1st place and new national record! (scroll down to Race Day for the race itself)
My season was done after the masters worlds in England and I was already 5 days off the bike. That changed when Dan Casper texted me revisiting a conversation we had at worlds about racing Team Pursuit together. There was a late November make-up event in six weeks at the domed Colorado Springs velodrome for the team events that were rained out at nationals in August. While I’d been a reluctant “no” on going until now, a few special twists quickly changed my mind. There already was a super fast team going in Colby Pearce, Matt Gates, Pat Warner, and Kevin Nicol. Those guys all live in Boulder, practice together, and on paper it was clear they’d lower the national team pursuit record next month. Dan proposed riding with me, Chris Carlson, and Tim Mulrooney against them in the 35+ team pursuit. While this lineup would break up Dan’s 45+ team (who’d already own several world titles along with the 45+ world record), the opportunity to race together and challenge the local Colorado team was worth it. Dan and I had been the top two individual pursuit times at nationals the last couple years, so it was a rare opportunity to race team pursuit with him since we’re usually in different ago groups. Chris Carlson also has dozens of national and world titles, so saying he’s strong and as experienced as anybody in team pursuit is an understatement. By the way, Dan and Chris are both 50 years old but have forgotten to slow down with age. Fortunately for us they’re the fastest 50-year-olds on the planet. Tim has several team pursuit world titles with Dan, the same decades of race experience and national and world titles, and is as dependable as anybody in the team pursuit. Tim’s also been our Hed wheel rep for the last ten years so it’s been great getting to know him personally the last couple years on the track. I found myself super motivated to keep training through November in anticipation of racing with these guys in what would be such a hotly contested event. What a perfect finale for my season. Most importantly I had great support at home and the shop to travel to what would be my 4th a multi-day track event this season.
Our lineup was set and we had a great practice session the day before. It’s always nice when a guy like Chris has the pull to clear the national team off the track, leaving us with an open track to practice full speed starts and lead changes for 15 minutes in the middle of their session. I’d start the team off as first in the order for a few reasons. While I’m not the fastest out of the gate (actually I’m the slowest), starting me first had several benefits. The standing start requires such precision in a team pursuit that I’ve found myself scrambling to close gaps in the past which takes about as much out of me as starting first. My 3 teammates can start in any position in their sleep. There’s also little risk of me starting us too fast – starting too fast being the number one enemy of the team pursuit. Chris, a giant in stature who towers over me, would start second. Dan would be third and enjoy the draft benefit of a minivan behind Chris, and Tim would finish us off in 4th.
On Friday two days before the event, we watched Pearce’s team lower the 4:30 national record down to 4:26.3 during a special “record attempt” session. This was a cold slow track too, so they’d be faster on Sunday. A freak cold and high pressure front resulted in possibly the slowest conditions ever for this otherwise fast altitude track. I also did a 3km individual record attempt that day which I debated even mentioning here. I basically had to shrug off all the data that said I couldn’t hold a 3:24 3km world record pace, then set off on that pace anyway and bury myself trying to hold it. Sounds like fun right? Well as you can imagine it wasn’t. I blew up worse than I ever have, but told myself it was a good opener for Sunday. We figured Pearce’s team would go 4:24 or so in the faster conditions on Sunday so we had to match or better that time. Unfortunately for us, luck of the draw (wink) saw the local team going in the 5th and final heat right after us. This meant they’d have the advantage of adjusting their lap schedule at the start to whatever was required to beat our time. All we could do was race as fast as we could – which is a delicate balance of weighing the risk of going too fast (blowing up) against the risk of going too conservative (losing).
Race Day – 4km 35+ Team Pursuit – 12 laps of the 333 meter track.
