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The Art of the Pack

School of fish.  Pack of wolves.  Flock of birds.  Surfer on a wave.  When you decide to race your bike, you are assigning yourself to this kind of obedience and lack of control.  Group think, primitive reflexive response to the flow and changes of the herd and conditions.  You know what I am talking about?  Then maybe you haven’t raced, cause when you decide to ride with a group of riders without the formality of pacelines or ride leaders, chaos ensues and the rules of how you thought you should ride your bike are out the window, and you need to become “subject to the herd”.  

The good news is that once you learn the subtle art of riding with the pack, you will enjoy it and find much satisfaction from being able to fly along at twice your normal speed for hours on end, rocketing over the hills and dales of the country until the next climb starts.  You will be able to take advantage of the turbo speeds, and launch yourself to the stratosphere of bike speed and performance, there is no other way to fly.  The bad news is that not everyone makes the jump to good pack riding, and some of you will give up long before you ever accumulate enough skills and experience to truly enjoy the experience.  There is always racing Time Trials,  Triathlon, Mountain bike and Cyclocross, so don’t worry.

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Track Season Gains Momentum

by Dan Harm

June 24, 2009

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Track racing in the Northwest begins to hit a peak in late July. National caliber events–such as the FSA Grand Prix in Seattle and the Portland based Alpenrose Challenge–lure out the fastest track racers in the USA and Canada with prize lists boasting upwards of $15,000.

After returning from a hard education of track racing in Europe through the winter, Coach Adrian and I raced the track full-time last summer–including the FSA Grand Prix and Alpenrose Challenge, as well as multiple other Nationally ranked races–with the specific focus of crushing the Madison (which is an event consisting of multiple two-man teams and involves complex tactics and pure endurance).

Our ambitions were often met with big wins and healthy pay-days. But, there were also numerous disappointments, such as a second place in the Madison on our home turf at the FSA Grand Prix, losing to a team we had beaten both at the Alpenrose challenge and at the larger event, Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minneapolis. There was also the time at Alpenrose Challenge when I missed breaking the track record in the Pursuit by a mere second. This record has not been broken since the 80s.

This Summer much has changed. Adrian will be out of town for both races, choosing to focus on pursuing his goal of professional road racing, and thus putting track racing on the back-burner. I have chosen to do the opposite and focus solely on the track, yet real life has crept up on me and my usual free time to train for the track has been filled with work obligations and worries about paying off student loans.

Track races season culminates down in L.A. in early October at National Championships. Will Adrian be rusty at the Madison from missing very important races? Am I going to be able to keep up my high level of fitness from past years?

There are a lot of unknowns and variables this summer, and this will undoubtedly add to the suspense of how Adrian and I are to defend our reputations as two of the fastest track racers in the USA. I will keep you posted with inside perspectives from all the upcoming races. Stay tuned.

In the meantime: Come see the races for yourself!!!

-The Seattle FSA Grand Prix is at the Marmoor Velodrome July 25-26. There will be festivities, a beer garden, and events for kids, as well as insane track racing action!

-The Portland Alpenrose Challenge is July 17-19.

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Getting on Track for Next Season

by Adrian Hegyvary

Winter is often the time of year when cyclists take a step back from their training, think about the season, and plan their approach to the following year. During this time it’s important for athletes to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and figure out how to structure the following year to address those skills. For many riders, one of the most beneficial modifications to their season is to integrate track racing into their training regimen.

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There are three crucial skills that track hones more than any other type of racing: pack positioning, leg speed, and maximal power output. Many track races can be thought of as the key parts of road racing without all the filler—the final minutes of a race, the crucial splits, etc. without the miles leading up to them. And considering that each night you go through these scenarios multiple times, race skills and tactics get pounded into your head like no other discipline.

Three events that can improve your racing are scratch races, points races, and miss-n-outs. A scratch race is the simplest of all—you race for a set number of laps and the final sprint decides the race. But what’s special about this type of race on the track is that everything happens so quickly that there is little time for thinking and immediate decisions and responses are crucial to success. There are also different ways to win—waiting for the sprint and keeping the race together, attacking and sprinting from a break, or lapping the field (sometimes multiple times) to ensure a placing.

Points races are similar in that they demand constant attention to pack position, but differ in that a wider range of tactics can be employed to race successfully, sometimes simultaneously. Points races are over a set distance but also have intermediate sprints—usually every 5 or 10 laps. The first four riders across the line at those sprints receive points (5, 3, 2, 1) and the person with the most points at the end wins. Because there are several “finishes” throughout the race, you have numerous opportunities to try different tactics and catch your competitors sleeping, but consistency is still rewarded.

Miss-n-outs are the most tactical and difficult races to ride at first. In this event the last rider across the finish line is pulled from the race each lap until only three remain. After one neutral lap, the three riders sprint for the win. Miss-n-outs demand constant attention to what your competitors are doing, and racers frequently have to anticipate one another’s moves in order to remain at the front of the field. Though this skill doesn’t have a parallel in other types of racing, it teaches quick thinking and rewards riders who can “read” a race well.

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Finally, the physical demands of track racing compliment any training regimen and create strong, well-rounded cyclists. Because you have just one gear, leg speed is a crucial skill for a track racer. Simply putting on a huge gear doesn’t make you race faster, because it becomes so difficult to accelerate that you won’t make it to the front of the race for the finish. Thus, track finishes are frequently decided at cadences well above 140rpm, a number most road riders would never even consider racing at but does great things for coordination, and ultimately your overall sprinting ability. Similarly, because most track races last just a few minutes, riders build their maximal power output with frequent race efforts lasting between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. These intervals are the ideal duration for developing VO2 max, and that fitness translates perfectly to the important parts of road racing, mountain biking, cyclocross and triathlon—the start, the short hill, the crosswind, the crucial field split, the final laps, etc.

The best way to start track racing locally is through the Marymoor Velodrome’s introductory track class and Monday night racing. Information can be found at http://www.velodrome.org. For riders who are interested in pursuing track racing at a higher level, or those who already race on the track and wish to further hone their skills and training, Cycle University will offer intermediate-level track classes designed to take your riding to the next level. Information can be found at http://www.cycleu.com, or email adrian@cycleu.com for details. If you’re ready to take your riding to the next level, be prepared to get on track this coming season.