Western Challenge

After countless social media posts from my more-than-annoyed grandfather about my poor blogging habits, I have finally been voluntold to at least write something.  Western Challenge was last weekend (Feb 24-25th) so, my ability to procrastinate prolonged the blog until an event I could write about.  I’m considering it a win.

Western Challenge began on Friday, which meant an early morning of traveling for the select few Islanders. Awake at five, we arrived at the velodrome by 9:30 with racing beginning at 11:00. Surprisingly, it was an anxiety-free trip for a vehicle heading to a bike race. By the time we realized the first event was the Individual Pursuit or IP (two km individual event, can be as long as four km for specific age categories), we realized it may not be that enjoyable of morning.   After arriving, unpacking, and getting dressed, we were ready to ride.  A basic pursuit warm up followed, consisting of 40 laps cruising, five lap acceleration with the last lap at race pace.  After a quick gear change, I was back on the track doing three laps at race pace.  My race began around noon and was a pretty sloppy pursuit. The lap splits were further from each other than I would have preferred.   I didn’t go fast enough the first four laps or so as well. In the end, I was about 7% off my all-time PB and about 3% off my track PB.  Nowhere near the time, I wanted, but I had to focus on the bigger picture: my goals for the IP at nationals and how to achieve them. Realizing this ride was a preparation for nationals was helpful, but I still wasn’t proud of it. Luckily it was fast enough to let me take the top spot.  Which is extremely lucky, with second and third taking place within 7-tenths-of-a-second of my time.

Kurt Innes calling Splits. Photo: jgimages

Team Sprint was up next (two or three riders depending on gender, each rider leads one lap, time is taken after two or three laps respectively).  The team I am on is the exact same as our first national championships together eleven months ago and we have really come together.  Our ride went pretty well with a few errors which may have cost us a tenth or two, but with a winning margin of 2.5 seconds, we weren’t too worried about the errors costing us the race.

Team Pursuit (four riders covering either three or four km, time is stopped on the third rider to cross the line) was the last event of the Friday session for me and through the last few training camps, our team has actually started to come together quite nicely.  With splits varying less than a tenth we’re beginning to work as a team.  Race day was up and we surprised ourselves. Splits felt easy and the pace accelerated constantly from 48km/h to 52km/h in the last km, with an accidental surge by yours truly, I kicked up the speed by another 2.5km/h which unfortunately caused the group to split.  Since it happened in the last 400m of the race, it didn’t have a very big effect, but had we been up against some more competitive teams it would have definitely dropped us out of medal contention.  Luckily we weren’t at nationals, for the next fastest teams were over fifteen seconds slower and it wasn’t an issue.

Photo: jgimages

The following morning racing began again with sprint tournament and qualifiers (200m speed time for the one on one sprint).  With a fairly intense but short effort, a massive warm-up wasn’t required.  With 35 laps on the track and a quick acceleration in warm-up gear, it felt like enough.  A good 30 minutes of chilling and spinning on the rollers and I was up.  The flying 200 is a surprisingly technical event for how simple it sounds: ride as fast as you can for 200m.  The ideal, however, is hitting peak speed, just before the line, then being able to maintain the speed for the entire distance. I must have done it fairly well having qualified first by .4 of a second.

The rest of the morning session was spent Match Sprinting.  Match Sprinting is an interesting event for most spectators who have never raced one, don’t understand why the riders don’t just go as hard as they can for the whole time but go slow for the first little bit.  With Match Sprinting, it is very rare that someone sprints from the line and wins it due to the effects of drafting and the high intensity of the first rider.  The second rider normally passes just before they cross the line, deeming the strategy useless.  Another issue with going from the line is it is, plain and simple, very hard. With up to ten rides, a large amount of fatigue is generated.  I, luckily, got a buy into the quarterfinals due to having one of the fastest times.  Once there, race tactics depend on a few things: how fast your opponent is, what position you draw (front or back), and the risk to cost.  The faster your opponent is, the riskier the tactics are required to beat them; however, if you have to be in the back to execute your tactic, and you draw front, you have a problem.  One of the longer-term factors is the cost to risk ratio.  If you perform the most risk-free tactics all the way through your earlier qualifying races, you’re going to be too fatigued to win the finals or possibly even semifinals.  However, if you use a riskier tactic you will have far less fatigue, but the possibility of making an error such as mistiming your rush will leave you out of the tournament on the 1/16th finals.  It’s like dancing on a wire, before you even race.

This is the first ride of the Final in which I used a safer tactic.  I am the rider with the blue back and Black Sleeves.


The second ride I attempted a less fatiguing but a riskier tactic, waiting as late as possible.

Afternoon session kicked off with Keirin Qualifiers. The Keirin is a race which begins with a motorcycle leading for the first four laps, accelerating until the end of the four laps.  After the first four laps, the motorbike pulls off the track, and for the last four laps, the race is on.  First one to complete the distance wins. The tactics of this race are very similar to the match sprint, especially in qualifying. Only two or three people of the six qualify depending on the competition.  In which case, an example of a safe, costly tactic would be sitting on the front and picking up the speed gradually for the four remaining laps, not letting anyone pass you.  Extremely low risk, but very physically taxing.  Sitting third wheel, and moving out on the last straight away, hoping nobody will pass you: that would be a low-cost high-risk tactic.  Being a qualifier, I rode it from the front since I had a slower heat, which meant the actual effort required wasn’t as great as it would’ve been in a faster heat.  I won the heat, which meant I, along with two others, progressed to the final.  In the second qualifier heat, three others advanced giving us the six-up final.  Before the race, cards with numbers between one and six are flipped by each rider; whichever card they flip is their position behind the bike.  I drew number one, which wasn’t ideal.  Four laps on the front at high speed leaves you with little-to-no hope of winning the final kick to the line.   Luckily, almost immediately Tyler Davies, who drew sixth, went over the top of the group to the front since he had little chance of winning from such a distance back.   Thanks to this I had great positioning in second wheel for about two laps. However, with two laps to go the rear four riders started attempting to pass.  In track cycling, you aren’t allowed to pass beneath a rider who is riding beneath the “red line” which is twelve inches above the bottom of the track.  In which case, a rider who is in second or third can be “boxed in.” Being boxed in means you have a rider directly in front of you, and one above you and slightly ahead.  This prevents you from forcing your way out, which is possible if the rider above you has his handlebars behind yours.  Noticing the riders coming up beside me, I had to move out and go the front.  After I kicked, I rode the bottom of the track with no idea where the other riders were.  I ended up winning the race without much contention.

Just chilin’ Photo jgimages
(i’m the rider with the red helmet)

The most simple of all track races was up next: the Scratch Race.  As basic as a race gets, first one to complete the race’s distance wins (race distance varies between 5 – 15 km depending on age and ability).  Beginning to feel the fatigue of racing, I was playing it safe, doing enough work to keep the pace high and not let anyone lap the field, but nothing more. The race was fairly mellow with everyone just rolling through nicely.  With four laps to go, I found myself in second wheel, with first place just drilling it because if he swung up it would be highly unlikely he would be able to get back on in a good enough position to sprint.  It became an exact replica of the Keirin final.  Once I noticed someone coming over the top with two laps to go, I kicked and ended up taking the win on the line.

The Elimination Race, Miss and Out, and Devil Takes the Hindmost, are all names for the next stressful event.  It is actually a simple event; every second lap the last person to cross the line is eliminated from the race. The last one left is the winner.  The two main methods of winning this race are either riding at 40-50km/h on the front of the group, or sitting at the back of the group and just getting past the second to last place rider on every sprint.  The latter tactic is known as playing the devil and is arguably the hardest way to win the Elimination Race but by far the most fun.  Playing it safe, I went to the front, dancing in the second wheel area for most of the race.  Another interesting part of the Elimination Race is that you can easily beat someone far stronger than you by out-positioning them.  Team tactics aren’t allowed on the track, but you can work with other riders to accomplish the same goal. For example, if a rider is boxed in an elimination race, it is common for people participating in the boxing telling other riders to ride faster, slower, higher, or lower to maintain the box on the rider.  Then, on the finishing straight, the riders controlling the box surge, moving themselves ahead of the rider who was stuck, and eliminating them. This happened a few times in our race, though ever to me. I was often the one boxing the riders.  With about five riders left in the race, I moved to first position and sat there, not letting anyone pass me.  Just after the third place rider was eliminated I swung up track. The other rider left swung up in front of me. As he was going up, I sprinted once again, diving beneath him.  Luckily his body had already flipped to recovery mode in the short amount of time swinging up the track and I was able to beat him in the sprint.

Photo: jgimages

The final race of the night and it was already past 10:00 pm. With a 70 lap points race to do, I wasn’t very excited, to say the least.  Points Race consist of sprints every 10 laps, with points given out to the top four who cross the line as follows: 5,3,2,1.  An additional 20 points are gained if you lap the field.  To be quite honest, I raced this race very poorly.  I did way too much work, closing attacks and breaks alone.  I ended up winning but worked way too hard for the victory.

Western Challenge was a very successful event, in both results and learning.  Special thank yous to Kurt Innes for the coaching; the team Sponsors, for their support and contribution to the team; Power2Max North America for the Power Meter and, last but not least, The Canadian Sport School for helping me excel on the track and in the classroom.

‘til next time,
Riley Pickrell

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