IN/KY Match Sprint State Championship
I took the overall win in the Cat 3/4 Match Sprint State Champs for Indiana and Kentucky on July 15th at Major Taylor in Indianapolis.
Most track racing takes place on weekday evenings, so this event was a bit of a shock on the body as it started at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have been travling to Indy on Wednesday mornings to train from 6-8am, so I was somewhat prepared for the early morning racing, but it was still an adjustment.
The weather was cool and windy out of the North, which set up the day for some slow flying 200m times. I had recently set a best at 12.28″ on this track, so I was hoping just to stay close. I ended up posting a 12.67″ time, which initially disappointed me. However, I underestimated the effects of the cool air and wind. Everyone seemed to be posting times .3 to .5 slower than their usuals. My 12.67″ held up as the best time of the day by 7/100 of a second, so I took 1st in qualifying and advanced straight to the semifinals.
The semifinal round was a one-and-done format, meaning the winner goes to the gold medal final, the loser to the bronze medal final. I was matched up against Dave Harstad and I drew 2nd position. Dave is a strong rider and has placed ahead of me in numerous mass start races, but I was yet to sprint against him. My goal was to find an opportunity to use my acceleration from slow speed and open up a gap, forcing a long sprint. The first lap was slow and I maintained my gap, not doing anything fancy. As we exited turn 4 on the first lap, I waited for Dave to look over his inside shoulder. As soon as he did, I accelerated hard over the top and got the jump on him. The bell rang as I flung myself into turn 1. I didn’t look back until on the backstretch, and saw that I had a huge lead. I kept the gas on until the homestretch, and then rolled across the line and into the gold medal final.
The gold medal final was a best of 3 and I was matched against Victor Popov, a young local rider who tied for 2nd in qualifying. I hadn’t sprinted against him yet, but in watching him throughout the earlier rounds I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me as he was well rounded and didn’t appear to have any glaring weaknesses. He liked to ride slow on the front, which is a tactic I knew I could take advantage of, but I didn’t know what I was going to do against him riding in 1st position.
In the first round, I drew 1st position and basically did nothing to help myself the entire match. I waited until turn 2 on the final lap to accelerate from a low speed and thought I could open enough of a gap to hold him off. I was wrong, and he came around me in the final turn without much difficulty to take the 1st round. I expected a hard match, and he was even stronger than I thought.
In the second round, we alternated positions and I rode from the back. He led it out extremely slow and we were right against the rail going into turn 4 on the first lap. I was a little confused by his strategy because he positioned himself where it was almost impossible to see me. I decided to watch his feet and I was going to jump him underneath as soon as his feet approached the 12-6 dead spot on the 3rd revolution. I counted the pedal strokes: 1, 2, and then I went, gambling the race on this long sprint. I initially opened up a huge gap and I thought I was going to roll to an easy win, but I was wrong. I had to pick up the pace near the end as Victor closed the gap down and almost pipped me on the line. After having a lead of nearly 10 bike lengths, I took the win by about a foot.
In the third and decisive round, I drew second position again. This sprint played out much differently as I knew I wasn’t going to fool him twice with the same move. He led out much faster and I didn’t attempt any shenanigans on the first lap. As the pace quickened into turn 1, I realized it was becoming too late for me to rely on a slipstream in the backstretch to come around him. My only option left was to steamroll him over the top and beat him to the sprinters lane by turn 3. If I didn’t get there first, I had no hope to beat him. I jumped as explosively as I could from the rail in turn 2, and Victor knew it was coming. I inched ahead of him, but didn’t make any meaningful progress until turn 3 was right in front of us. He actually entered the sprinters lane first, but I kicked hard again and overtook him. After I was clear (albeit not by much), I dropped into the sprinters lane to cut the distance out of the turn. This was checkmate, and I went on to win the third round and claim the overall win. Victor protested my move into the sprinters lane, and to be totally honest, I thought there was a 50/50 chance I would get relegated. The rules regarding the sprinter’s lane in track are widely misunderstood. Once the sprint begins, the first person who goes inside the lane can’t come out of it. Additionally, the person stuck outside the lane can’t go inside the red line until they have a clear lead. The word “clear”, as you may have guessed, is ridiculously vague. Is 6 inches a clear lead, or 6 feet, or 6 bike lengths? The official ruled in my favor, and told me personally that he didn’t even think it was a hard decision. A different official may have ruled differently, and I was prepared to accept any decision. The bottom line was that I couldn’t afford to ride an extra 3 meters against Victor if I didn’t have to. I did what I had to do and hoped for the best. This time, it worked out for me.