Thursday, June 28, 2007

VeloCity 2007

Excitement abounds at Chicago’s Velo City 2007! (which actually took place at the track in Kenosha). A little about the festivities: Velo City takes place in San Francisco, Chicago and New York every year. It’s like a night at the track, but times three, in that there are many more different types of races all in the same day, which goes from about noon to 5:00. The first picture is that of the infield littered with us bike kids and our effects. It was really fun because most of us knew or knew of each other, and there was much cheering and excitement. I think you can see we’re having fun in the second picture, where the women are depicted warming up. (I’m the one in the bright yellow shoes.) There was a good showing from Team Pegasus, both Chicago and Milwaukee members.

But on to the exciting stuff: me, me, me. I borrowed a super light, super good-looking track bike from Cale, and took a bus down to Kenosha. I raced five races, the first of which was a three lap woman’s sprint (all of my races were women’s only, for the record). Three lap sprints are generally called Scratch races. Since it was a short race, I moved to the front of the pack so I was in the lead for most of the race. On the fourth turn of the second lap I saw someone start to make a move on my right, so I started sprinting for the final lap, stayed out front and came in first! (image 3) It was a great feeling, especially since there were some very fast women in that race. There was a second sprint race that I didn’t do as well in: during the end of the second lap, two of the women broke away and I was too slow on the jump, so I lost them.
The next race after that, however, was pretty exciting and interesting. It was what’s called a Missing Out, which means that after every lap, whoever comes across the finish line last gets taken out of the race. When there are three people left, there is a neutral lap, which is like a lap to take a breather, and then on the final lap a bell is rung and the three remaining racers sprint for the finish. Well, I was one of the final three, and I got second, again racing with some talented ladies in a race that takes a little bit of strategy and a lot of attention and even some mathematical skills. Such as, “How many people are left in this race at this point? Is there anyone behind me? Will she surge forward and leave me in the back? Am I boxed in or can I get to the front of the pack if I have to?” I think I got pretty lucky.
The fourth race I did was pretty rough, and I’ve got a bone to pick. But first, to describe the race. I forget what kind of race it was, but basically it was 15 laps, which is about three miles. One woman got out in front of the pack and couldn’t be caught (awesome job, Val!). The rest of the pack was led by myself and another team member named Michelle. We took turns leading, because ‘pulling’ takes a lot of energy. I think I’ve explained it before, but being out front is tiring and you have to be a strong rider. The riders behind the leader have it easier, because if they can get close enough they can get in the draft and kind of cruise along. Well, I was beat, but Michelle and I worked together and pulled every other lap for 15 long laps. Here’s the bone I have to pick: there was a very strong rider behind us, the ‘best’ rider at the track that day, who sat behind us and drafted as we labored along. I say ‘best’ because she was the fastest and strongest, but not very nice or even decent. Not only did she not help, but many people watching noted that she was making faces as we went around. I don’t know what that entails, exactly, but I’m quite sure she wasn’t making faces of gratitude. I consider it absolutely rude and obnoxious. On the last lap she came out from behind us and pulled away easily. Ooh, it burns me, but I take comfort in knowing that I would never use someone like she did. I also loved the support I got from Michelle, who was very encouraging. It was great to have a teammate out on the track to work with. Good teamwork!
The last race was called a Winnin' Out. The first person in on the first lap gets first and is taken from the race. On the second lap, the first person across gets second and gets taken out of the race, and then the remaining riders compete for third. Before the start of the race, we conferred and agreed that we were all pretty damn tired. We made a pact to just ride, and we decided who would win which laps. We stuck to the plan and had a good time as we cruised along, chatting and laughing. It was also a good joke on everyone watching the ‘race’. It’s something that would/will never happen during a regular race during a Tuesday night meet. It only happened because all of us know each other, we were tired, and also because no matter how we finished the race, our overall placing would not be affected.
Thus I won second overall in the women’s category! I won a special cycling backpack, a pair of gloves for winter biking and a very good, bright headlight, which I have wanted for a while now. Oh so practical! It was a great day to see team members I don’t get to see all that often (image 4, Team Photo as Tough Cookies). It was also beautiful weather- not too hot, and sunny and pleasant. It was really exciting to come in first (for the first time) and race with so many friends cheering. A thanks to Cale, for letting me once again borrow his bike and shoes, to all the folks who took the pictures I pirated, and to a fellow named TJ, with whom I got a ride home to Milwaukee. Also a hearty thanks to the women I worked with during the races, and to Val, who organized much of Chicago Velo City 2007 (final image) and the accompanying events over the weekend.

Track Tuesday, June 12th

This past Tuesday I went to the track again. The first picture is of me and Jason, a teammate of mine. In the background you can see people warming up on the track. To be honest, I’m writing this about a week after racing, and these nights tend to blend together, so I don’t remember exactly what races I did and what exciting things transpired, but I’m sure I learned a lot and had a good time. I mean, look how large my smile is in that picture! I’m almost positive I had a good time.

