Race Report – Ontario Providential Track Championships – Dana Stryk
Ontario Providential Track Championships
Milton, Ontario, Canada
March 6 – 9, 2020
For those reading this race report without any great knowledge of track racing, some background: Track racers subdivide into two “types” – enduros (mass start races, individual pursuits) and meatheads/sprinters (match sprint, time trials). For most people, doing both well is difficult, since the type of training required to excel at one does not translate into the other. (Think crit racer versus hilly road racer.) Track races subdivide into mass start races, timed events, match sprints, and team events. For most races, the mass start events consist of a scratch race where first across the line wins and a points race, with points awarded every so many laps for the first few across the line, double points at the end of a race (and points for lapping the field). For most track events, the mass start races combine into an omnium, with the winner the one with the most (or least, depending on scoring method) points after all mass-start races.
Racing began on Friday, with the 2K Individual pursuit. This event is the one for which I trained last year and came to the conclusion that the word “subtlety” does not describe my ability to dial-up or down my effort level and while I could do “ok” in these events locally, at the national and world stage, I do not think I have the mentality of a pursuiter. Hello, sprint.
I arrived in Ontario via plane while Chuck drove Oliver, our RV, across the border and to the velodrome. The gracious race organizers allowed us to reserve pit space in the infield and two American track friends, Ted Michaels and Darrell Farlow, joined us. Ted raced the Masters’ Omnium and Darrell the Masters’ TT and match sprints. Chuck, being Chuck, did all three. I registered for the TT (500m) and the omnium (4 races total).
Masters’ Women Time Trial – 500 meters – 2 laps.
My PR is a few seconds over 43, which is not a great time. I was excited to see what time I could produce, given that my training changed to focus on this event. My heat was the last one for the field, and the fastest time was 2 seconds slower than my best. A clean race should put me on the top step.
Sadly, that was not the case. When my bike was loaded into the starting gate and I climbed aboard, I was canted and leaning up track. I am not a strong enough starter to compensate for the angle. I dismounted and said the bike set up was not right and asked for a reset. The volunteer complied and reset. It was still angled. The official said to get on the bike, so I did. Countdown – 5-4-3-2-1-beep. I exploded as best I could. My bike went up-track and I unclipped on the first rotation of my right foot. I rolled off the track, dejected and a bit miffed.
As I soft-pedaled on the apron, the officials on the other side of the track told me I would have a re-do. Immediately and on this side of the track. I put my pedals where I like them to start and tried to calm myself. Gun goes off and the same thing happened. However, I had to keep going, so I pedaled with my right foot not clipped in.
That is racing. I tried to get out of my own head and make the best of the 40 something seconds on the track. I had the slowest first lap and the second-fastest second lap. Although, if you think about it, I did have the fastest time for someone using one leg (at least for my race). I really wanted to see what dividends my winter training would pay, but that will have to wait.
Meanwhile – Chuck has his TT. Typically men of his age have a 500 m TT. This one was 750 m. It doesn’t sound like much longer but….. Chuck’s first lap was one of the slower ones in his field but he crushed the 2nd and destroyed the 3rd lap to finish 4th, one step off the podium. Darrell also crushed his TT (different age groups), landing on the top step of the podium.
Until Sunday, the number of mass start track races in my race history equaled one. I increased that number by 400%, with four races: 5K Scratch, 5K Tempo, 5K Elimination, 40 lap points. From years of crit racing, I know how to race a scratch and points race, although on a flat surface and with a bike having brakes and more than one gear. In track racing, you cannot queue up at the start line – the surface is banked and clipping on a fixed gear bike would be a bit dangerous. Rather, you hold onto the railing at the top of the track or onto a holder on the apron. You roll out from the backside of the track in your pre-determined order and slow pedal to your starting position. For me, this meant I had to roll up to the railing and catch the railing while ensuring I was lined up with the person down-track and my pedals weren’t at some weird position. For my whopping one race experience – where I walked my bike up to the top of the track – this alone made Elsa, my chimp, a bit nuts (see the Brave Athlete book to understand Elsa).
While I wanted redemption and had this been a road crit, I would have been more comfortable trying to take out my frustration from the TT, I am also a chicken. I have avoided mass-start track races like Covid-19. During the break between the TT and the start of the omnium, I wanted to stay in Oliver, snuggle my emotional support stuffed animals, and quit. I am not a participation medal person. While I often chicken out in executing a race strategy, I don’t go into a race thinking simply finishing is the goal (except for Clarendon and Crystal City races in the Air Force Classic – finishing is good enough…). So race experience was my goal. So wimpy!
Scratch race: 5km which is 20 laps. First across the line wins. I was 5th. I felt comfortable moving around the track. The pace seemed good-to-fast. A couple of accelerations opened up a gap every so often, but people were willing to work together and chase them down. Coming into the turn before the bell, a gap opened that I could not close down, so I was not in the mix for the final sprint. Given my nerves, Elsa was ok with that.
Tempo race: 5km – points every other lap for the first across the line. Bell would ring to denote the start of the point lap. Apparently, one woman thought points started after the neutral lap. We roll through the finish line for the first lap of racing and she takes off. I put my head down and hopped on the train in the sprinters’ lane, thinking….well, this is what I will be doing for the next 20 laps. Three laps down and the bell rings for the first point, sprint. Regroup. Pace slows. At this point, I was suffering. I knew I should be further up in the group and tried moving up but backed off a bit during the sprint for each point lap. Not yet comfortable standing out of the saddle surrounded by others. 5th again. Turns out that rabbit for the first few laps though the points started after the neutral lap.
Lunch break – thank goodness. I had spent less than 45 minutes racing but I wanted to call it two and done. Darrell made a Starbucks run. I have to say that was the best almond milk latte ever. With some food and caffeine and the promise to my legs that we had only one more race, we rolled up to the rail.
Elimination – 5 km, once the racing begins, the last one to cross the line (measured by the back of the bike) on the elimination lap is pulled out of the race. Situational awareness is key. I miscounted. I thought we had N+1 when we had N. Oops. Eliminated. Again 5th.
Points Race – 40 laps, points 4 deep at 30, 20, 10, 1 to go. Double points for the last sprint. I managed to grab a couple of points in the race. The person sitting in 6th attacks and gets away. No one chases her, so I move into the sprinter’s lane, put my head down to pull the field back to her. I look back. No one behind me. Crap. I look at the lap counter. 6 to go. Double crap. “Do I continue to chase? Wait…she is one place below me. If she stays away, would I drop to 6th?” I checked the leaderboard out of the corner of my eye and realized 5th was mine. Should I keep going? I did. The leaders in the omnium caught me in turn 3 on the last lap. I had nothing left to use to stay with them. Upon reflection, I should have attacked and tried to lap the field. I was far enough down in the points that I was not a threat to the top three, so they may not have given chase.
Darrell kicked some butt in the match sprints, coming in 3rd and 1st in the TT. Chuck raced extremely well. Ended up 9th in the omnium, 4th in the TT. For Ted – he does what Ted tends to do in a points race…take lots of points early, finishing in the top 10 as well in the omnium.
Lessons learned: I have a lot to learn about mass starts and the strategies for success. Change pedals or get some straps.
Things to do moving forward: Race more. On the track. Earn some color on the sleeves of a Brihop jersey.
A huge thank you to the Masters’ Women in Ontario. They welcomed me into the fold, encouraging me and making me feel like a local. The organization of the event and the quality of the officiating (starting gate comment aside) were top notch.