The second event in Sydney was the UCI World Championships. Most of the track cyclists consider this more important than the World Masters Games. There were a lot more serious competitors in Sydney for this event.
It’s hard to explain all the intricacies of sprint racing but I’ll try and explain some of the detail. Unlike sprints in most other sports with cycling the fastest rider does not always win. Using better techniques and tactics a slightly slower rider might win a sprint and with a bit of luck a slower rider can defeat a considerably faster opponent.
My first race was on Monday the 19th October, the 750m Time Trial. I actually only entered this race to have a ride but had no intention of being competitive. My stated intention was to ride a time between 56 and 57 seconds. The winning time was an exhausting 50.3 while I rode a comfortable 56.5 seconds to finish in the lower half of the field.
On Thursday the sprints started. This is what I was in Sydney for.
2:00pm, Event 81: qualifying for the sprint.
Each rider enters the track solo with three and a half laps to go. A time is taken over the last 200m. Riders choose the ‘line’ they ride to approach the start of the timed 200m. I think everyone else is wrong so out of the 32 entrants for the sprint I have a unique line approaching the 200m. The fastest 24 riders progress to the next round, the first fastest rides #24, #2 rides #23 etc. Jeff Stoker, winner of the World Masters Games Sprint was the fastest qualifier with a world record time of 11.111 seconds; I was second with a time of 11.26. Even though I didn’t win I still think everyone else is wrong.
As second qualifier I was due to race #24, due to a withdrawal I only had to present to the line ready to race, rode half a lap and progressed to the next round. That was easy.
9:30 pm, Event 98: the 1/8 final
The 1/8 finals are ‘sudden death’, winner progresses to the next round, loser to the repechage. This would be a bit harder; my opponent was Peter Barnard a previous World Masters Champion. I ‘drew’ the bottom of the track which meant I was required to lead for the first half lap and for the first lap Peter was happy to follow. Then the Cat and Mouse started. First he tried to get underneath me and get to the lead, I blocked him, and then he accelerated hard round the bank over the top of me. I thought, if you want the lead that bad with two laps to go, have it. I happily followed for half a lap then drew Peter toward the top of the bank when he momentarily looked away from me, I turned my bike sharply down the steep bank, was underneath and in front with just over 250m to go. For the last lap I gently accelerated the bike to keep Peter behind me. That was my day over. I got home around 11:00, had some dinner and tried to get some sleep; tomorrow would be a big day.
Friday 23 October.
To be at the velodrome warmed up and ready to race by 9:00am I had to leave my accommodation well before 7:00. This meant up and active before 6:00. I was tired.
9:00am the session started, my event did not start for another hour.
10:00 am, Event 115: the Sprint Quarter Finals
This is best of three rounds, loser out of the event. My opponent this time is a Frenchman, Philippe Vernet, Current World Masters Champion in the 750m Time Trial, in 1984 he finished 4th in the sprint at the LA Olympics. In the first round I drew the bottom again and had to lead. Vernet was happy to follow for a lap and half and then he tried to pass me but, unlike with Peter Barnard, I was unwilling to relinquish the front position. He had not fully passed me when he started to enter the sprinters lane. The sprinters lane is on the bottom of the velodrome between the black (measuring line) and the red sprinters line. When passing a rider you must be fully in front of them before entering the lane, I had to physically shove him out of it with a bit of head, shoulder and elbow. Vernet dutifully swung up and dropped in behind me with 1 ¼ laps to go. In the back straight I let him draw alongside me and paced myself on his speed till halfway round the last bank when I accelerated to win reasonably comfortably. 1 up.
Round 2. This time Vernet was required to lead for the first half lap and I was happy to follow. I actually wanted to ‘approach from behind’ in this round; it’s not easy to pass on this track and I needed some practice. However, when the cat and mouse started and he baulked to try to get the back position I happily took the lead knowing he would not want to stay there. Sure enough we were on the top of the bank with 1 1/3 laps to go when he rode underneath to retake the lead, I threw in a ‘dummy’ dive to wind him up then waited till the back straight. With about 160m to go I accelerated, drew level in 80m and shadowed him to the line. Job done. Next round: Semi Finals.
