April 8, 2005
American roadies take on the track… yes, that's right. If you wanted to have a few laughs back in January, all you needed to do was visit the Home Depot Event Center velodrome in Torrance, California. The USA Cycling Federation's attempt to boost the track program brought twelve girls and six of the under-23 guys to the track in January for a first-timers track camp. We must have looked so pathetic trying to figure out that you can NOT stop pedaling, while trying to not run into each other. It really was quite humorous. But really, most of us rather liked it and some of us have returned to the track to pursue it further.
Which brings me to the present. This week eight of us that had been named to the Pan American Championships long team came back to the velodrome to see who the next best pursuiter would be. Thank goodness one of those women was Erin Mirabella. Erin's the only girl out of the eight of us that is a true track rider. She actually knows what she's doing. The rest of us kind of flail behind her. No, honestly, I'm not giving us enough credit. Now that Laura Van Gilder, Tina Pic, Kori Seehafer, Christine Thorburn, Kristin Armstrong, and myself have been on the track at three different times this season, I think we're definitely getting the hang of it.
This week was to be the much-anticipated pursuit 'ride-off'. The top two times would qualify to compete in the pursuit in the up-coming Pan Am championships. At first Erin hadn't been invited, which didn't make sense at all. It seemed a little crazy that the two Americans competing in the pursuit would be women that had only been out of a start gate about a total of three times! So thank goodness Erin was finally invited. We knew she'd win, having just come off the World Championships and finishing ninth in the pursuit. Well, we were at least hoping she would win!
All of us except Erin had come straight from the Redlands Classic, so needless to say, our legs were a little tired. Tuesday was our first day on the track and we practiced our starts out of the gate. Kind of key, I suppose, to have a decent start! Unfortunately, our inexperience got the best of some of us. Christine had just finished her 500m start and was pedaling slowly around the blue line… (Sorry, I can't even remember what the proper name of the blue line is supposed to be. I know the black line is the pole line though, right?) Anyway, Christine was waiting for Kori to come out of the gate and found herself too high up the track and not going fast enough. All of a sudden, we heard this horrible noise. Christine's bike had slipped and she came crashing down the track, sliding into the net. Our mechanic, Mark, immediately went running over to her to make sure she was ok. Luckily, she was fine… just sustaining a little track burn. Oh ouch!
Wednesday was the ride-off and the women's endurance program director, Jim Miller, made sure it was official. He brought in three UCI timers to make sure all times were accurate and fair. Jim gave us the option of music or not. I, of course, chose music. It was easier to race 12 laps around the track with a little Rolling Stones kickin' it in the background. Otherwise, the track seemed eerily silent. Besides completely messing up my start, I think I chose too small of gear. If any trackies are reading this, please don't laugh. I chose an 86 but I think I should have gone with an 88. Once I got up to speed, I felt like my legs were spinning so fast, they were going to spin right off. Two days prior, Jim had given us all a chart that showed if you picked this gear and went this cadence, your lap times should be this. I don't think that chart was quite accurate. If I had actually been doing the lap times my cadence indicated, I should have set a new world record! After finishing my pursuit in a respectable time, considering my lack of experience, I watched the other girls go. Mike Tillman, an ex-track racer had been coaching us throughout the week. From him I learned that Sarah Ulmer, the Kiwi Athens Olympic champion and current world record holder, raced her pursuit in a 99!
As hoped and expected, Erin Mirabella did in fact post the best time out of all of us. Kristin Armstrong looks to be the next promising U.S. pursuiter, posting a time almost equal to Erin's. So those two will represent at the Pan Ams… you go girls! We had no more mishaps and safely closed the week's track session Friday with a group motor pacing workout behind the scooter on the track. Jim was driving the motor, trying helplessly to make it go faster than its meek 30mph. He tried to put himself in the most aero position possible, but still, it just wouldn't go very fast. He said later it reminded him of the scene from Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are driving their motor scooter slowly up the mountains to Aspen.
We may not be the most experienced track riders, but we're definitely getting it. We've come a long way since that first day of camp in January. It'll be fun to see how far we can go.