Dean’s 2015 Masters Track Worlds Team Pursuit Report – Manchester, England
The team pursuit is my favorite track event and always has been – even before I was racing on the track. I had the opportunity to practice with my team at the NSC Velodrome in Carson, California a month before worlds and we were all really excited about racing together in Manchester. My teammates were Lewis Elliot, Karl Baumgart, and John Murazak, who like me were all at worlds racing in individual events as well. Despite all our excitement and confidence, our qualifying heat in Manchester didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, but it wasn’t for any lack of effort and planning.
There were only 5 entries in the 35-44 Mens 3km Pursuit (12 laps of the 250-meter velodrome), but all 5 teams appeared to have a shot at the gold medal. Heats would go off individually which meant only one team would be on the track at a time. There’s a benefit to being in the later heats since you’ll have a better idea of what qualifying time is needed for the final. Last year Australia set a masters world record with a 3:18 in the final and we expected that same time would be required this year since times were faster across the board in the individual 3k pursuit. We were the 2nd heat which was a disappointment since the teams going after us – France and 2 different Great Britain teams – would be able to adjust their pacing schedules if possible to beat our qualifying time. Only 2 teams go to the gold medal final. Argentina went off first at a 3:24. While we knew we had to go as fast as our team could, now knowing we had to go under 3:24 with the higher seeded teams behind us lit our fire a bit more. We had to put up the fastest time we could. There was no room to save energy for the final. We planned to target 16.0 second lap splits which is 35mph after the initial starting lap and would land us just under a 3:20 finishing time.
We played with a number of different rider orders in Los Angeles and learned a lot about each other. We decided our best order was Lewis leading off the first lap, followed by Karl, then John, then me. As the most protected rider at the start I’d pull 2 laps at a time (on paper this was laps 4,5, then 9,10) which would give the other riders an extra lap to recover. We planned to start on the conservative side – not slow, but not as hard as we could either – and then if needed bring the pace up over the next few laps. We never had the chance to do a practice start on this track or lead changes at race speed, but many other teams were likely in the same boat.
The start went great and we were off. The start itself involves all 4 of us lined up side by side, pedaling out of the saddle through the banking which naturally causes us to fall into our racing order. We came together in line on the backstretch nicely and were off. I was actually gapped a bit on the back stretch which happened during practice starts (hence my 4th position!), but stayed high before turn 3 and used the turn to speed up and latch onto John’s wheel. Lewis (35-39 individual pursuit national champion) of course has been all out since the start and has taken us up to our cruising speed by the end of lap 1. We heard 22.9seconds which was right on the schedule we wanted. Lewis swung off for his first lead change and now it was Karl’s turn on lap 2. This whole time Karl (40-44 points race national champion) has been barely sheltered behind Lewis’s wheel on lap 1 and going what would be all-out for some of us, but holding back a bit for him and he’d now have to keep the 35mph pace going for a lap. Karl’s job was to control the pace for lap 2 and if anything float and relax letting the group come together. When teams overcook this event they tend to do it on lap 2. We heard 16.5seconds after lap 2, which was where we wanted to be but perhaps made us think we needed to bump the speed up another notch to make sure we got down to 16.0 seconds. John (40-44 scratch race national champ and would win the scratch and points races later this week at worlds) took over for lap 3 and I could feel the pace pick up nicely while I sat on his wheel. We were moving now and heard a 15.9 second lap split (keep in mind our actual speed was faster than that since we started that lap at a slower speed). John swung off for his lead change and now I was on the front. I’d pull 2 laps now with the job of really setting the pace for the 2nd half of the race while the other guys ‘recovered’. My first lap came through in 15.5 seconds (36mph) – now we’re going too fast and I could hear a couple “easy!” comments behind me. The combination of John’s fast lap plus my fast lap was starting to take a toll on us and if it kept up could shatter us. We’re all on the edge of our limits during this event and it doesn’t take much to push any one of us over the edge. Any change in speed or line at this pace causes repeated ripple effects down the line – one guy needs to surge slightly, or come up track slightly if it’s slowing, the guy behind him the same, etc. Remember there are no brakes and we’re doing this in the aerobars on banked turns at what’s now 36mph. My 2nd lap was starting to burn as expected and I floated the pace down to a more controlled 15.8seconds. It was time for my lead change and I swung up the track, then ripped the bars over and kept pushing the pedals back down the banking aiming to land on John’s wheel. Perfect, I settled in behind him as Lewis took over the front for lap 6. I could already see some rough signs in front of me as the changing gaps between wheels lead to slightly staggered side to side formation when looking at it from behind. Even a few inches up track or down track from the rider in front of you costs a lot of energy in extra drag and micro surges as you try to get back into that perfect position – just a few inches of space between your front wheel and his rear wheel. In a well controlled team pursuit the 2nd 3rd and 4th riders will save 35% of the power required of the leading rider, but all these little movements and microsurges can reduce that savings fast.
Lewis led us on lap 6 and we’d decided ahead of time if this had to be his last lap he’d pull off and leave the 3 of us to finish. It was more important to keep us on pace, then to let any speed go in an effort to stay on longer. When riders drop it’s usually because they don’t get back on after a lead change. The extra speed and surges had taken their toll, and Lewis went with the plan to finish this lap out on speed as hard as he could and peel off which he did calling “Three!, Three!” as he pulled up the banking letting us know he wasn’t getting back on. Lewis’ lap was 16.5 seconds which was fine and on schedule, so now Karl, John and myself would finish out the last 6 laps.
The next few laps things came apart. Small gaps formed, slight speed changes caused us to bunch, then come apart, one guy pulls off to the side slightly because of wheel overlap, all the while we’re all losing speed with nothing left to regain it. Eventually we had a decent size split between us and had to wait to regroup, and to make the long story short crawled home at 18+ second splits for the last few laps. When these things go bad, they go really bad! We crawled across the line in 3:28 having been on a 3:18 pace schedule at the halfway point. There wasn’t much to say immediately afterward, and all we could do was hope another team tripped up and let us slide in for the bronze medal final and have at least another shot for a fast time. The last 3 teams all went 3:25-3:27 times and we were out. 5th place out of 5 teams all separated by 4 seconds. We later watched Argentina win the gold medal with a 3:21 so congrats to them for either finding or saving an extra gear for the final. And just like that my season was done and it was time to pack my bike up for the flight home.
While I had plenty of time to write this report, of course all this happened in what was essentially seconds during our race. In hindsight, we were put in a tough position of feeling we needed to ride a much faster time than was ultimately required to make the final. Things would have been different had we been in a later heat targeting a slower time. Of course being our first ride on this track and our first ride together in a month led to a number of rusty areas that could have been a lot better and smoother too. Everybody is in the same boat though at this event as it’s nearly impossible to get on an open track and ride at full speed. It sure was tough to see the actual qualification times and what we believe we coulda/shoulda/woulda done, but that’s how it works. We had our chance to put down the best qualification time we could, and the results are the results. One of the veteran Team USA riders watching us said it best “I think you guys were the strongest team, but you ended up with the slowest time”. I had to laugh since that summed it up nicely.
It’s off-season mode for me now for a few weeks. It’s a great feeling flying home with the Rainbow jersey from my individual pursuit, and perhaps in the future we’ll have another chance at the team pursuit. It’s still my favorite event!
Thanks for reading,