So here it was, at last, what I had been working towards all year, my ‘Gold Race’ for the season. The week-long National Track Championships, held in the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales, Newport. 6 races over 5 days. A total of 360 laps raced, about 90km, but not a lot of climbing!
We arrived on Saturday and settled in a house 5 minutes away from the Velodrome. My Dad’s friend Thomas had sorted it out and it was perfect. It meant I could spend the maximum time resting in-between races and the littlest time travelling as possible, which was welcome after a year of driving around the country. Sunday, I did very little, watched some TV, relaxed, and heard tales of Thomas and Dad’s efforts up the Tumble whilst I watched the Commonwealth Road Race.
Monday came and the first race was the Scratch. I guided myself through qualifying with relative ease to qualify 9th, meaning I made the afternoon’s final, a 40-lap race where the first across the line takes the win, simple enough. I was nervous in the afternoon, the Velodrome, hot and sticky amid a South Wales heatwave, and the race was on.
Constant attacks flowed from the off, with riders hoping to make the difference and gain a lap, all still had fresh legs and were raring to go. With 15 laps to go, the bunch sat up, I came underneath and carried on at the original pace, a gap … it meant a couple of laps later I had already gained half a lap. Was this enough of a gap? Was I able to hold off the group? Sadly No. My legs burning, my eyes glazing and still 3 laps to go, Fin Tarling bridged the gap to me, I had nothing left to be able to get his wheel, the bunch came, swept past and swamped him as well. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. Still, at least there were plenty more opportunities for a stripy jersey.
I rode home and recovered. Ready for Day 2.
Tuesday was the Individual Pursuit. Here the expensive tech came out, to try stop the clock quicker and quicker. I was in the last heat, I felt like I had got off well, and even though I set a personal best of 2 minutes 21 seconds, it left me 12th. It wasn’t the result I’d hoped for, but the PB was nice anyways, I left the Velodrome quietly. I was disappointed I had hoped for more, quietly I got back to the house, had a bath, and reframed the day. A Personal Best was brilliant and there was still 3 days to go.
Wednesday was the day I got to mix it up a bit, as it was the sprint. There were many specialists racing, guys who spent more time in the gym than on their bikes, something I could never imagine doing. The racing started off with a ‘flying 200’, a 200-metre time trial, with three laps build up. I went for it, giving everything, I set a new PB of 11.341 seconds, placing me 4th going into the heats. This lifted me hugely. I had nothing to prove in the Sprints this was just a lot of fun! From here onwards we were into the three lap races, conventionally containing the ‘cat and mouse’ technique of looking around and waiting to catch your opponent off guard, also an occasional bit of track standing, before the actual sprint kicked off with a lap to go. This was where I could mix it up a bit, particularly being an endurance rider. But more on that later.
My first race I won using the classic tactics. We did a track stand for a bit, played a bit of hide and seek over his shoulder, then kicked with about a lap and a half to go and I took the win. This meant I was through to the quarter finals. I won both my quarter final heats, putting me through to the semis, up against the eventual winner. In the first heat I tried to win just on raw speed, which didn’t work. One-nil down, time for the tactics. This time I was Man 1 and had a trick up my sleeve. As mentioned earlier, being an endurance racer in the sprints meant I could do something many of the sprinters couldn’t: more than two laps at max speed. I kid you not. I had a small gap with two-and-a-half laps to go, so I kicked. My competitor realised he wasn’t going to be able to do this and sat up. One all. I was Man 2 in our final race, meaning I had to close the small gap to come round him. My plan was the same as the race before, go long. Once I got onto his back wheel there was two laps to go, not ideal. We kicked, and he managed to hang on to take the win, before going to throw up in a bin. This put me into the third-place final, which I lost. I didn’t mind too much; it had been a great experience and the pure sprinters deserved the podium. I had, had a lot of fun and I still had three races left, so plenty of opportunities to get a medal. Coming fourth in the sprint after doing no specific training towards it wasn’t bad at all.
Thursday was a long day. Points Race Day. Qualifying again and I managed to score a couple of points in the morning’s 50-lap qualifier, meaning I was through to the final. I had qualified with little effort, trying to manage my efforts and sitting down when ever I got the chance. I sat and waited for the final. My tactic in the race was to pick specific sprints and score high in them, rather than waste energy scoring low in all the sprints. I stayed near the back for most of the race, fairly sure no-one would get enough of a gap to try the lap gain. I came to the front and contested the second sprint, three points in the bag. Back into the bunch to save energy, not having to put my nose in the wind until, with two laps to go, I came round the bunch and rushed the gap to the lone rider in the break, overtaking him at the last moment to take the ten points on the line, as there are double points in the last sprint, putting me second overall with 13 points, 2 points off the winner. So that was it, MY FIRST NATIONAL PODIUM! This was what I’d been working up to for the last year. Everything had come together. I was delighted. Dad, Mum and my twin sister were all there to see. It was brilliant. The legs felt great and that evening riding home felt a world away from Tuesday’s disappointment.
The final day … Friday was a triple day for me. Coming off the elation from the day before, my main goal was to make it round safe, as it was Madison day. Ethan Storti and I had made it through the qualifier, scoring enough points to get us into the final. We had raced sensibly and done just enough. Before the final though was the 500m TT. Again a target for me, a quick change of skinsuit and I was ready. I set a new PB for my standing lap: 19.6 seconds, before going on to set a 500 PB of 35.017, putting me in eighth place, another top-10 and PB to go on the list, beaten only by a couple of the endurance guys and some impressive sprinters. Finally; another quick change and it was time for the Madison final, my last race of the week. I can’t really remember much of what happened in the race, other than it was pretty sketchy and that we ended up fifth, on the same lap as the leaders, and most importantly, upright, we had managed to get some points but not enough for a Podium.
We stayed Friday night and took a leisurely walk into Newport. An amazing Burger and Fries, particularly tasty after a week of pasta, orzo and rice! Then a wander back along the river to reflect on my week at the National Track Championships.
I would like to make some special mentions; Firstly; Sam Fisher, impressive week and a growing collection of stripy jerseys. Thomas, thank you. Mum and Maddy for coming to see me and Dad for all his support. We did it!