPH by, the way. Since I didn't get tunnel-vision this time, and there was that headwind, I know I can easily break into the 12-second range. Once you're in the 12s you're a "made man" at the track! I was feeling good!
I think my gearing was better this time too. It was probably something like the 47x14 that Rob installed for me at the State Championships. In old-school terms inherited from the high-wheeler era of the 1870s, it would be called 84.9-inch gearing (equivalent to an ungeared wheel of 84.9 inches in diameter). Here's a couple of online gearing calculators.
By then we were all done, and getting a little wiped out, but Richard asked if any of us were interested in a 10-lap "scratch" race. That's just like a typical mass-start criterium, but on the track. About 10 of us wanted to race, so he got us all lined up on the rail for the start. He blew the whistle and we trundled off at an easy pace for a lap. I was unwilling to hammer for 10 laps, especially since I was likely to fade before the line and get pipped by guys drafting me, so I sat back in second place.
On lap 2 a couple of FFBC guys dropped out of turn 2 and attacked past us, and suddenly I found myself working hard to catch their wheel and hold it. That took almost a lap, but I was soon happily drafting them in third place. Perfect! Every time we ht the back straight I could feel the headwind and was glad to be back a little. We had also dropped the rest of the group. For some reason the leader rode on the "stayer line" halfway up the track, which I thought was a mistake because we could attack around him on either side. But after a few laps he got tired, no kidding, and our slower pace allowed the chase group to catch back on. Darn. Now I was facing the prospect of a mass sprint finish on the banked track. I looked over my shoulder occasionally, and noticed Gary the instructor was back there, so I was worried he'd attack soon. We were still moving fairly fast, so I was sure most of the guys were getting winded, and unable to "mark" (respond to) any attacks.
I kept an eye on the lap cards, and soon we were down to "2" remaining. I got ready, but no attacks came, so as I exited turn 4 with just over a lap to go, I dropped down around the two FFBC guys and launched the hardest attack I could, going about 95% down the home straight into turn 1. I nearly got tunnel-vision but was able to maintain a hard pace. I looked over my shoulder on the back straight and had about 25 feet. Hanging on for dear life I spun that 47x14 and took one last look as I exited turn 4; I still had a good gap! Woo-hoo! I could almost relax crossing the line, but with a fixed gear you have to keep pedalling! What a session!
What did I learn from all of this? That I am not a natural at the 200m, but pretty good nonetheless. From the State Championships I learned that I'm better at 1K, not so good at 4K. So my natural abilities, since I haven't specifically trained for any of these discplines, would make me best (or least bad!) at something more than 200m, but less than 4K; I guess 1K "kilos" really are my thing! Awesome, but not surpsing given my mid-pack finish in the State 1Ks, because that translates to a strong finisher at most criteriums!
When I finish my third beginners session I will be able to race on the track for real. But they don't rent out bikes for the races, so I'd have to buy one to take this training to the next level. I doubt that will happen, but it is tempting. I can always revert to my Walter Mitty ways and just dream about it! Anybody got a really cheap used 52cm or 54cm track bike for sale?