While my training was going great, and I felt as strong as ever on my track bike, I can’t write this report without including my trip to England, where things went from so right to so wrong. The heats and finals are titled below if you want to skip ahead.
My Friday night flight out of Boston got delayed because of the tropical storms coming up the east coast, and I was in danger of missing my connection flight from Philadelphia to Manchester. As it turns out we landed 15 minutes before my connection took off, which left an entire plane of passengers scurrying and running for different flights in Philadelphia. I speed walked/jogged/hobbled as fast as I could to the international terminal and got there at exactly 9pm when my flight departed. “Departed” was the sign at the gate with about 10 of us sweating and cursing having just made it. I was now suffering from back and knee pain too since I can’t run (that’s why I only bike now). There were no flights the next two days since a hurricane was coming and the tropical storms ahead of it had already shaken the airlines upside down. We were all told we’d be on the Manchester flight in 48 hours – I was going to miss my 3k individual pursuit event on Sunday – the event I’d been training all year for and was as confident as ever on a high placing or a win.
I was too amped up to accept this. After about 30 minutes of pushing I found out that a flight to London (not Manchester) had space a few gates down. We were all rerouted to the delayed London flight and given a connection to Manchester the following morning. I was assured that my checked bags would get transferred over to the new flight and I hobbled away to the new flight. I slept for perhaps a couple hours, and landed safely in London the following morning. However, I didn’t calculate that since the London flight we jumped on was delayed, we faced a 45 minute window to reach our connection to Manchester (not the 2 hours listed on my ticket). Heathrow in London is huge. I spent the next 45 minutes in the same panic as Philly rushing through lines, security, and customs desperately trying to get to my connection in time. I finally made it – a sweaty tired mess at this point, and we were off to Manchester. I was still going to make it to my race the following day which was all that mattered at this point.
I landed in Manchester and waited at baggage claim where I found the same familiar ten passengers from Philly. We all had the same look on our faces when it was brought to our attention that “our checked bags didn’t make the flight” and were still in Philadelphia. One of my checked bags was my bike box containing my bike, wheels, helmet, skinsuit, shoes, and everything I needed for the race. The baggage claim guy gave us lost baggage tickets and told us we’d receive our bags within three days!? There was nothing else he could do. Once again my race the following day was in jeopardy and at this point I was completely beaten, tired, and getting emotional to the point of breaking down. Racing the following day meant everything to me and was the goal of all my training and sacrifices the past few months and for the second time in a day I was basically being told I was going to miss it.
My superheros at home who are always there for me
I texted everybody at home again simply broken and not knowing what I could do. Marty called me right away and basically said, “You tell me what you need, and I’ll find it today and overnight it to you! Tell me exactly what you need. Don’t worry, I will make sure you have it all tomorrow and you will have it for your race.” Marty went to work on that plan. Meanwhile, my beautiful always supportive wife Carolyn called and said, “Send me your baggage loss ticket, all your boarding passes, and original baggage tickets.” She ended up spending 6 hours on the phone that Saturday with my original airline, at one point on hold for nearly two hours, politely discussing my situation with every person she talked to. She’s doing this while shuttling our four kids around to soccer games, gymnastics practice, friends houses, and all the usual Saturday errands and routine. She simply wouldn’t stop until she spoke to a person who could confirm my bike was on a flight that evening.
At this point I was at the velodrome registering and had a substitute bike lined up – my roommate and team pursuit teammate Lewis Elliot’s bike since he was racing his pursuit heats about 45 minutes before me. It wasn’t ideal, but perhaps would give me a chance to qualify for a medal round if my bike didn’t make it until then. Carolyn finally texted that evening saying she got confirmation that my bike would be on a plane and land in Manchester at 9am the following morning. My heats went off around 1p.m. The following morning I woke to a text she sent at 3a.m. with final confirmation that my bike was indeed on the plane on its way to Manchester. With the hurricane coming, there’s no way my bike would have made it here in time without everything she did. I had my UCI event driver take me to the airport Sunday morning, he waited with me for two hours before I could finally get my bike, and we were off to the velodrome in celebration. I had about two hours before my heats went off. Bob Francis of the incredibly helpful American Track Cycling Foundation that had sponsored our team pursuit training camp in Los Angeles last month took over once I got to the track and helped me get ready for my qualifying heats.
3k Individual Pursuit Qualifying heats – 12 laps of the 250 meter track
The first time I would touch this track was when I climbed onto my bike in the starting gate. This would normally bother me a lot more, but it was such a minor issue in comparison to my last 36 hours so I was fine with it. The turns are wider and more manageable in Manchester than in Los Angeles, so I kept focusing on my standing start mechanics and pacing plan and hoping things would go smoothly once I got a feel for the track. I’d be much better off with a smooth controlled slightly slower start versus a faster erratic start that cost me lots of energy better used in the second half.
