Okay, so one of the main reasons that I've been doing a bit of track lately is that I wanted to ride the pursuit at the state championships. Which I did on the weekend.
I have been thinking about this for a while -- I did the pursuit at the last state champs in December 2008, and was a bit disappointed with the time that I set. I was on a borrowed bike that was too big for me (a rarity in itself) and didn't pace myself very well.
What is a pursuit? Its a 4000m race, with two riders starting on opposite sides of the track. If you catch the other rider you win. If no one catches anyone, then the fastest time wins. The distance is long enough that you can't rely on sprint power to get you through, but short enough that you can't just settle into 'TT' pace (i.e. lactate threshold). You need to use your total aerobic capacity, in order to do well. What does that mean? Suffering!
From my previous experience, and from talking to others, I knew the following: the first few laps should feel easy, the middle laps feel pretty horrible, and the last kilometre absolute torture. That's how it should feel if you maintain a constant pace for the whole thing.
The fun started on Friday night with the qualifying rides. Basically, the fastest two riders would go through to a final race for gold or silver, and the third and fourth fastest riders would race each other in the final for bronze.
There were a grand total of four of us riding (five entered, but one didn't show up - Logan!), so we were all guaranteed a spot in the finals, our qualifying times would just determine what medals we were racing for.
The other competitors were Will Dickeson (very PRO dude: former Savings & Loans rider, and has just signed with Jelly Belly in the US), Dave Miller (kick-arse sprinter and Star Wars fanatic) and Pete Davis (strong rider who signed up for the pursuit but didn't realise it, and was really just at the track to do the kilo earlier in the night!).
Dave and Pete went up first. Dave qualified faster, riding a time of 5:11.722 (those decimal points will become important later, trust me!). Will and I were riding next. I knew Will would probably do a better time than all of us, so I just had to ride a faster time than Dave in order to make to the silver-gold final.
Marky G, still on a high from winning the Masters4 750m TT, was kind enough to lend me his very cool retro Zipps for the occasion. He also lent me his teardrop aero-helmet. Here's a shot of my bike just before the race:
Gemma K was kind enough to offer to 'pace' me, by standing at the start/finish line and indicating each lap whether I should go faster or slower in order to set a given time. I had her pacing me to a 5:10 schedule - this was about the time that I thought I could do: 19 seconds per lap, and a 25 second first lap to account for the standing start. Incidentally, if I could keep to that schedule I would just beat Dave's time. I assumed that Gemma would not lead me astray, despite the fact that Dave is in fact her husband!
One of the cool things about racing at state champs is that they get out the electronic starting gates and timer, complete with a beeping countdown and synthesized starting 'gun': BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP PKSH!
Off we went! I started out right on schedule, and the next couple of laps were a little bit up on schedule. The pain had not set in yet. However, gradually it did. After a few laps I was right on schedule, and then I started to full a little bit behind. Will passed me with about 6 laps to go, but we both kept going because it was qualifying, so we had to set times.
Sure enough, with a kilometre to go the pain was really setting in! I recall trying not to drool on the track. My breath felt hoarse. I could taste a bit of blood! Then it was over. I looked up at the clock.
It couldn't have been much closer! I'd qualified about 0.2 of a second slower than Dave, so it was off to the bronze medal final for me!
A couple of days passed (seriously, the finals were on Sunday morning). Off to the track again.
I was riding against Pete for the final. Although his qualifying time was not spectacular, there were many reasons for that: he had just gotten off a plane, didn't know he was doing a pursuit, and had just done a kilo! He also didn't have aerobars on for qualifying, which is probably the most important bit of go-faster equipment for these sort of events.
On Sunday Pete was looking much better rested and he managed to procure some aerobars (from the source of all loaner equipment -- Marky G of course!). I was actually a little worried that he might put in a full on sprint effort at the start and catch me before I could even get started! Pete is a much faster sprinter than I am.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP PKSH! Off we went again. This time Gemma was pacing me to a 5:05 schedule as I thought that I may as well try and beat my earlier time. I tried to ride a much tighter line on the corners, as I'd been told that I was a bit high on the track in my qualifying rides. Stay on the black line!
Sure enough, the pain set in about half way through. I was up on schedule! At this time I managed to get far enough ahead that I could see Pete. This was good inspiration, and I lifted the pace a little, and managed to get past him. Unfortunately this probably put me a bit into arrears, and my pace dropped off rather rapidly in the final kilometre. Final time: 5:11, again! (not sure of the last few digits, but they weren't as relevant this time!)
Yay, I got a medal! We even got to do the whole podium presentation thing, although I had no idea what was going on (for future reference, I believe its: drop head for medal, shake hands, get on podium and look humble, get onto top step with winner, join hands and raise them for photo, shake hands with other podium getters, jump off).
I was happy with the times I rode, and I beat my December 2008 time by 25 seconds. Oh, and it turns out I wasn't just 0.2 seconds off silver, but 0.2 seconds off gold, as Will didn't race in the finals!
My goal for the next state champs will be to go under 5 minutes. With more training, and a bit more track-specific work, I'm pretty sure it can be done.
I encourage everyone to do a pursuit sometime - horribly painful, but very rewarding!