Prinner's Junior Nationals report (finally!)

Hello ABD,

There is no doubt that this year's Junior National Championships hosted some of the most exciting and challenging races, not to mention being located in sunny California, which tied together a fun vacation and a memorable experience.  Nomatter how many pages I cover this story in, it will still never include the entirely of the trip, so I figure I'll just pick out the highlights and not bore my readers with the nitty gritty facts.

                Never before had I ridden a bicycle in California, or been to Los Angeles, so that in itself proved to be an adventure.  Road Nationals were first on the agenda, so we stayed in a leaky hotel in Anaheim, within walking distance from Disneyland, where our podium presentations were to be held.  From the outside, our hotel looked like the face of luxury, but after just two days there, we realized it was literally falling apart from within.  It was everything from beaten in drawers, to broken toilets, to leaking air conditioners that made us wonder what bigger problems the place might be hiding.  Luckily, though, with my honed survival skills, I was able to make do with what we had (bed pans aren't out of style yet, are they? Just kidding.)

My first event was to be the individual time trial, which, luckily, I had my "super tripped out TT bike" for.  If there was a TV show called "Pimp my bicycle", my TT bike would definitely not be on it.  In fact, my TT bike was really an imposter, because it was, in fact, just my road bike with a cheap pair of TT bars clamped on it.  Fortunately, I happen to be a top-notch bike expert, and that imposter TT bike didn't fool me for a second, because as soon as I lifted my bike up I realized it weighed about 70 pounds extra due to the cheap TT bars.  If I ever buy my own boat, I will use those TT bars as my anchor (when I'm not using them for my "TT bike" of course).

                The course itself consisted of long, gradual hills that made it feel as though my wheel was super-glued to the pavement, and the blazing hot sun did nothing to improve the scene.  After a hard effort I rode into 3rd place, just day one of a long two weeks of racing.

                The next day I arrived at the criterium course, which was literally located in the Angels Stadium parking lot.  The course wasn't much better than any other National crit course I've ever experienced, which means that it was pretty pitiful.  It pretty much looked like a giant blob with a loop at one end, and was fenced off with the usual iron gates used for a crit.  The day was about as hot as the previous day, and my wheels were practically melted to the pavement by the time the ref blew the whistle, where Coryn (the girl who won the TT) literally attacked as soon as she clipped in.  After looking around and decidin g that nobody else was going to chase (it was the first lap for Christ's sake!) I took the lead and quickly closed the gap before the end of the first lap.  The race continued as attack after attack was launched, and despite all my crafty sly moves, I didn't succeed in making a break for the larger part of the race.  Then, just about the time the sun and attacks were starting to wear everyone down, a solo move got away, and gained a quick lead as nobody attempted to chase right away.  As soon as everyone realized that the gap was 30 seconds and getting larger, it was too late, and scattered attacks and failed attempts to work together only added to our demise.  I did virtually no work in the chase, and made a flyer on the final lap of the race, managing to slide into second place.

The next day hosted the junior women's RR, which, was dishearteningly flat considering we were in California.  This race would soon turn out to be perhaps one of the most disappointing races of my young cycling career.  That very day happened to be one of those rare days where a rider hops on their bicycle only to feel like they're lugging a 20 ton load of potatoes.  This tends not to bode well in a National Event.  The combination of national event stress (which was pretty high at the time) and empty legs only furthered my discouragement, and just several laps into the race (personally I think road races should not be allowed to have laps), I made possibly the worst choice I have ever made in a bike race.  Despite my constant efforts at a chase, my legs were just not up to par and I could not make any moves that occurred early on in the race.  I soon ended up in the third chase group, and barely hanging on at that.  When it got to the point that my frustration and disappointment became overwhelming, I dejectedly slammed on the brakes and pulled out of the race.  Now, looking back on my impulsive choice, I only feel regret and remorse, and quickly learned that nomatter what plays out in a bike race, to never just throw in the towel when it seems as though all hope is lost, because giving up is the greatest form of failure.   Sometimes, as I have learned, you have to experience things the hard way to truly learn from them, and now that I see the mistake in my choice, I'm determine d to never let negativity or frustration get in the way of a race, or any other aspect of my life for that matter, again.

Just a week passed after road nationals before track nationals began, and we packed up all 80 tons of equiptment into our rental mini van and headed for long beach, where the events were to be held on the ADT event center track in Carson.  This track was a unique sort in the fact that it was a wooden track composed of Siberian Pine, is one of the only indoor tracks in the U.S., and being just 250 meters in length, it had roughly 46 degrees in banking.  All I can say is that it's definitely quite a bit steeper than Northbrook, my native track.  In fact, the straightaways on the ADT velodrome are indeed steeper than the steepest turn on the Northbrook velodrome.   

