(By: Carson Mattern)
Junior life at the Velodrome
Many are relatively unfamiliar with the concept of track racing. Featuring banked corners, fixed gears and funny helmets; the world of velodrome racing is certainly a different monster than the road - and not just in the nature of the racing.
I’ve always found it interesting when riders from outside of the track racing discipline come to try the track for the first time or simply come to visit the pits. The scene is a whole lot different than what you’d see at your average road race and their feedback always reflects this.
It is this fact inspired this article, as I thought it might be cool to share some of the things that don’t come to mind right away but are so very important at the velodrome.
Let’s start with the bikes - most are familiar with the concept of a fixie; one speed, no coasting, no brakes. This makes track racing a lot safer as no one can simply slam the brakes, which would only result in them slipping off the banking (you can only go so slow) and causing a massive pileup. But that is not too hard to conclude when you really think about it. So what about some other facts? The fixed gear drivetrain means all gear changes are manual. You cannot do this in a race, but there is always time in between events to do so. The riders you see at the World Cup all have team mechanics with all sorts of fancy accessories to change gears. However, us juniors have no such luxury. For that reason, we all have to carry a pretty extensive tool kit. The chainring is simply removed by loosening the 5 bolts via Allen-keys, just like on a road bike but changing the cog is a different story. After loosening the 2 bolts that attach the wheel to the bike (track bikes do not utilize quick release), you can remove the chain and slide the wheel out of the special horizontal track-dropouts (just like you’d see on some TT bikes). Once the wheel is free, you use a chain-whip to loosen the cog off the threaded hub. Some riders use a lock-ring, which is like an emergency fail-safe to stop the cog coming loose while riding - this has to be removed first before you can loosen the cog. It is at this point I pull out my gear bag, where I can choose between many different cog and chainring combinations to best suit the upcoming race. Other mechanical duties throughout the day can include wheel and cockpit changes. The type of event determines the bar and wheel combination such as a TT bars and double discs for Pursuit versus drop bars and rear disc for bunch events. Again, you must plan to do this in between races.
At the track, you cannot take food or water with you on the bike. Because of this, you really have to consider your nutrition leading up to right before you get on your bike. In most cases, our events are spread out throughout the entire day (a track race generally lasts from 30seconds to 30minutes, allowing for multiple races in one day) so you have to essentially plan an entire day of nutrition and hydration from 5am to 11pm, taking into consideration timing and recovery for races (and yes, those are my actual hours from the Provincial Championships). This is of course all in contrast to road racing, where you have to think about what and how you are going to refuel on the bike. Related to nutrition, you also really have to consider your recovery and how you will spend your downtime. Remember, you’re essentially camping out in this building all day and if you’ve ever spent some time in a velodrome, you know that the fluorescent lights and dry, 25degrees climate can really do a number on you if you don’t try to mitigate the effects. Sometimes all it takes is stepping outside for 5 minutes after a race, but proper rest is hard to come by so it takes a bit of creativity to totally relax. I don’t know how much I’d get away with this at the World Championships next year, but I always take my inflatable couch outside of the pits where its cooler and take naps ;) - and yes, wearing sunglasses indoors is OK at the track!
Finally, let me give you a quick summary of a general pre-race routine. Once you have yourself all set up in a pit, warmup is almost always done on rollers. Some people even bring their road bike for warmup. This is so they can put their track bike through bike-check (something which all riders must do before every race) right at the beginning of the day as you cannot remove it before the race, otherwise you have to put it through again. This just ensures everyone is playing by the rules (bike position, gear restriction etc.). I prefer warming up on my track bike, so I just have to plan an extra 5 mins of time to do bike-check after rollers. Once warmup is done, it’s time to head to staging. Here, they will order you on the bench based on where you are in the race. Then it's up the ramp and to the rail on the home stretch. Riders all climb to the top of the track and hang onto the rail at the top. When the whistle blows, there is typically a formation lap and then the race is on! There are some races where the procedure is different, like in timed events where riders enter onto the track individually or in a team and start from a stand-still with an automatic start gate or just a holder - this all depends on the type of race. From there its the race itself, a cool down and then rinse and repeat!
I hope this post did a good job of giving you a glimpse into the world of Velodrome racing and some of the little things that you have to plan for and think about while at the track that are somewhat unique to this discipline. Once the world starts again, I recommend that everyone reading this go try the track. There are plenty of beginner lessons and certification courses you can take to get yourself up to speed. Not only is the track a great break from the trainer in the winter, but can also serve as a source of excitement for all you adrenaline junkies out there.
And with that I sign off… dropbars, not bombs. Cheers!
Today’s post is brought to you by Lazer helmets. Dylan and I were given some Lazer Victor TT helmets to wear during the track season and they were super fast. The aerodynamic profile gave both of us an edge over the competition and the design for optimized airflow reduced the wind-noise to zero, allowing us to focus on the race. Maybe, if we're lucky, they'll get some usage at some crits this summer.