I was in heat 7. The countdown started, I relaxed and focused on timing my breathing with the beeps – breath in on the odd numbers, breath out on the even numbers (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!). The gun went off and I had a smooth start – standing up accelerating until the end of the backstretch then into the aerobars. All I had to do the next 3 minutes was pedal my bike. The nightmarish last 36 hours are behind me. I think I was smiling. Bob called a 23.2 1st lap – much faster than I’d ever done before which was great considering how controlled I felt. The next couple laps were 16.4 and 16.5 seconds feeling easy. I was getting a good feel for banked turns too. I heard some 16.7 and 16.8 splits over the next few laps which was fine – my target was 16.6 lap splits but knew I’d have to adjust things as needed based on how I felt and heard. After a couple late/missed glances at the lap count clock which was positioned earlier in the straightaway than I was used to, I finally saw 6 laps to go. I was breathing really hard now, but confident I’d make it to the end without a serious blow up. I pushed very hard with 4 laps to go knowing I was on pace for the fastest time so far and knew every tenth of a second could count for making the finals. I put everything I had left into the final 4 laps and could see I was catching the other rider on the last lap. I passed him on the finishing straight and was super relieved to be done and know it went well. I looked up and saw my time on the top of the leaderboard 3:27.1. I was just 2.1 seconds slower than the 40-44 world record (3:24.95). I watched the last few heats which were barnburners. Great Britain’s Andy Stuart went 3:29.1 to edge out last years defending champ Lee Suthard who went 3:29.7. I’d face Andy Stuart in the Gold medal head to head final in 4 hours. I spent about an hour warming down, massaging, and stretching to get myself as ready as I could for doing a similar effort in such a short amount of time. At least all the finals racers appeared to have gone as fast as possible in the heats so we’d be in similar pain caves in 4 hours doing it all again.
The Gold medal final
I warmed up as well as I could on my trainer and tried to zone out from the finals going on the track all around me. Carolyn texted that all the kids were ready to watch the final on the live stream, and even 4-year old Drew was cheering for me – when he threw a penny in the wishing well at the Topsfield Fair that morning, he said that he wished Daddy would win his race. It was hard not to get emotional hearing the support, and watching victory ceremonies and national anthems playing through the evening. My final was at the end of the evening going off at 8:30pm – Sunday afternoon at home. Keep focusing on the warm-up, and race plan and it’ll all be done soon. I’d be far more fatigued in the final, but backed off my pacing schedule only slightly. I’d target the same opening lap, then 16.7 second lap splits – knowing that they could very well float up to 17 seconds late in the game as I “died a thousand deaths”. I expected to be behind early on, so after a lengthy discussion with Bob and Lewis we decided not to give me splits to Andy at any point during the race. I wouldn’t be able to see him, and felt nothing good would come of it. I simply had to go as fast as I could, as smart as I could, and finish knowing I couldn’t go any faster. Team USA’s Dan Casper – who’d win the 45-49 pursuit later that evening, gave me the last minute advice, “you’re the stronger rider, you can afford to be conservative.”- i.e. don’t change anything in the final. Make a plan and stick to it.
I climbed on my bike in the starting gate, listened to the countdown, stood up at 1 second to go, then surged forward at the gun. I had a clean start and smooth acceleration through the banking, then climbed into the aerobars mid-back stretch this time which was earlier than this morning since I wanted to make sure I didn’t go out too fast. I came through the first lap at 23.1 seconds again. I felt great! I heard 16.1 seconds for the 2nd lap, which was too fast yet I was excited I could back off some since it still felt good. 3rd lap in 16.4, great. I was starting to feel it – 16.7, 16.9 – legs are suddenly screaming out of nowhere and still 7 laps to go. I hear the UK crowd going crazy every time I came down the homestretch, but they’re not cheering for me. I absolutely have to keep these splits at 17sec or less to hold him off. 17.1 seconds split, I have nothing to do but keep pedaling as hard as I can. If I lost it would at least know I went as hard as I could. As captured in pictures, my mouth is wide open at this point and would probably be yelling if it didn’t waste energy. 16.9 seconds, 5 laps to go. It’ll all be over soon….Is that him around the bend? 16.9 seconds 4 laps to go and there he is ahead! I’m catching up to him, as long as I hold pace I’ll win. I’m still burying myself pulling 17second laps keeping him just in my view. I’m getting the typical tunnel-vision, hear the bell lap and still see him. My wide open mouth is trying to smile on the final lap, finishing gun, ride up the track, and carefully hold an arm up in celebration (not 2 arms unless you want to crash). Big congrats and excitement from Bob and Lewis, followed by very nice words from Andy Stuart who came across the track infield right away to congratulate me.
My family and friends at home were able to watch the awards ceremony shortly after the finals on the live video stream. The experience of receiving the World Champion’s Rainbow jersey was simply incredible. The rainbow jersey has colors from the flags of every country and is awarded to the world champion across all cycling disciplines. I heard our national anthem and watched an American flag with two UK flags on both sides of it hoist up above the track. Manchester England is the center of the track cycliing world which made the moment even more perfect. It was perfect.
My biggest thanks go to my incredibly supportive wife Carolyn and 4 kids at home. Words and details can’t describe how much they mean to me and help get me here. Carolyn did what 2 airlines together couldn’t pull off yesterday – getting my bike box over to England in time for my race. And that’s just on one day, never mind what she does the other 364 days of the year for me.
A huge thanks to Marty – my great friend and business partner who is always there for me no matter what. I have no doubt if I couldn’t get my bike he would have found a way to locate everything needed either in the USA or in England and get them to me by that Sunday morning whatever the cost. His support means so much to me, and I simply couldn’t accomplish what I have without him.
The Fit Werx crew at home – Geoff, Mike, Brad, and Stephen – 4 guys I can always depend on, and will always go the extra mile to get the job done.
Also, huge thanks to Bob Francis of the American Track Cycling Foundation which sponsored our training camp at the Carson Velodrome in Los Angeles last month – a 3 day Team Pursuit training camp that prepared us for our Team Pursuit race later this week. I also got tremendous experience on my individual pursuit training spending so much quality time.
Team Pursuit coming up
I race the 35-44 Team Pursuit on Thursday 10/8 with Lewis Elliot (35-39 pursuit national champ), Karl Baumgart (40-44 points race national champ), and John Murazak (40-44 scratch race national champ). It’ll be broadcast through the same live stream, so tune in if you can!
Thanks for reading!