From the beginning of my professional career, I've always been told-by my trusted and experienced coach-that I would be great on the track and that I would love it. And since I've started my pro career, I've tried to take every opportunity to try it all and it has been such a blast, this surely to be no different.
The track is a bit mysterious as well as scary as hell to some, but to me it looked like a bowl of fun, let's jump in! And that's what I did. Michael Engleman hooked me up with Roger Young (a running ton of experience and knowledge) and Roger said to come to L.A., give the track a try and I'll see what talent you do or do not have. And with that I was on a road trip to California for a week of warm weather in November, evening track sessions and some daytime road rides sans leg warmers or arm warmers.
For the first session and my first track experience it was a bit intimidating but for some reason, maybe because my family is in the hardwood timber business, I felt a sense of comfort. Inside the Home Depot Center there are pictures of the 1984 Olympics and the old velodrome plus some jerseys of champions and autographs of some of cycling's finest, then as you look down into this deep wooden bowl you get an appreciation for the steepness and what it takes to 'just go around in circles' cause that's what it looks like 'til you do it.
That reminds me of a story one of my friends told me after one of the local cyclo-cross races. She knows what it takes to race cyclo-cross and she was there cheering me on when someone who obviously doesn't have a clue how hard it is asked, "Why are they going so slow?". Same thing with the velodrome, I've looked at video of me and of others on YouTube and it looks so slow but once you are out there you feel like (and pretty much are) you are flying! But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, first I have to learn the rules of the track and how to ride a bike, kind of.
Roger, bless his heart, went over every position on the track for a solid 45 minutes before we even touched a bike and I was very thankful because I sure didn't want to be messing up and crashing anybody, especially myself. Immediately I understood how important these rules are when you are thinking about how many people are on the track at one time and how quickly you come up on them and guess what, no brakes! So there is a lot of trust and understanding that takes place out there without many people even seeing it from the outside looking in. So, now let's get on a bike already, my pits are sweating with my excitement going like crazy!
The track bike is a bit different than a road bike, the wheels are closer - so more toe overlap - I learned that one pretty fast, the front end is heavier and of course it is a fixed gear bike, which didn't bother me as much as I first anticipated.
So around the apron we went for a tutorial, I swear Roger has a running ton of patience. Anyway, I did a couple of laps on the apron, then Roger told me to do 5 laps in the pole lane and 5 on the relief line. Once I finished those, I came back down to the apron and Roger stopped me at the start/finish line and said, "Now do 5 laps on the balustrade." Now I'm nervous and I tell him, "I'm a bit nervous about that" and off I pedal and say to myself, "What the hell, go for it!" I'm pretty sure I had the biggest grin in L.A. at that time and that was when I fell in love with the track.
The next couple of days Roger surrounded me with some of the greatest cyclists, who taught me something new, I swear, every lap or so it seemed and I was all ears. Thank you all for your words of wisdom and your patience. I jumped right into pacelines, got to see some guys practice the Madison, followed the motorcycle, did some sprints and had a bunch of laughs.
To top off the week Roger wanted me to finish with a 3km time trial as well as a 500 meter sprint. It was like my nerves shot up all over again, because now I was going to be on Roger's bike (Lord please help me not to mess up his bike), in an aero position (all new feeling) going all out. Then I hear my inner voice, "What the hell, let's do this!".
So after getting acclimated to the bike and getting the right position, I'm off for 20 laps to get used to the bike. After those laps, we rest for a bit and then it's time to go.
Roger explained that once I come around after the start, I will hear a beep and I should be at the pursuit line at the same time and that he was going to set my time at a 4:05. To be honest my legs felt like bricks after a week of track and I thought that I wouldn't be able to do a 4:05, then one of the guys asked if I wanted some cheese with my whine - whatever! Roger said the best in the world can do it as fast as 3:30 something, OK, I can do it (I'm not competitive as hell or anything).
So off I went and after getting up to speed on the first lap, I didn't hear the beep until I was through the first turn and I yelled out loud (before thinking-naturally), "What was that?" I kept going and I'm sure I was humoring Roger by this point and then I realized that I was a bit ahead of the beep but as long as I could stay steady, by the time I'm down to the last lap I will be right on target.
Well I finished faster than anticipated, 4:02, I'll take that for a first timer. The 500m was next but I was pretty fried, so I don't think that went to well, but it didn't matter to me, I was just enjoying the moment and my last couple of circles 'til next time I get to come play at the track.
I was sad to leave, I really enjoyed Roger's coaching, the guys and gals he introduced me to and the warm weather, but my dog was eagerly waiting my homecoming. As I arrived back home there was something else there to greet me, my new nordic skis, boots and poles. So yet another adventure awaits me, this time in the wide open, cold, winter air but thoughts of the wooden track aren't far from my mind. 'Til next time Cyclingnews...