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November-December 2005 Newsletter

Masters Track Cycling National Championships

by Walter Lay


The Masters Track Cycling National Championships were held at the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis this year, the last week of August. Hundreds of riders came from all over the country to compete for medals and national champion jerseys, which were awarded for every five-year age group beginning at 30 years old and going up into the 70s. It’s way cool to see some of those old guys who can barely walk; and then they get on their bike and they are so smooth they are indistinguishable from riders 50 years younger.

Only fixed gear bikes are allowed for track racing. I just started riding a fixed gear bike last year and began track racing this year. I really wish I had gotten into it much sooner because racing on the track is a real blast. The flow of a pack of racers on the track has a very different feel to it because no one can suddenly slam on their brakes — there are none. And even slowing down is a more gradual and smoother process.

The big news is that I made the podium in the points race! I scored enough points to snag fifth place, which at nationals is good enough for a medal and podium spot. The points race is the event in which I thought I was least likely to do well. I thought that a relative newbie on the track would have a better chance with the “simpler events” like the pursuit. I learned that the “simple” events are not really so simple. When winning is determined by hundredths of a second, every element of the race is critical.

If you’re not familiar with track racing events, the points race is a mass-start race with designated sprint laps in which the first four riders score points. But it’s not just rolling around the track easy and then sprinting after everybody is recovered. You can also score points by lapping the field. So the race is characterized by one attack after another as strong pursuit style riders try to get an edge on the pure sprinters by getting a lap up. In my race (55-59) we averaged a little over 42 kph (about 26 mph) which I’m proud to say was only 1 kph slower than the youngsters in their 30s and 40s.

I also competed in the 500-meter Time Trial, the 2-kilometer Pursuit (essentially a 2-kilometer time trial, which is six laps around the track) and the flying 200-meter Time Trial, which is only used as seeding for the match sprints. Only the top six in each age group got to do the sprints and I missed out by less than 2/10 of a second. I thought I was having a good ride in the 500-meter but came in dead last. I think my gear choice was too big and I later learned that I had the chain too way tight; the equivalent of riding with your brakes on. I did better in the pursuit, but not at all what I was hoping for. Fortunately, I had enough time to recover before the points race; and Curtis Tolson showed me how to adjust the rear wheel so that the chain is tight enough to stay on but loose enough to let the rear wheel spin more freely. Kent Bostick, the “Bostosaurus,” had his chain fall off during his points race. That must be a weird feeling when you have no brakes and can only slow down by back pressure on the pedals. When the chain is off, there is no back pressure, you simply coast until you come to a stop.

Curtis, by the way, won I believe three gold medals; the Sprint, the Team Pursuit and the Madison, which is a two-rider team points race where one rider is resting while the other is racing and they relay each other with a hand-sling. The Madison is kind of the ultimate event in track racing and takes its name from Madison Square Garden, which was originally built for holding bike races. The only other Louisville rider I saw there was Tracy Huber, who won a gold in the team pursuit and also medalled in her points race.

It’s too bad that it’s a two-hour drive to the nearest velodrome, but then it’s that far to many of the races we do unless you really stick close to home and don’t race much. The season is over for this year, but it would be cool if there were some more Team Louisville riders getting into it next year. Apparently track racing is making a significant comeback in the US and there were more riders at the Masters Nats this year than there have been in long time.


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web posted: 13 November 2005
last updated: 14 November 2005