Last night, for the first time ever, I rode my bike in a “race” – like a race I needed a proper license for.
So I say “raced”, but it was just a bunch of track races at chandler velodrome in “C” Grade, the very lowest, and C grade is effectively just about learning the skills and then demonstrating you have those skills so you can graduate to B or A.
I’d ridden at Chandler a few times before.
The first time was pretty darn scary. The steepness of the walls at either end seemed so glassy and oblique they would instantly send you sliding the moment you hit them.
I remember the first time I had the courage to venture up them. I rolled around the very bottom where it was flat for a bit, just mentally preparing and then I said to myself, “It’s now or never,” and started smashing up as much speed as I could just swinging up that metre into the track and then that corner was instantly upon me and suddenly I was heading around the bank at some crazy angle and thinking it was a miracle I was still able to ride. Soon that feeling at speed as your world just shifted to a ridiculous tangent while your feet spun away became natural and gradually you understood that new horizon.
But I’ll admit – it still freaked the shit out of me. As part of my induction, I was taken around the tops of those big walls at either end at barely above walking pace just to show me the bike wouldn’t slip out. It was fucking petrifying, but after a few laps it became the perfect tool to rewire my brain into not being afraid of those banks anymore.
Other lessons included understanding the sprinters line and how you look where you want to go (change lines) and to be in tune to what other riders are doing or going to do.
And the last lesson was about how to take turns at the front. The peleton, actually…do you call it a peleton in track cycling? Anyway, at the beginning of a scratch race, the riders will work together in a train and the front rider will peel off after their turn then rejoin the pack at the end.
So that done it came time for me to race. There were only 6 of us, including two kids. I was a bit scared — and not just because all the A and B grades were watching. And another thing I was just getting used to was pushing off from the fence with both shoes clipped in and a bunch of other wobbly riders around. Trickier than you think to a dweeb like me.
The first race went ok. I think it was 8 laps. I tried really hard to stay as close to the bike wheel in front, which apparently is good racing etiquette. I took my turns at the front and kept the pace even and especially even when I peeled off up the bank so I could rejoin the back as smoothly as possible. I looked around every time I was going to do something. (It almost felt like I was doing my driving license test all over again.)
When the last lap bell went I found myself at the very front so I just charged at about 90% effort and for the final 50 metres I spun pretty close to my hardest. And as I crossed the finish line I seemed quite alone and the officials didn’t show any body language like the race was over so I thought, “Shit, maybe that bell meant two laps?” So I kept sprinting and went around again as fast as I could thinking that whoever was behind me would now be able to charge me down as I’d broken out too early.
But then I realised that I had just done an extra lap for no reason. I must have looked like a total dick.
While B and A grade raced I had a rest.
Scotty ripping shit up as usual – damn good rider!
The next C grade race was a 10 lap race with an intermediate sprint dictated by a whistle at a random lap. Again I found myself at the front when the whistle was blown but this time I just waited for someone else to make a move – just to make things more interesting. So Dayne attacked not too long into the straight and as I was in the sprinter’s lane he kept outside the black line.
I surged and managed to hold him off. The pack regrouped and then the final sprint Dayne attacked on my outside again but this time got a length or so ahead of me so I thought that to overtake him I had to come around him so that’s what I did. Later I realised I could have just stayed in the sprinter’s lane and saved myself the extra metres I had to travel to get around. I just beat him at the line and as I slowed I was really sucking in air. Inside a tiny bit of vomit seemed to want to form in my throat, but that feeling eventually eased.
Sprinting at 100% towards that line I just got caught up in the moment and it was only later I realised how long I had been in the red-zone. I guess that’s racing right?
The last race was just three of us and I just rode around and let someone else win. Is that poor form? I felt a bit guilty winning all the time.
Anyway! It was good. Really good! I need a bit more practice before B grade, which looks far, far more intense. Stay tuned.