professional driver on closed course. do not attempt.


Last summer I took a four-week class at the NSC velodrome to learn the intricacies of riding a bike with no brakes and only one gear (and a fixed gear, at that) on a 250-meter wooden track that is banked at 43 degrees in places. It looks an awful lot like a wall if you stand at the base of it, yet for some reason what intimidates most people is the lack of brakes. Just for the record, what do you suppose would happen if you suddenly braked on a 43-degree bank? You'd fall off, that's what. You don't want brakes.

So then after I finished this class last summer, I raced the last few nights up there in August and September, but up to this point this year I've been too lazy to drive all the way to Blaine after work. It's harder to be motivated when there are races every single Thursday all summer. I've been doing the "I'll start next week" thing since May. I realized not too long ago that there are less than two months of racing left for the year, and besides, with my road bike woes forcing me to miss the Dakota crit on Tuesday, I'm out of excuses. So I went. On to the race report.

The way track racing works is that each field actually gets three races per night. There are a number of different races, including a "scratch race," in which you go round and round for a while and try to cross the line first; a "miss and out," in which every other lap the last person to cross the line is pulled from the race until only a few are left, who then sprint for first, second, and third; and a "points race," which has several intermediate sprints for points, and the goal is not to finish first (although that helps, since the points for the last sprint are usually double those of the intermediate sprints) but to finish with the most points. There are more, too, some of which you can read about in this cheesy, large-print "encyclopedia article" if you're interested. If that article is too dumbed-down for your tastes, the complete USCF rulebook is available for download here. Knock yourself out.

Last night the women's field had a ten-lap (2.5 kilometer) scratch race, a miss and out, and a 40-lap (10k) scratch race. The last was the state championship scratch race, a fairly arbitrary designation since there's only one velodrome in the state and there aren't any qualifiers or anything. There were eight women present, though, which might be a new record. There's usually more like five.

The first scratch race was very laid-back. With a race that short - just over a mile - it's perfectly reasonable to go balls-out right from the gun, but nobody attacked this time. There is an interesting new element to the women's races this year, which is that the U of M team now has FOUR women racing, as opposed to ONE last year. This means essentially that the vast majority of the field is ganging up on me. And that's what I realized too late last night, riding on Elena's wheel on the front inside, assuming she would sprint out of turn 4 and thereby give me an opening. So I didn't make any effort to get out of that position - not that I probably could have anyway, since I was boxed in from all sides. As we came around turn 4 during the tenth lap, I started accelerating in anticipation of Elena's sprint, and then she didn't go! No acceleration whatsoever. I damn near ran into her. Then I realized that the four U of M girls had taken the top four spots, and that they had ridden such a smart race that they didn't even need to go fast, as they had managed to control the front to the extent that nobody could get around. I squeaked out a fifth place in front of Barb (Velo Bella), Sarah (also Velo Bella), and Miranda (Flanders), but was kicking myself pretty hard for not even considering that people on the same team would probably work together. Oh, and then I got a stern talking-to from den mother Barb about being squirrely and almost running into people. Whoops.

A little later, after some men's races, we lined back up for the miss-and-out. The thing with those is that they're of undetermined length. With eight people, the longest you can go is 14 laps (with a field that small you whittle it down to two before sprinting for first, rather than three or four), but somebody's race is only going to be two laps long. There are a lot of ways to approach the miss and out, the best being to have three teammates and control the front so you don't have to accelerate across the line. I, however, was (and usually am) the only female representative of SPBRC, so I had to hang around on the rear outside corner of the pack and surge out of turn 4 every time. It worked pretty well, as I hung on while Miranda was pulled, then Sarah, then Hannah, then Ann, then Elena. I should have gone earlier than turn 4 on the last lap, though, if I wanted to get around Barb in time without going into an all-out sprint. The track bikes are too twitchy for me to be comfortable in an all-out sprint just yet. Remember I'm a newbie. So I got pulled with a third-place finish, and watched Julie and Barb duke it out for first and second. Julie won.

Both Barb and Miranda left before the final scratch race, so only six of us lined up at the rail to fight for the title of "state champion." This meant, of course, that now two-thirds of the field were U of M. Sarah and I were screwed. The best I could do was to refuse to take any pulls at the front. Hell, there were four of them, they could do their own work. I was still smarting from the race on Sunday where I blew myself up pulling everyone else up to the two attackers. Wasn't going to let THAT happen again. At one point I heard Bob (Bob Williams, the track director, and also the Phil Liggett of Thursday night racing) over the loudspeaker commenting on that.... "With four Gophers in the field, Annie doesn't want to do any work for them, doesn't want to pull four Gophers behind her...." Tee hee. That makes me a "wheel sucker," the most reviled of all bike racers, but it's not like I was much of a medal threat anyway.

That race was pretty chill as well, with only one attack by a U of M girl that for some reason was chased down by other U of M girls in a rather spectacular failure of teamwork. About three laps from the end I weaseled my way out of the inside position and tried to come over the top at the end, which worked well enough to get me fourth place, but again, without being able to throw down an actual sprint, I'm not much of a medal threat. There actually were medals, too. I laughed when I saw them. For some reason it's hard to take a "state championship" seriously when the field was only six and half of them said "Oh, really?" when the official announced that this was the state championship scratch race.

Afterward, there was a Madison race, which is this crazy tag-team thing that's kind of like a relay race, with teams of two. One person is racing while the other circles slowly, waiting for their turn. When the faster rider comes up to the slower rider, they actually grab hands and the faster rider literally throws the slower one into the race, transferring his momentum, then goes up to take his turn resting. It's pretty hard to follow what's going on if you're a spectator. I don't know how it turned out. I know that about halfway through, while I was busy changing shoes, everyone watching suddenly started yelling in a way that made me look around going "oh, god, what happened?" -- and sure enough, there was Tom Hagerty crumpled up at the bottom of turn 4 with a broken collarbone. The race was neutralized and then actually stopped while some people got him into a sling and found someone to drive him to the hospital. They eventually started it up again, but I left before it was done because I didn't know who was winning anyway. Poor Tom. I hope he heals quickly. I haven't broken my collarbone, but I imagine it hurts even more than that separated rib I had back in '02, and that was no picnic.

Full results (well, full down to the top 5 or 6 in each field) are posted here. Y'all should come out and watch sometime. It's good entertainment for a Thursday night. You can even win burritos.


Anonymous Nate said...

You can send Tom your condolences here. Who is THayes? I thought that Ferris was Tom's partner. THayes could be Chris's username, but it links to a very non-Ferris-esqe website.

7/15/2005 12:24 PM  
Blogger annie said...

thayes is this guy, who is clearly not chris ferris.

7/15/2005 12:50 PM  

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