My First Velodrome Race:

 
In an effort to limit the number of sports, I had actively resisted track riding during the years I lived in Van Nuys, right next to the Encino Velodrome. Ironically, after I moved out to Chatsworth, one of riders in my mountain biking group sent out an email plan to meet and hang out for an evening at the Encino Velodrome to watch some races. Seemed innocuous enough at the time.
 
The races were interesting, lots of strategy about position on the track, knowing when to hide out and draft and when to step up and attack. Road biking doesnít really appeal to me (doesn't we all spend too much time on the roads with traffic anyway) but this seemed totally different.
 
There were two requirements to ride in this velodrome. First is to take a day of lessons, which is held once per month. I took my day of lessons in Spring of last year, 2008. Nothing too difficult but I realized the importance learning the rules and etiquette fairly quickly - these fast racing bikes do not have brakes. Which leads to the second requirement, ride a track bike. Track bikes are light, single speed, and fixed gear (no freewheel) without brakes. Getting used to being clipped in to the pedals was natural to me from mountain biking. Getting used to not having brakes took a little bit of learning, but by planning ahead there rarely is a time you would even want them. Even without brakes, there are a few ways to slow down including riding outside of the draft of the person behind you, or riding up to climb to the higher part of the track or of course just resisting the turning of the pedals. This part, the fact that you canít stop peddling and coast, was very hard to get used to and still surprises me from time to time. Riders have have been launched off their bikes for forgetting this at a moment they have a straightened leg. That is scary stuff.
 
For the summer and fall of 2008 I headed down to the velodrome on 2 or 3 Tuesday evenings per month to rent a bike and get some practice. Towards the winter of 2008 the evenings got colder and work travel and house stuff put an end to this. But a week ago, many months since I had ridden on the track, I had a reminder pop up about a race the following week. I went to the Tuesday evening ride to see if I still remembered how to ride a track bike (talk about a cram session) and to find out what was required. I needed to get a racing license from USA Cycling (online) and bring a track bike (although I just used one of the rentals despite condescending comments), and just show up.
 
On race day, Saturday, yesterday, Andrea and I did show up. I raced in the lowest level, Category 5, which is all my brand new racing license would allow. There were four of us in my group (mens, Cat5). In the span of a couple of hours we had three different races of diffenent types requiring different strategies to win. During the first race I was mostly getting used to this whole thing but was able to come back in the end for second place. The fastest guy in our group was serious road bike racer and probably didh't belong in our races, but ostensibly they would not let him race in the higher velodrome classes, so he was forces to dominate in our races. So that left the competition between me and the other two guys, which by the second and third race, I had a huge points lead over.

 

With all of the races I did, you start clipped in holding on to the side rail. I am in the plain white shirt, second from the front but position here doesn't matter because you do one lap with pace control to get a little speed and group up for the start.

A closer shot to show our group. I'm the guy with the "rental bike";). The announcer is telling us to be safe, ride clean and remember that this isn't the world championship. What, it's not???

Rolling out for a slow controlled lap before the race begins.

Grouping up during the control lap.

Here we are in a pace line. We are all taking advantage of the wind draft provided by the person in front of us. The front guy is doing 30% more work then us so you generally don't want to be in that spot except during laps that gain you points.

This guy was the really fast road racer. Won all three of our races. In the first race he broke away, but I stuck with my strategy to stay in the group sharing the draft and wait till we caught him. We didn't - he lapped us. D'oh.

One of my sprints. I was able to pass the other two racers for all crossings that mattered. Didn't have enough confidence to leave the peloton and attack the pro guy but perhaps I should have tried.

I got a silver podium spot. Fun stuff.