Monday, July 12, 2010

rough around the edges

A report on my first 6-Day races at Alpenrose

About a month or so ago at the local velodrome, I naively asked my cycling coach (who primarily works with track racers) if there was gonna be a novice category for the upcoming Alpenrose 6-Day races. (The centerpiece of the 6-day is the madison, a two-person-team event that involves hand/arm slinging your partner around the 45-degree banked turns of the track on alternating laps.) Rather than give me the concise and later-obvious answer of “No,” Brian offered to be my partner.

After a couple sessions of practicing madison exchanges, we showed up (along with 12 other teams) at the Alpenrose Velodrome on Monday evening, June 28th for the 1st day madison pursuits. These timed pursuits (with two teams on the track at a time) established a ranking which was used to group riders into categories. As it turns out, there was an A group (fast boys with qualifying times within seconds of each other), a B group (all of them faster than me), and a Women’s group (all 8 ladies students of Brian). That evening’s pursuits were followed by the week’s first madison. We survived! … cleanly making most of our exchanges. And I went home thinking that Brian was going way beyond the call of duty as a coach.

cat B exchange
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The 2nd night of the 6-Day started with a couple omnium events for each group before their respective madisons. One of the races for the B’s was “point a lap”, which is really not my thing … racing against 9 other faster guys who are motivated to finish each lap as quickly as possible. I remember yelling up to Jen Featheringill (who was in the stands) something about not knowing what I was doing here, and she’s said “You’re there to suck wheel!” During that evening’s B madison, I remember being passed on the inside by one of the Godfrey brothers on the final approach to the finish line. ‘Twas kinda like being on an L.A. freeway.

The 3rd night was kinda like the 2nd … two mass-start races for each group before the final madison. For the first two races, I basically tried to simultaneously go fast while staying out of people’s way. And during the madison, there was one time when I was in a crowd of multiple exchanges that felt a bit dicey. But things basically went okay.

Nights 4 and 5 (July 1st and 2nd) were rained out, so Saturday’s start time was pushed up an hour so racing could begin with an additional (and rather memorable) morning madison. About 3 or 4 laps into that first “B” race, my front tire slipped in turn one, and I was suddenly down. Not only that, 3 other riders fell as well, including my coach. Whistles blew, and I somehow moved (too quickly, according to Luciano Bailey) to the infield, not knowing if I was okay or not. Turns out all my limbs still worked. Brian, however, had a messy broken finger, for which he stayed amazingly un-phased (even smiling at times) while it was treated. My turn in the medic’s chair was next, and I more-or-less assumed that my 6-Day was over. (Everything I thought was “more-or-less” at that point.) After my more obvious abrasions were treated, Bike Central mechanic Dean came over and told me my bike was ready to roll. I asked him how damaged it was, and he said all I needed to know was that it was rolling straight and ready to go. What I learned later is that Brian had asked Dean to put a new rear wheel on my bike, cuz he wanted me back on the track. This also meant that Brian would be riding again, as I sure as heck wasn’t gonna be doing the final 45-minute madison without him.

Turns out my helmet was cracked, so I borrowed team-member Emily Charbonneau’s for the next B group (mass-start) race. Don’t remember what kind of race it was, except that it was a relatively short one of 10 laps.

And then the final madison … this one 45 minutes long! Brian and I finished, although during it we had to alter our exchanges so that I pulled on Brian’s left wrist rather than his hand. I missed a couple of exchanges, but was most bummed on the two laps when Brian took off like a bat-out-of-hell (he is a master sprinter) and I wasn’t ready in time for the subsequent exchanges.

Brian was amazingly upbeat and cheery through the whole day’s events, even though I knew he was riding (and coaching) though considerable pain. He’s gotta be the most tough-as-nails guy I know. But on top of that, he’s also always strategizing and thinking big-picture.

post race conversation
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Brian’s assessment while cooling down after our last race was that I was “a bit rough around the edges”, but that I did well. About the crash, he said that I was probably going a little slow in turn one, and that when I made a little steering correction, the wheel slipped. At the end of the day (after the A group’s final one-hour madison), Brian asked what I thought about the 6-Day, but then quickly added that it would probably take a week of processing to come up with an answer. Well, that was nine days ago, and I’m still not sure. I do know that the 6-Day became as big a deal as the 1000k rando ride three weeks earlier, even though it’s at the total opposite end of the cycling spectrum.

Another memorable impression from the 6-Day is how kind and encouraging several of the B riders were afterwards. Of those, Eric Nachtrab of Portland Bicycle Studio was particularly friendly all week long.

Brian had said earlier that one always comes out of a 6-Day a better rider than before. I hope that’s true. But I also know by bike handling skills still have a lot of room for improvement (as does my still under-powered motor).

As I write this, the bruise on my left waist and hip area is still sizable, and the abrasions on my right side fairly sore. But getting in and out of a car (or in and out of bed) is finally getting easier. Ironically, pedaling hasn't been a problem. In fact, a leisurely 100k ride last Saturday felt just fine.

Big congratulations go to teammates Camille Hook, Heather VanValkenburg, and Zak Kovalcik for impressively winning their respective categories at the 6-Day races.

More photos by my friends Amy and Michael from the last day of the 6-Day are here on Flickr.

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