Kidding aside, the second picture has a good story behind it. To give a little background, I’m still not very comfortable with racing in a pack. I never want to sit in and draft, because I’m afraid I’ll get boxed in and be unable to make a move. I like to be out front, but being out front takes a lot of energy. I had talked about it with Cale a week or so before and he and I thought that, during a three lap race, I might have the strength to stay out front the whole time and have the energy to hold of the women behind me sprinting in the final stretch. This was an eight lap race, and on the end of the third or fourth lap, the two women in front (orange helmet and blue helmet) slowed way down as we came out of turn four. This is universal sign for “I don’t wanna lead anymore, someone else do it now.” I was above them on the track, riding abreast, matching their pace and wondering if I should go for it. There were about five laps left, and I didn’t know if I could hold the lead, but I wanted to try. As I passed by the spot where I knew Cale was watching from, I turned my head and looked him in the eye. I knew he’d be able to see what was going on, and what I was thinking about doing. He nodded slowly and emphatically up and down and mouthed, “Yes.” I gave a single sober nod back and dropped down to lead, which is exactly when the second picture was taken. Slick, huh? It kind of felt like a scene from a movie, with indecision and mind reading and all. However, it was not because, were it a movie, I would have went on to win. On the seventh lap, I decided to speed up a little to try to shake the rest of the pack. I should have either sped up more or maintained the same pace, because I basically just tired myself out too much. I led for the eighth lap up until the fourth turn, after which a lot of the pack passed me by because I just didn’t have the energy to hold them off. That was a little disappointing, but I think I learned a good lesson. Next time I’ll either keep the same pace and my energy, or I’ll make a serious jump either on the second to last or the last lap. It helped give me a little confidence, though, because now that I’ve done it, it seems less daunting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My First WEMS Race

Results of the WEMS race with pictures! WEMS stands for Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series. They last for 12 hours and you can do them alone or with teams of 2, 3 or 4. I was on a woman’s team of four with Amanda, Kisha and Julie, who are teammates (Team Pegasus, yeah!) from Chicago.

I could explain in the race in detail, but basically the four of us did laps of 11 miles apiece, one after the other. There was a running start (see images 1,2) for the start of the race, and after that riders just tag off and it’s pretty informal. The other three girls shared a bike and I borrowed a mountain bike from Cale, because I’m a little taller. Actually, I was riding Cale’s bike as well as wearing his shoes and his helmet (see image 3). Thanks, Cale, for letting me borrow your bikes and shoes all the time. Maybe someday I’ll save your life or something and we’ll be back to about even. Anyhow, the bike I borrowed was a single speed, which means it only has one gear but has brakes and can coast, unlike a track bike. It’s also a 29er, which means it has very large tires, even for a mountain bike, and can run over just about anything, which I took full advantage of.

I was captain of the team and did the first lap, which was a little stressful. I was chosen to ride the first lap because I was anticipated to be the fastest rider of our four-person team, and my job was to put a good gap between our team and the other women’s team. Well, I put a good gap in, but it was in the wrong spot. Meaning, I was pretty slow compared to the rest of the field and there was a gap in front of me, rather than behind. However, we were just there to have fun so it was fine with the other girls. We had a good day and we all did two laps, except for Kisha, who sprained her ankle on her first lap. Some other riders coming in off their lap told us she had stopped and was walking (very nice people there) and we wanted to go out on the trail and get her, but it was against the rules, so she had to walk the rest of the way out. So the race went pretty well and we got second! Of two! (image 5). But the fact is, we’re pretty awesome for even showing up, and one of us hadn’t ever been mountain biking.

Other than that, I don’t know what else to say. It was a good time. When we weren’t riding, we hung out at the tent with the other members of our team there or cheered with our cowbells (image 4). We had a three-person and duo team there as well. The three-person team did well and the duo of Cale and his partner Ben got second (out of a lot more than two). And as some of you may know, our motto is "while you were winning, we stole your lunch" and yes, we did indeed steal another team's food. For the record, I'm going to say that I think it was by accident, and you can interpret that how you like.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Racing at the Velodrome

(Written a week or so ago...)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted last! I haven’t done a whole lot of races, but I have gotten in some good experience at Kenosha’s velodrome, aka the track. Kenosha’s velodrome is the oldest operating one in the country, and it has a 28% grade on its banked corners (or that’s what I hear, anyhow). Steep and good for fast cornering. One of my friends, Cale, loans me a bike when we go down there. To race on the track you need a ‘track bike’, which is a bike that has one speed and no brakes. It’s illegal to have more than one gear or any brakes attached. The bikes don’t coast, so the pedals move as the bike moves, and your feet are strapped to the pedals, for better or for worse (usually for the better). In order to slow down, you use your legs to try to slow the pedals. It sounds dangerous, and it might be on the streets, but on the track it’s standard, and you have plenty of space to slow down and stop (usually about half a lap after the finish line).

So there’s everyone’s lesson about racing on the track for the day! A few weeks ago I was at the track for opening night and I got to race four races, to varying degrees of success. There’s a lot of strategy to these races, so I was happy that I successfully finished, didn’t cut anyone off or commit any other party fouls. The first race I did was the women’s race, which was three laps long. I got stuck in a bad position for part of the race, but it turned out alright and I got 3rd place, coming in with my front wheel right behind 1st place’s rear wheel. Not bad for a first race! I then did the women’s unknown, which means you don’t know how many laps it will be. The officials ring a bell for the last lap and then everyone goes all out. One of my friends, who was also racing, and I thought it might be something like 7 or 8 laps, but it turned out to be 1! We were caught off guard and finished poorly. We felt cheated, so we jumped in the next race with the men (which is permitted for some races), and then a while later the compensation race, which was about 40 laps long. Since it was with the guys, I didn’t do too well, but it was good to get in some more races. During the compensation race I rode with Russel, who rides with the Hayes team, and he showed me some good techniques. We took turns drafting off of each other and I got more comfortable drafting and switching back and forth. It’s good to know how to do, because if you race with teammates, your team can stay in front of the pack without any one of you getting too tired. It’s what my friend and I were planning to do for the women’s unknown, but it was too short! Next time we’ll get ‘em.

I went down and watched this past Tuesday, but didn’t race because of the racing fee. Of course, once I was down there I really wanted to race, but I managed to keep control of myself (barely). I’m doing some mountain bike racing this weekend, so I’m saving my money for the entrance fee of that one. More on that one in a few days, I would imagine, and I should have pictures to go with it.