I graduated from the beginners track program!

I'm still lame, but at least now I can go to the real Hellyer Park Velodrome track races... and feel even more lame! All it took me was three years of only managing to get to the beginners sessions once every fall.

John Pollard and I drove over the hill on this unseasonably-gorgeous day to be schooled by Mark Altamiranda, a long-time trackie from the area. This was the last of my three required sessions and thus I would be eligible to race on this track in mass-start races (the State Championship events I raced there last fall were not mass-starts). But this was John's first visit to Hellyer in 20 years, so he was starting from scratch. He was very impressed with the beautifully landscaped infield, with water fountains, stands, paved warmup lanes and apron. Much nicer than when either of us first saw it.

I was also struck by the large contingent of "fixies" that showed up for instruction. It seems these younger hipsters are entering into cycling via a different route than a lot of us did, and that makes things more fun. It reminds me of how different cross-country and downhill racers are in mountain-biking. But not everybody is into this trend.

After getting our $5 rental bikes (mine was an ancient affair with steel Columbus tubing!) and bolting our pedals onto them, we started with a 40-lap paceline session on the banked oval track. This turned into an amazing exercise in accordion-playing; the vast spread in abilities of the students caused huge gaps to form. Mark soon gave up and just had us ride as two pacelines... which then came back together before it all degenerated into a crit finish on the last couple of laps. I hovered on the infield during this free-for-all!

We then got to pair up and practice jumps. It was a little confusing, but we finally figured out that Mark wanted us to sprint side-by-side; one of us in the lower "sprinter's lane," the other higher up the banking on the "stayer's line," then trade positions. He'd blow the whistle and we'd jump, then he'd blow again and we'd relax. It would have been fun if we hadn't kept running up against other riders. But the intended lesson was to show how the shorter line in the lower sprinter's lane was faster, though you could use the banking to accelerate downhill from the stayer's line.

Another great exercise he had us do was pair up and practice bumping into each other while riding laps. This was to teach us how to avoid overreacting if we ever got squeezed together during a race. John and I had fun really leaning hard into each other, trying hip-to-bars, elbow-to-elbow, elbow-to-knee, helmet-to-helmet, etc. A very good skill to have, and one I've been fortunate enough to already have, putting it to good use several times over the years!

Then Mark had us all ride in a line and have the leader do a 200 meter sprint that he hand-timed. He'd point at us and yell "prep lap," we'd jump off the front, build up speed, then get timed from the line just out of turn 2 and to the finish line after turn 4. I was first up (I planned it that way!), and spun up nicely. Coming into turn 2 I really hit it hard and passed the line already at 100%, or close enough. But the handlebars and fork of my springy steel bike started wobbling as I headed into turn 3... where the other riders happened to be. With my low trust-level the prospect of entering the "pain tunnel" while riding next to my fellow students on this noodley bike was frightening. One guy even insisted on riding below the stayer's line! I actually cussed under my ragged breath as I flew by them for a 13.3-second run. A bit slower than the 13.08 I turned last fall. That was no surprise (also, this bike had lower 48x17, or 76.2", gearing). John got a 13.4, and I think everybody else was in the 14s and higher.

After our sprints Mark offered to set up an "Australian pursuit," which sounded like a bad insider's joke. It turned out to be a race where everybody starts out evenly spaced around the upper "rail" of the track, then tries to catch the guy ahead of them. Passed riders drop out until just two riders are left, and they duke it out until one of them dies or gets passed, or the officials decide enough is enough. I managed to win, even though I missed the chance to let John cheat in my favor by giving me some draft!

Afterwards John and I felt that Coach Edwards would be disappointed if we didn't work on our "FTP," so for that reason, and in sympathy with our teammates who were racing in the Quimby Road edition of the Low-Key Hillclimbs, we stopped by in Los Gatos on the way home for two 15-minute intervals. Very nice!

So what does this all mean to me? Well, since I am not likely to buy a track bike I probably won't be taking advantage of my new rating to race all-out on the track. It's just too hard to make time for that anyway. But I may give it a try on occasion. For Tuesday night "Points" races they do allow rental bikes, as they do for the Wednesday night races (varying between Points, "Scratch," "Miss & Out," "Madison" and "Snowball"). So track racing may be something I'll be trying when they start up again in April.


Nils said…
Sounds like fun! I went to one Saturday beginner's sessions, and reading this made me want to try it out again.
glennzgarage said…
Bikes that are ancient affairs, frightenly noodly? More like "classics" with "old school character", my friend! Just which bike did you get? Ride forward on the saddle to distribute weight more over frame center for stability. A 48x17? That's one of the Junior specific wheels. Saturday mornings are more about experiencing fixed gear and remembering to spin. See you around!