It was time to line up and roll. I had a good start, stood up and cranked hard through turns 1 and 2 and down the backstretch, then settling into the aerobars while still accelerating into turns 3 and 4. I came out of turn 4 at race speed, and then floated through the homestretch before hearing our lap 1 split right on target at 28.1 seconds. I swung up and down the bank landing smoothly on the back of Tim’s wheel. Whew. The train was in motion and now we all had to hold back and relax through the first few laps. All four of us were fighting the urge to go faster as our perceived effort lies to us so early in the race. Chris pulled a great lap 2, Dan lap 3, then Tim lap 4, all on target pace around 21.2 seconds per lap. It was perfect so far. I was well recovered when I got to the front again. Tim rotated off and now I’d go 1.5 laps still feeling great and only focusing on holding back and floating the same leg speed. Don’t go too fast, stay together, save some juice for the end. I took clean lines through the turns and had another good lead change as we kept the same lap splits. I was too busy concentrating to realize how smoothly this was going and how good I felt. Chris and Dan pulled great laps that saw us start to creep faster. Tim would now empty his tank on his final lap and then pull off leaving the 3 of us to finish since he wouldn’t see the front again. “Three!” he called out clearly as he rotated off, leaving me in front for my final 1.5 lap pull. I couldn’t believe how good I felt and wanted to go faster. This last kilometer was critical as we talked about picking the speed up toward the end if things were going well. I ramped the speed up through my first lap then heard “float!” from behind me and backed it off a notch. It was far more important to keep the 3 of us intact than risk splitting things with us all nearing our limits. I relaxed and floated my final lap and did a quicker sweep up and down knowing there were only 3 of us left.
If you forget and time your lead change up the banking thinking a 4th rider is there, it’ll be too late when you see he’s not. You’ll then find yourself completely spent from your pull and gapped by a bike length with the other 2 guys motoring ahead at 36mph. Trust me, you don’t want that!
I latched on safely and Chris would take his final lap holding the now increased pace. He’d rotate to the back leaving Dan on the front for the final 3/4 lap to the finish. I started yelling “Go! Go! Go!” on the backstretch knowing we were flying and about to set a record time. I stayed as close to Dan’s wheel as I could as he drilled it through turns 3 and 4, then started to “fan” up the track as we came off the final bend to the finish. I hammered a couple pedal strokes inside him then fanned up to make room for Chris’s 3rd wheel to cross the line where the electronic time would stop. The clock stopped at 4:23.7. Three seconds faster than Pearce’s team went on Friday, and before this weekend would have been 7 seconds faster than the national record. We rolled together on the infield track with a few high fives. That really went well. We knew our time would be tough to beat, but these guys could now set their lap schedule on it and go for broke trying to beat it.
It’s amazing how long 4 minutes is when you’re watching these guys circle around the track in near flawless tight formation clicking off fast lap splits one at a time. I continued rolling around the infield talking to Dan. At this point figuring they’d beat our time, but only because they got to go last. It would be well deserved either way. We’d have a national record for at least 5 minutes :-). The announcer was calling out the time difference each lap, so they were hovering around half a second up on us for awhile. I knew we’d picked up our pace in the final kilometer so there was still hope. They were down to 3 riders earlier than us, but when 2004 Olympian Colby Pearce is one of them they’ll still ride like 4. Suddenly the gap fell to just 0.2 seconds with 2 laps to go. Their formation still looked tight. One lap to go they called them down by 0.2 seconds! Wow, this was going to be close! We watched the clock as Colby, Matt, and Pat buried themselves for the final lap. In 20 seconds one team would win Stars and Stripes jerseys and own the new national record, and the other team would be congratulating them. I watched the clock as they rolled over the finish line, and it stopped at 4:24.2. We won by half a second! We shouted out some clear excitement followed by more high fives. All 4 guys on the other team offered congrats and great encouragement for such a tight race. Showdowns like this are why we all travel to these things, and in the end the battle amongst competitors and friends is just as important as the results.
I feel so good concluding my season with such a great team pursuit title. What a fantastic opportunity to race with Chris, Dan and Tim, and you couldn’t ask for a tighter race. It’s time to enjoy some downtime over Thanksgiving and the holidays while my motivation and batteries are recharging for 2017.
Thanks for reading!