Last Friday I took my 9-yr-old to the Marymoor Velodrome
for the Friday Night Races. We hadn’t been since last season, and the weather was perfect for an evening out. Plus, the velodrome is only a few miles from where we live. Nice!
This was only the second time I’ve been to track races. Until you’ve been, you can understand why it’s not a massively popular sport — what’s fun to watch about guys riding bikes around in a circle? Well, I don’t know if the Marymoor Velodrome is typical, but the races we watched were anything but dull. In particular, there were a couple of formats my son and I thought were incredible.
This may have been the strangest kind of racing I’ve ever seen. Five or so riders start going around the track, drafting behind a motorcycle, for crying out loud (Interesting tech tidbit: the motorcycle is equipped with a roller behind its back wheel, so the person right behind the motorcycle can bump it without immediately turfing). Over the course of five laps, the motorcycle gradually ramped up speed — to 35mph according to the announcer. Then, with 1.5 laps to go, he peels off the track, and the cyclists — now going at a full-on sprint speed — duke it out to cross the finish line first.
I’m sure there are some serious tactics you could learn to do this kind of race well — for one thing, you wouldn’t want to be the guy who’s right behind the motorcycle when it drops off the track, because you’re suddenly leading the group at a pace you can’t sustain and you’re fully exposed to the air. For my son and me, though, it was just a riot to watch these guys spinning such a surreal cadence. They can’t shift gears or coast, remember.
While I had at least heard of Keirin, I had never heard of Madison, but this is what my son and I wound up talking about all the rest of the night — and into the next day. Yeah, we watched stage 1 of the TdF together, but Madison was what we were still talking about.
- There were eight teams, each consisting of two cyclists — so 16 cyclists out on the track, all at once. Jam-packed.
- At any point, one member of the team was "in," the other was "out."
- The "in" racer goes around the the track at a full-on sprint pace, while the "out" racer stays up high on the outside of the track.
- Just as the "in" racer is about to come by the "out" racer, the "out" racer drops down into the inside of the track, crossing in front of the "in" racer, and extends his right hand.
- The "in" racer catches the "out" racer’s hand as he shoots by, then slings the "out" racer forward, hard.
- Now the "out" racer is the "in" racer and the "in" racer is the "out" racer, and maneuvers his way to the outside of the track.
- Repeat for 32 laps.
With eight teams out there, someone is swapping constantly. Total mayhem, but — and I was truly amazed by this — nobody crashed. I am absolutely certain that if I tried this kind of exchange, I would tangle handlebars with my teammate every single time.
By the time this race was over, I wanted to run out and ask these Cat 1 & 2 racers for their autographs. They had put on the most exhilirating race I have ever seen.
We’re going back this Friday.
I Want to Play, Too
While we were watching the Madison, my son said something like, "Wouldn’t it be cool if you were doing this race?" Well, there are a couple of reasons why I would never do a Madison:
- I’m guessing that you’ve got to be Cat 1 or 2 to do that kind of race, and I am not likely to ever reach that kind of level.
- I’m too timid. Ask anyone I mountain bike with. I just don’t have the guts for that kind of race.
That said, I was thinking that it would be very cool to get out and try track racing. The Marymoor Velodrome has a nice program where you take a 1-day class to learn rules and etiquette for track racing. Then you’re allowed to do Monday night races, which is where all the novices get together and try to get used to it. Then you can graduate to Wednesday night racing. I haven’t read up on it, but there’s some threshold you’ve got to cross before you’re allowed to do Friday night races, so Wednesday nights are probably all I’d ever hope for. But still.
And besides, I noticed in the Keirin a guy with a gut every big as mine won the first heat. Weight doesn’t matter as much on the track, you see.
Thanks for the Awkward Moment, Tyler
After the races, as we walked back to the car, my son and I were talking about the Tour de France. He asked, "You’ll be rooting for Tyler (Hamilton), right dad?" It was a rhetorical question, because I always root for Tyler.
You need to understand: I’m a fan of Tyler to the point of irrationality. He’s my hero. He never quits; I never quit. I’ve finished an endurance race with a separated shoulder, chanting "Tyler wouldn’t quit." I’ve finished another endurance race after the seat broke off my bike — riding uphill for 20 miles in a standing position – chanting "Tyler wouldn’t quit." Seriously.
As you’ve probably guessed, I haven’t told my kids about the Hamilton doping debacle. I have my reasons. Mainly, I’m still holding out hope that this will all turn out to be a big mistake.
So instead, I told my son, "He won’t be racing this year."
"Why not?" he asked, taken aback.
"He just isn’t. Hey, want some ice cream?"
Today’s Weight: Unknown. I’m not weighing myself during the vacation. I’ll deal with the nasty shock — and probability that it will cost me $50 in this week’s Fat Cyclist Sweepstakes — when vacation’s over.