2:40pm, Event 138: Sprint Semi Finals
My opponent: Matthew Diefenbach of the USA. I knew nothing of him and had a chat to Peter Barnard about how to race him, Pete said to watch out for him and that he would try and stall me. Ok, so if I’m leading try and get him on my hip and keep him there till about 80m to go. If following make sure there is some room and be high on the track and watch for opportunities. For the first round Diefenbach drew the bottom and was therefore required to lead for the first half lap; that suited me fine. For the first lap I happily followed Diefenbach, leaving less than a bike length gap, then I started dancing on the pedals a bit while creeping up the bank, trying to draw my opponent higher on the track. It mostly worked. Approaching the last lap we were again on the bottom of the track with me close behind Diefenbach, not where I wanted to be, no options. I swung up the bank and accelerated, this provided me with height speed and space: just what I wanted. Approaching the back straight I was 3-4m behind and about 2m higher than Diefenbach and with some pace on. Diefenbach looked forward and started to get out of his seat (to start sprinting). Before he did I pounced and within 2 seconds was beside him and on the inside and passing. Once in front I backed off a bit to give Diefenbach no room and watched over my right shoulder. To pass Diefenbach must now overtake me on the outside, at about 55kph and with no room he cannot hit me fast so my intention was to hold this to the finish. !!#$%&%$* with 30m to go I heard a sound to my left and kicked, too late, Diefenbach came underneath me and won by about 7cm. Wow was there a flood of emotions now. Firstly anger with myself: I should have gently kept accelerating for the last 80m as with Barnard. Then confusion: how did Diefenbach get under me? I had the sprinters lane. Did I come out of it long enough for him to get under me? Than anger: He can’t do that, how do I put in a protest? Within 90 seconds there was an announcement that the result was being reviewed. About five minutes later Diefenbach was disqualified. Round two would now be easy, I only needed to front, in about 20 minutes ready to race to be given the win. I did a warm down had a shower and waited. Into the finals.
7:30pm Event 166. The Sprint Finals.
This race would be hard. My opponent, Jeff Stoker just walked over last year’s world champion and defeated me a week earlier in the finals of the World Masters Games. Even though he qualified over 1/10 sec faster than me I’m confident I have at least the equivalent top speed, but he has better acceleration. Ideally I need to be leading at 80% pace with a lap to go.
In the first round Jeff drew the bottom of the track and as was required to lead for the first half lap. I happily followed Jeff for the first lap with just a small amount of manoeuvring to make him work at watching me. Jeff moved to the top of the track and I tried to position myself slightly higher on the track, sometimes I was rubbing the rail. With a lap and a quarter to go I fainted a dive to try and get Jeff sprinting but he blocked my move and only lifted the pace enough to stop me from passing easily. As we crossed the finish line with a lap to go I climbed the bank to try and give myself some space and height advantage but Jeff countered my move by backing off slightly and watching. Down the back straight I had a two bike length gap to my opponent, which was good but, he was not going fast enough. I had to make a run, accelerated, and unfortunately caught Jeff as the bank started where he then accelerated and nullified my speed. Round 1 to Stoker.
Round two. This time I was required to lead for the first half lap. Down the back straight Jeff started to go up the track and consequently I had to go higher as well. Generally though Jeff was happy to just follow for nearly two laps. Coming out of the last corner with just over a lap remaining Jeff started to accelerate and looked like he was about to dive for the bottom of the track. I accelerated and came down the track a touch to block his run to the sprinter’s lane but. Stoker had gone full steam off the bank while I was still trying to block, he rode around the outside and was in front by the next bend #$%. Hopefully he will go flat-out and I’ll have a chance at passing in the finishing straight. He was too switched on for that, after passing me he’s backed off a bit to give me no room, déjà-vu I’m now following again with less than a lap to go against a fast opponent who is not going flat out. I cannot get a sufficient gap for a run at him down the back straight; have to wait till the finish. With about 80m to run Jeff has finally gone full steam and from about a meter behind I start sprinting flat out with 65m to go hoping to get a good run down the finishing straight but, as I start passing I go too wide, over 1/3 up the track and lose by half a wheel. Even though I made lots of mistakes in the final Jeff was definitely the better sprinter on the day.