I was just a slight bit apprehensive about racing on this track because it was very much unlike any track I had ever ridden before.  It is certainly at a rider's advantage to ride on their home track because a true track racer knows all the kit and caboodle about their own track from the scantiest bumps to the feel of the surface and the pull of the banking.  I virtually knew nothing of these properties at the ADT velodrome.  To prove this statement, one must simply know of my very first experience on this track. 

Before being allowed to just ride the velodrome, a rider has to first get certified to make sure they know how to stay upright on this scary-looking structure.  I began by riding around on the apron, which, in track jargon, is the innermost surface of the track and is completely flat.  After several laps I gained enough courage to leap up onto the real track itself and begin my adventure in track riding.  All was great, and I felt exhilarated at the exotic feel of the smooth wood under my tire as I chugged along on the first straightaway of the loop.  Everything so far was going wonderfully, and for about 50 feet I got to feel the satisfaction of staying up right on the daunting  ADT velodrome.  Then, unfortunately, I hit the first turn and realized that it was very, very steep, and even worse, that I really wasn't going all that fast.  It didn't take long for Gravity to put two in two together and come to the conclusion that me staying upright around that turn at that velocity would pretty much defy all the laws of physics.  And so my 50 feet of exhilarating ADT experience came to a quick and jarring halt as my tires slid out from under me, sending me sprawling down the track.  Perhaps the only good thing about falling off a 46 degree angle is that by the time you hit the bottom you literally off the track, and therefore can no longer get in anyone's way, like, say a paceline of 20 riders flying thr ough at 30 mph.

So with several days of practice under my belt, I felt a bit more confident for my first event: the sprint competition.  This event tends to be pretty complex with more rules than any one person can handle, but the basic idea is that riders are matched in pairs and have just three laps to figure out how to outsprint the other one.   The winner moves on to the next round where they go head to head with another qualifier, and so on and so forth until the final round where the two final contestants race for the gold. 

                Well, I happened to be matched with a newbie in the first round who was really quite as lost in as I was about how to race a match sprint.  Now you may think that this is a good thing, but let me assure you, it's not.  There's nothing scarier than having two novices out on the track trying to race a world class event.  Exactly how those world class people do it, I don't know, because as soon as we hit turn one after just one lap on the track, I realized for the second time that week that gravity was not so forgiving.  It didn't help much, either, that we were at the very top of the track.   My competitor was the first to go, and as soon as she hit the track I made the mistake of looking down, because when I did, I realized it was a long, long way down.  So what did I do?   I went down after her.  Is anyone actually surprised?

                Just a little bit of rug burn on my arm and leg and I was livid.  We started the round over (both of us kept a pretty good pace through turn one I must say) and I outsprinted her in the final stretch to move on to the next round. 

                My victories were short lived, though, because I lost the second round to take 7th place.

The next day wasn't much better either.  I've never had a very good history of 500 meter TTs, and that day proved it because I took 14th place after a shaky start and slow run.

After that came the scratch race, the first mass start race and my best opportunity for a good place.  The race was splintered with a series of attacks, none of which got away, and the race was neutralized by a crash with just 6 laps to go.  The field became desperate as the laps counted down, but every move never made it far, and it was sure to be a field sprint.  I learned quite a harsh lesson on the ADT about field sprints on a 250 meter velodrome: everyone pretty much finishes in whatever place they're in on the last lap of the race.  It really isn't much of a field sprint at all.  Seeing as though I was in roughly 5th position on the final lap, that's exactly where I ended up finishin g.   5th place wasn't so bad considering it was my first mass start on the track, but still just a tiny bit disappointing considering my past results.

Finally, the last day in my track competition arrived, and I was ready to take on the points race seeing as though it was probably my best of all the races.  The race started out calm for the first 9 laps, just a pack of cyclists riding in circles, until the first bell rang to signify a points sprint.  From then on the field was just a shattered remnant of a peloton, because four girls made it off the front to eventually lap the field, and I happened to be one of them.  In a points race, when a rider laps the field, they achieve 20 points, so by doing so the four of us pretty much secured out top four places in the race.  Sadly, though, I was unable to make podium because I missed out on third by one point, taking fourth place. 

In an accumulation of points I took 7th overall, no doubt so low because of my low placings in the sprint and TT competitions, but still decent for such a tough week of racing. 

Overall I'm pretty satisfied with my Nationals results, but most importantly, I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and know what to improve for next year.  Going to California and racing on such an extreme track as the ADT was a great experience, not to mention I really enjoyed riding and racing on it, and sometimes struggling on a difficult new discipline is better than breezing through something you know really well.  The quick, harsh lessons I learned on the Carson velodrome will certainly aid me in years to come, because next time I race a 250 meter track I'll at least have some experience it won't take me by surprise like it did this year.

And that concludes California.

Till next year…



No comments: