Thursday, October 2, 2014

Track Nationals 2014

Track Nationals 2014 
by Travis Rabbit

Yale Cycling returned to the track in 2014!

I competed at 2014 Collegiate Track Nationals, in a last minute decision after crossing it off my calendar and re-adding it more times than I can count, due to academic scheduling, travel concerns, and major health events of the summer months leading up to the events, followed by a surprisingly strong performance for 3rd place in the NY State Track Championship omnium.

Due to my PA student clinical schedule, I was only able to attend the weekend events; the 500 meter time trial, and the scratch race. Unfortunately, the pursuit, which was the event I had been targeting was scheduled for Friday morning. But, hey, quality over quantity, right?!
So, with that in mind, I left clinical on Friday and headed straight to Indianapolis rehearsing these two events over and over in my head:

500m TT… the count down, focus, the standing start, go go go! stay low and go!
The scratch race… stay in the top 15 but keep it cool in the qualifying round races, then give it EVERYTHING in the finals. race smart, race safe. Follow anything that Marion does.

And, considering the competition. Who would I try to follow if they initiated a breakaway? Who was worth chasing down? Who would I watch out for?

The major players and a few choice facts:
  1. Coryn Rivera: 6th at La Course, Tour De France; 1st Pro Criterium Championships
  2. Anyone from Marion: they’re all fast, well trained, a cohesive team and smart. Varsity
  3. Nicole Bruderer: 2013 scratch winner, too many top results to list
  4. Anyone from University of Colorado: also fast, smart, cohesive. Varsity
  5. Anyone from MSU: do I need to repeat this?
  6. Colleen Guilick, regular top omnium placer in UCI track races, criterium destroyer
  7. Monica Volk: my USAC teamate and a product of the T-town elite youth dev program

CSC sticker as valve stem hole cover!
Saturday morning, 500 meter time trial: cue a 5:30am start to the day, salted carmel GU on top of hotel oatmeal for breakfast (seriously, try it!), followed by warming up on the track and rollers for an hour and a half prior to my start time, and discovering that sunrise over the velodrome in Indiana is beautiful.  The less beautiful discovery was that I had stiff, leaden legs after spending 12 hours driving and not as much sleep as one would hope for ahead of a nationals event. This necessitated a rapid gear change to something lighter than my usual (in track racing, you cannot shift, as the bicycle is a fixed gear with one chainring and one cog which must be set up ahead of your races), in the hopes of getting out of the start gate as quickly as possible, anticipating a lack of opening snap. The anticipation of lack of force in my standing start proved to be a wise one, although the light gear handicapped the top speed of the remaining meters, landing a 35th place finish.

With plenty of time to recover before the scratch races, it was nap time. The track was promptly exited, aero wheels repacked in their bags (thanks to College Street Cycles for setting these babies up!), and Minoura rollers in the trunk.

Big news from USAC on waking from my nap! What luck! The qualifier has been removed from my schedule and I will proceed straight to the scratch race major finals - the big race for the national collegiate scratch title!

Pack racing at it's purest!
A note about scratch races: Think of it as a criterium on a track, with fixed gear bicycles. It’s fast, with the same surges and breakaway attempts as a criterium, but minus the primes. The scoring is based on the final finish line, with no intermediate sprints. Like a criterium, anything can happen. Team tactics matter.

This is when it starts to hurt...
Notably, out of the scratch race finals field, there would be only a handful (litterally, I could count on one hand) of nonvarsity athletes present, including myself. Track nationals is a notably varsity-heavy event, with the majority of teams present having full squads with specialists for different events, coaches present and well rehearsed strategy at play. I would also be the only Ivy League athlete in attendance at 2014 Collegiate Track Nationals, and I was proud to represent the Ivies with a Yale logo on my speedsuit!

Keeping to the front, while we spit women out the back.
Sunday morning, Women’s Scratch Race Major Finals: 6am start, more oatmeal with GU topping (magic, I swear…) followed by Peanut Butter and Co packets in the car on the way over to the track, roll around the track in a warm up gear, rollers on the road bike while Brandon puts the disc wheel on my track bike with a whopping 92.4 gear inches. That’s heavy for a slow and windy track like Indy, but we anticipated the cruising speed to be at least as high as the UCI rac
A disorganized breakaway attempt... 
es at T-town (The Valley Preferred Velodrome).

The prediction of fast cruising speed was spot on, with the body of the race hovering around 30mph with surges early and often, as the major teams exchanged attack for attack. MSU, Marion and Colorado dominated the field, with Milligan making a showing at the front. Hoping that one of the many attacks would split the field and form a breakaway, I followed almost anything that moved, riding aggressively and near to the front of the pack for the opening 20 laps of the race. All breakaway attempts were reeled in, including a seriously threatening attempt by two riders from dominent schools (leaving the rest of the front of the field unmotivated to chase) that I reeled in myself, dropping the hammer for a full lap to pull the field back together with 4 laps to go. This proved to be an error in judgement on my part, as I drifted backwards, vomit rising in my
Momentarily fracturing the field = doing too much work.
throat and legs on fire, to try to quickly recover before the sprint finish. Unfortunately, as these things sometimes go, in the final lap I found myself pegged into the sprinters lane and out of contention, surrounded by struggling racers in the second half of the pack and with nowhere to move. Despite the result not being what I had hoped for intially, it was an amazing experience and I learned many important lessons about when to move and when to stay when racing in a field of that caliber where EVERYONE is smart and strong and skilled - where EVERYONE is the best.  I’m proud of my performance in the Scratch finals! I competed at a national level, against some of the undebatably fastest women on the planet! I feel honored beyond belief to have had this opportunity to represent Yale University at a national sporting event, and hope that I’ve represented our team well.

Thank you, Yale Cycling and our sponsors and friends, for making elite competition on the track a reality for our team this year!

No, my speedsuit isn't baggy, that's a vest!

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