UPDATE: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014
I had a conversation with Steve Bauer, Head Coach at the Milton Velodrome Monday to clarify some of the programming available at Milton. I have updated this document to reflect the changes; however, the views described here are my own based on my experience riding and racing at the Forest City Velodrome, the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park, and the Clevelend Velodrome and do not neccessarily reflect the views of any of these organizations. For full programming details at Milton, please refer to the mattamynationalcyclingcentre.ca website. They have also posted their own Pathway to Track Cycling chart HERE. For programming at the Forest City Velodrome, see HERE.
With the advent of the Town of Milton posting the programs available at the soon to be open Milton Velodrome, I've received a few queries wherever I go asking about buying a track bike and how to get into racing the track. The cycling commuting is all abuzz with the new track set to open in November, and the Ontario Cycling Association set to run it's first OCUP series at the new velodrome.
I've held caution optimism over the entire process. While Milton will be one of two 250m UCI registered tracks in North American, I think the local cycling commutee needs to keep the process of moving to track racing into perspective. Picking up track racing is something that, for most people, takes time to become competitive regardless of road racing experience. That said, for those looking for a new recreational activity - riding a real bike instead of the trainer for fitness, getting into riding the track is a simple process.
I have been travelling to the Forest City Velodrome because I feel in love with the concept of track cycling from the first time I did Track 1 four years ago. In that time, I have gones though the process of doing the different training programs from the point of having difficulty doing 35km/h around the black line to hanging in with the A group Elite racers on race nights to now, competing in Madison racing as well as volunteering to run weekend open sessions. I have only seen one person grab a track bike and within a few sessions, become competient - and he now races on the Canadian National Team - Ed Veal. For most, the move from track 1 (or Track A at Milton) to competing in a mass start event is one that involves a fair bit of training. Nevermind, there is a rash of equipment one needs to compete competitively. I think most roadies believe that because they are fast on the road, they can race on the track without any special training. That could not be more false. I've seen and been taken out by too many "roadies" not following track ediquette. I think that anyone wanting to race on the track needs to think it will take six months get to a skill level where they can race in a B group race.
Starting on the track starts with visiting the Velodrome and taking track 1 course (track A in Milton, Track 101 in Clevelend, Intro Track in Rochester Hills, MI). This course introduces you to track bike which has no gears or brakes. It teaches you how to start and stop the bike - for most, the stopping part is hard because they have never riden a fixed gear bike before. It teaches you how to get on and off the track safely and general riding at moderate track speeds.
The next step is to get some track time. Riding the rec or open sessions. You need to get familar with the track bike, how to get on and off the track, and how to ride in a paceline with others at an easy pace - and most importantly, how to ALWAYS shoulder check before moving around the track. Something roadie's sometimes forget. Because the cranks move when the bike is moving, you will find the riding a track bike takes more energy generally than a road bike: there is no coasting.
Next, take a track 2 or Track B course. This introduces you to doing exchanges off the front of a paceline safely. It also introduces you to such things as diamonding the track - riding from the black to the yellow line and back again all while maintaining a constrant distance from the rider in front of you. It teaches you how to hold the black line at a higher pace. Once you have a track 2 (Track B) course, you need to get more track time to get used to riding in a paceline doing exchanges at a higher pace perhaps up to 40km/h on both the blue and black line. The blue line is usually harder to ride because it is not flat and usually has a small rise in it into the corners. Exchanges at the blue are more difficult because you are higher up the track and sometimes it can be a climb the track to get off the front of the paceline.
Next, a sportif training session (FCV) or Structured Track Training (Milton) is completed. At the FCV, this session introduces you to the concept of the rollup. Usually, this starts at a leisurely pace and goes faster, faster, faster in a paceline formation, until 5-10 laps to go, and then it is an all out sprint for the finish. During the rollup, riders that blow remove themselves from the track when it is safe to do so. Hitting 50-55km/h on the track for the first time can be scary because the g-forces in corners can toss you around making it hard to hold the black line. Nevermind, at that speed, any mistake can be disasterous. These sessions also do endurance work such as riding at 40km/h (or faster) in a paceline for 30mins or longer at a time as well as other drills to increase your confidence. At the Forest City Velodrome, this happens in a two differently weekly sessions with the Tuesday nights targeted to newer riders, and Thursday nights to most experienced and faster riders. You will build your speed and ability to rider fast safely in these sessions.
The next step race training also called Structured Quality Training at FCV and Advanced Track Training at Milton. At Forest City Velodrome, this session happens on Wednedays nights and is usually run by Rob Good. Drills such as 100 lap rollup, attack off the front, attack from the middle, attacking off the yellow line, two up sprints seated or standing, pursuit drills in groups of usually four, two up flying laps, whistle sprints, race simulations, etc.. While most roadies are fried after 10 sprints on the trainer, most of the workout nights see us on the track do 30, 40 or more sprints in the course of 2 hours of riding. Steve Bauer took my suggestion for weeknight training sessions. The current training course runs on Sundays at Milton.
The last step of the process is racing. Milton requires that you complete and pass a Race Competiency program in order to do racing. If you do not show competiency, you may be asked to repeat the course. At the FCV, racing on a race night is with the permission of Rob Good which is usually granted provided you have been to enough Wed night sessions to show race competency. Oddly enough, all the high speed training never prepares you for the first time going to the rail on a race night. I raced at the Forest City Veldrome, the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, MI, the Cleveland Velodrome, and at the Dick Lane Velodrome in Atlanta, GA. Each track is a little different and it is alway new each time racing at a different track. I can still remember racing Keirin for the first time at the IVBP in Michigan last summer and the first time racing Madison last fall at the FCV. Simular to racing on the road, how a race unfolders largely depends on who shows up. However, in track racing, there is a smaller group, so generally speaking it is the same people each race night.
Of course, one of the best things about track racing is it is not boring. There isn't any riding around for 3 hours for a single sprint. The action is fast and furious beause the races are usual short. A 100 lap race is a really long race (unless you compete at the UCI level). The type of races are different. There are a variety of races: standard Scratch race (race to a final sprint), Points race (sprint for points every X number of laps), elimination race (miss and out - last rider past the line is out on a sprint), Madison (racing two on a team with handoffs), last man standing (standard start, and the last ride to ride over someone else wins) and some tracks invent other races such a Win and Out, etc.. A typically race night has each racer up to the rail 3-6 times. It is something that does not happen in any other form of bike racing. It is one of the reason I find it so much fun.
Next, I may look at the equipment required for track racing.