DBC Race Team Junior Wins US National Championship!
By Alexander Freund: I'm no stranger to competing in National Championships; it's the "winning" part of Nationals that I can never seem to achieve. But this year is different. For many months, my season goal was to win the omnium at Junior Track Nationals, a medley of six different events dispersed over two days, with distances ranging from a 200 meter sprint to a 15 kilometer points race. After eight years of racing my way through the junior category, I knew that this race would be my best shot at becoming a National Champion before I graduate onwards to the significantly more difficult elite level.
To describe my training for this race would be overly unnecessary and uninteresting, as my riding schedule for the weeks, even months, prior to our departure for Nationals consisted solely of drives to the "local" Hellyer velodrome in San Jose, intertwined with countless intervals on those long, flat, and painfully straight Davis roads. As a result, my legs were almost always in constant fatigue, be it due to the lactic acid of intense training or being cramped into the sweltering backseat of our outdated station wagon on those many drives to the track. Nevertheless, progress was undeniable, and by the time my dad and I packed up our things for the trip to Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, site of this year's Junior Track Nationals, I was itching to face the competition.
I had been warned more than once of the humid and muggy summer waiting for me in Pennsylvania, yet, fortunately for me, the latest heat wave on the East Coast subsided just as we arrived. But still, no time for sightseeing; straight to the hotel, and then straight to the velodrome. My field, the Junior Men aged 17-18, was only 11 people strong, but those 11 riders are essentially the strongest and most well-suited junior track racers in the country. I knew that this was not going to be easy no matter how small the field or how nice the weather. I was ready to start my final attempt at winning a National Championship as a junior.
The first event, a 200 meter time trial (if an event that short can be called a "time trial"), essentially tests how fast one can go on a track bike, serving almost as a prologue for the remaining five events. Each lone rider is given 2 laps around the track before he sprints as fast as possible for what ends up only being about 12 seconds. My time, 11.89 seconds (achieved via an average of almost 38 miles per hour), was a personal best and was good enough to land me third, which I was definitely satisfied with, considering my sprinting abilities, of which I never cease being critical. Second was a points race, in which points are awarded for several (or in our case, eight) sprints throughout the 15 kilometers, with the winner being the rider with the most points at the end. Because these races involve the riders calculating point totals along the way, points races become incredibly tactical, in addition to the physical stamina needed to be able to sprint so many times over such a short distance. I had my eye on the two riders who had bested me in the 200 meter time trial, Gregory Ratzell and Michael Dessau, and after one of the harder points races in which I have competed, I placed 2nd behind Gregory. In other words, after two of the six events, I was in second place in the omnium. Next, in the final event of the first day, the "Miss and Out," the last rider to cross the line each lap is removed from the race until only one racer remains. This discipline requires as much aggression as physical fitness, and, seeing as how I am several inches taller and many pounds heavier than the next biggest racer in my category, I knew that I would be able to use my aggression to place well. Once the race started, I stayed near the front for the first couple laps while the slower riders at the back were eliminated. Once there were only 4 of us left, I pushed the pace to prevent the others from swarming around me. Four, three, and then just two: me and Gregory. He began his sprint, but slowed due to fatigue, allowing me to place first. At the end of the first day of racing, I was still second in the omnium, but only by one point, meaning that I would need to beat Gregory by more than one placing for me to overtake the lead. My dad and I returned to the hotel for some much needed rest, and I knew that I was in the perfect position for the next day.
There is always a moment of apprehension before jumping on the bike the day following a hard race. Exacerbated by the intensity of track racing, leg fatigue can hinder an entire day of racing. Luckily, as I began warming up for Day 2, I felt better than I expected. First up was a 3 kilometer time trial, which, although it sounds short, is an extreme test of self-pacing and being able to push through pain. To put things in perspective, a competitive speed for the juniors would be about 31 miles per hour, which corresponds with a 19:21 time on the Putah Creek course. After a lengthy warm up, I was ready for my three and a half minutes of pain. There isn't much I can say about the actual time trial, since my head was filled with lap times and the constant complaint from my fast-fatiguing legs. After all was said and done, I placed 3rd, with Gregory placing 6th. I was now first in the omnium, with two events to go.
Next was the scratch race, which is the direct application of a criterium on a velodrome, in which the first rider to cross the finish line is the victor. This particular scratch race was 10 kilometers long, and although I attempted to break away several times, the field rolled into the final three laps all together. At that point, I put in one final attack, and when the field hesitated to chase, I knew I was clear. Raul, a fellow local Hellyer junior, followed me on my attack, and although he came around me for the win, I knew that my second place in the scratch race widened my lead in the omnium. All that stood between me and my first National Championship was a 1 kilometer time trial, which, in my opinion, is one of the hardest events on the track. This is because the optimal strategy is to ride the first two (of the three total) laps as fast as possible, and when your legs cannot keep going, you push through the final lap while your legs explode from the almost unbearable lactic acid. The best 1km racers are the ones who are the best at ignoring this pain. I knew that I needed to put all of my remaining energy into this race in order to win the omnium, and, to cut a long story short, I rode a personal best time, placed third in the 1km time trial, and thus won the omnium and my first National Championship.
My winnings included a medal and a stars and stripes jersey, both of which mean so much more to me after seeing them on the shoulders of my competitors for the past 8 years and having come as close as one tenth of a second in years past. One of the most exciting aspects of my victory is that I am now among those eligible for the Junior Track World Championships in New Zealand next month, which, assuming all goes to according to plan, I should be competing in. My journey over these few years in the junior category truly shows how a local rider with a passion for cycling, with some dedication, as well as support from his family and team, can not only become the best in the country, but also hopefully represent his country at the international level.
Complete results available at http://www.usacycling.org/results/index.php?year=2012&id=22&info_id=51456