I hadn’t been on a velodrome in 4 years. I hadn’t raced in nearly as long as taking some time off turned out longer and while it’s a story for another day it’s been a long 2 years working to return to form. Here I was at masters track nationals in Trexlertown Pennsylvania again about to race the 3k in the 45-49 age group. I spent 2020 just training again, and then this past year taking it up a notch to prepare for this event and see how close I could get to my past form. I had UK coach Ric Stern of Cyclecoach.com help me with a training plan to specifically prepare me for my 3k target event. I’ve enjoyed the process of working to return to form more than anything, but the race was on so here I was.
My aero position is drastically different now than my last race – which is another article in itself, but that’s too long a story for today. At the conclusion of 2 years of position adjusting for back and neck pain relief, combined with further adjustments to produce power, topped off with coming out of aero field testing retirement, a wind tunnel trip, more field testing and tweaking I found myself in my current position. The saddle is well forward of my prior rearward saddle position, and the aerobars are much closer. Both these changes always seemed to increase my drag in the past, but eventually done in the right combination of other adjustments I found a position that’s as fast as my old position. Perhaps even more slippery. Thanks to my roadie friends for putting up with every variation of tipping on my saddle and crouching on my road bars while twisting my forearms, shoulders, and head in every configuration possible all summer as every ride become an experiment toward where I am now. My only real test was a 3min piece on a flat road nearby where I matched the power held doing the same thing 6 years ago. I was as ready as I could be, and quite honestly just wanted to get this race over with as I couldn’t believe the anxiety I was feeling leading into it.
I was relieved to have an early heat so I wouldn’t need to worry about other times. Top seeds would go in the last heat. The weather was hot, a thunderstorm was incoming, and I worried about not even getting to race. The calm before the storm would make the track very fast around 6pm when my heat went off. I hadn’t done a standing start in 4 years – this is where an official or mechanical starting block holds your bike upright in place and won’t release you until the starting gun. You would think I’d have practiced one. You would think. I wanted to treat the start more like a time trial start not hammering out like I used to, and then use the final 3 minutes of the event to pace myself and go fast. I was fortunate to have living masters track and time trial legend Dan Casper ready to call my lap splits which gave me lots of comfort. Dan was actually the first guy I met on the track 7 years ago and since I’ve watched him win more national and world titles than I can count. My start came, and after the countdown I swung forward and rolled through my start. I stood and accelerated through the long wide first turn of the 333-meter outdoor concrete track and settled in the aerobars on the straightaway. It was such a relief to finally just ride hard for 3 minutes. The steering of my track bike changed with the more forward saddle position and shortened reach, and I found most of the time I was just focused on riding clean lines in and out of the turns. Each straightaway I’d push when the cadence is lower and and let the cadence spin high as I leaned through the turns. I told Dan first lap would be 30 seconds or so, then if it went how I’d hoped I’d be in the 22.5-23.0 second range each lap. A perfect day I’d be around 3:30 which would be my fastest time for an outdoor track. My first lap was right on 30 seconds, then lap 2 and 3 were 22.5 and 22.7 seconds.1k down and 2k to go, my speed felt good and I didn’t want to burn up too early so just tucked and kept spinning. Dan yelled 22.4 for the 4th of 9 laps which was good. I wasn’t blowing up yet, but familiar hyperventilating had started and legs were starting to burn. I needed to hold on a few more laps before slowing. I heard 22.5 after lap 5 and started to slowly press and squeeze harder with 4 laps to go. The pain cave was on, but would all be over soon. 22.4 seconds with 3 laps or 1k to go and I could tell in Dan’s voice he knew it’s what I wanted to hear. I’d start going all out knowing if I could just get through the next 2 laps I could blow up and coast through most of the final lap. I pulled up on my aerobars which in testing causes my head to duck lower and shoulders to squeeze in tight in this new position. 22.2 seconds with 2 laps to go, I just did the fastest lap of my evening. 2 laps to go was also 22.2 seconds. I knew sub-3:30 was possible if I hung on. Last lap was the familiar wrestling match with the bike as it started to slow and you’re doing everything you can every pedal stroke to keep pushing it forward. I finished in 3:29.5. I didn’t know this until a few minutes later or even care as the only thing that mattered is I could now slow down and it was all behind me. It’s just the best feeling being done!
I then warmed down below the track and would need to wait another 30 minutes for the remaining heats to race. Defending champ Heath Dotson and long-time friend/rival Karl Baumgart would go off head to head in the last heat. Neither of these guys came here to finish 2nd so would put everything they had into finishing under my time. Karl was flying on his shiny new bike, knew it was a fast track and afterward told me he adjusted his schedule based on my faster than expected lap splits. Both Karl and Heath came flying out of the gates. The sound of fixed gear carbon wheels roaring over the concrete pavement above me each time they passed by. I wasn’t watching, but live lap splits were available and a couple guys next to me were getting updates. When they passed the 2k mark, Steven Kusy who was warming up next to me asked me “do you want to know where you stand?” I don’t think I answered, but knew it was close. He wasn’t going to tell me unless I said yes. (Steven would crush the 35-39 3k an hour later putting up the fastest time of the day at 3:27). By the last lap Heath had fallen behind my pace, but Karl was still up a fraction of a second. It wasn’t until the very last lap finished where Steven said “you won by half a second”. I was sent to my first doping control in 4 years and by the time we finished the thunderstorm had rolled in postponing the podium ceremony to a later date, but I’d already travelled back home by then. I was relieved the race and season was over and could join some fun fall riding.
Thanks for reading. Only plans for next year are to continue to try to get stronger and faster which I’ve enjoyed more than anything!