Track League, Take One

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I think my first experience of track riding was in November last year – and ever since the number one goal has been TRACK LEAGUE. Never having done TRACK LEAGUE (I’ll stop with the caps soon… just EXCITING) I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’ve done quite a few Saturday intermediate sessions at Herne Hill and some SQTs at Lee Valley – but training and racing are two very different things. Race formats, tactics – it all becomes more complicated.

I’ve decided to start with the women’s league, though I’m hoping to do some of the men’s/women’s Wednesday night events soon. I also raced in the B category, the slower of the two – I’d like to work into the A’s by the end of the season, but it seemed both stupid and pretty rude to plunge straight in, never having raced track before.

The evening consisted of:

10 lap warm up scratch race – which I totally messed up
12 lap points race (points at lap 3, 6, 9, 12) – got 2nd overall 
Team sprint – not so great
10 lap scratch race – with lap prize – won the lap prize

Race one was a total car crash. Epic fail. The first five laps were neutralized, the second five heralded the start of the race. In typical Michelle fashion, I somehow found myself on the front for ages. When I managed to move off, I hovered around the edge, tried to jump on a wheel. With two laps to go I thought I was in an OK position just behind a girl who seemed to know what she was doing…  and then I found half the field was riding around me like a shoal of tuna whilst I’d perhaps got stuck between a rock and hard place. Then the bell went and it was all too late and in the end I was floating around the back trying to understand what the hell just actually happened and how.

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Needless to say, I was pretty pissed. It occurs to me that I should have remembered the words of Ye (not very) Olde Katie Archibald when I was last lucky enough to interviewed her:  

“Most velodromes host a league, it’s [usually] once a week that you can race, and just learn! You make one mistake and you’re like ‘ugh, balls, I wish I hadn’t done that!’ but there’s another race in 10 minutes, you can try it again!”

Thankfully, though Archy’s lovely words didn’t pop into my head at the time, race two went much better. I hovered near the front at the start, getting *I think* a 1st and two 2nds in the sprints at laps 3, 6, 9. After lap 9 I just kept going. I didn’t really mean to – but when I looked behind me there was no one there. Cue hesitation: wait for the bunch or go? After some thought, I went. At the bell lap I was still on my own – so I really committed. Sadly not quite enough, and on the home straight three girls caught me, so I took 4th in the final sprint and got 2nd overall.

Next – team sprint. It suddenly became clear to me, seeing my mate Cat starting, that I would have to ride my first standing start. Scary? Perhaps. Thankfully, the wonderful Women’s Racing Fairy of Herne Hill, Celeste, was on hand to give me a lesson before the off, so I got one practice run (in which I almost rode into her, but hey, we both stayed up!). This one passed pretty uneventfully – I’ve no idea where we came as will have to wait for results, but I know when I sprung off the front I finished with a heart rate of a casual 193.

Finally – my favourite! The one where it all went much better! There was a prize for the Lap Leader – the person who crossed the finish line first on the most laps, and a 1,2,3 overall for the final lap. So – around the back straight of the first lap, I kicked – and rode off on my own. Laps 1, 2, 3, 4 I finished all on my own.

Obviously, it was only ever going to last so long. Lap 5, I was joined by a few others, so I sat on the back. I figured it was unlikely the same person would win the next 4+ now we were together, so I thought about sitting back. Then we came down the home straight, I was on the back of about four riders, so I went for another dig – and I believe it was successful! I stuck with it – taking a couple of 1st, some 2nds, maybe the odd 3rd, until 2 laps to go, where I’ve got to admit I’d kind of had enough. I didn’t really contest the final sprint and finished somewhere in the bunch. Perhaps I should have backed off lap 8 and recovered a bit as I expect the overall is the real one to win – but I’d done more than enough to get my lap leader prize (cap and chocolates ;-p it’s the little things!) – and enough to escape with my pride intact after a rubbish first race.

So – that’s it – track league one: done. And it was really, really fun! Long way to go, obviously, much fitness to be found and skills to be learnt, but an ok start.

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Super big thank you to my amazing boy Maurice for hanging around in the cold all evening to keep me company on the rollers, and to my lovely [speedy] riding buddy, Cat, for being so in love with the track that I had to give it a go. Hopefully I’ll be able to join in with the A’s before the end of the season! Also [I know, sorry…] to all the awesome coaches and helpers at Herne Hill. And to HOY Bikes for my beautiful Fiorenzuola – whose gears I really must swap soon (I probably shouldn’t be trying to race with an 86, should I?!#spinathon)!

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