The past month has been a whirlwind of travel and racing.
France was in its third national lockdown for most of April, which meant a few weeks without racing. Having been sick just a few weeks earlier, the lull in racing let me ease back into training. It took three weeks to bounce back from my Covid-like symptoms, although as I’ve mentioned, I tested negative for Covid itself.
After regaining my form, I left on an adventure to central Italy for three days of track racing: my first racing on a velodrome since August 2019. My trip started with a drive through the Alps — and I mean through: the 13km long Fréjus tunnel, beneath the Franco-Italian border and miles of rock. After exiting the tunnel and driving eight more hours, I arrived in Ascoli Piceno, a small city in central Italy, northeast of Rome and 30 minutes from the Adriatic coast. The racing took place on the Velodromo Monticelli, a 333 meter outdoor asphalt track. I competed in ten races across three days of racing: a scratch race and points race on the first day, and four-race omniums on the second day and the third days. A “scratch race” is what civilians would call a regular race: the first rider across the finish line wins. A points race has a sprint for the line every 2.5 kilometers for 30 km, with points awarded to the top finishers in each sprint. If you want a rough running comparison, imagine a footrace of 30 laps around a standard high school or college track, with about 25 runners in the race. Imagine that every two laps they sprint for the start/finish line to earn points, and do that twelve times in a row. That’s about what a track cycling points race is. On a single-speed bike with no brakes.
At a track cycling event, riders will warm up and prepare for races in the infield, or the center of the velodrome. Typically, “pens” are set up, in the form of metal fencing, creating a grid in which teams can define their space and give their riders room. As a solo rider, etiquette dictates that I have find other racers to share a pen with, as there is limited supply and I don’t need the space that, say, the Italian national team, with 11 riders, would need. At this track meet, I was lucky enough to hear two other racers speaking French in a nearby pen. I introduced myself, asked if I could share space with them, and they kindly obliged. The sociology of the infield is interesting: two people that I had never met before in my life welcomed me into their pen, the space that we would base ourselves out of for the next three days of intense racing, with open arms. This kind welcome was based solely on a common language, and nothing more. I’ve raced at a number of different venues over the course of my short racing career, and I’ve often shared pens based on team, state, or nation affiliation, but never language. Small moments like these are what make track cycling such a wonderful sport.
The competition was stiff, with both the Italian and Polish national teams present. So I was racing against European champions, world championship medalists, former Olympians, and a few riders headed to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics — almost all of them older than me. What’s more, I was the only rider (of about seventy) there by myself, without support staff at the race. My driver, mechanic, soigneur, and coach were all named Peter: namely me. Having not raced on a velodrome since August 2019, I wasn’t sure how well I’d race, but I got back into the flow, placing 5th in the points race and 6th in the second omnium: solid performances given the level of competition. When the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) world men’s rankings were updated after the race, I rose to 176th for the points-race rankings and 207th for the omnium: a start!
A few pictures from the racing in Ascoli Piceno. Photo credit gs_ph.oto.
On my drive back to Chambéry, I stopped in San Marino, an obscure micronation surrounded by Italy near the Adriatic coast. Founded in 301 CE (so they say), its reputation for wealth was confirmed as I entered the country. Just outside the border, there was a surprisingly large homeless population, contrasted with the Ferrari that drove past me minutes after crossing the country line. With my short visit, I increased my number of new countries visited during the trip to two!
After a recovery day back in Chambéry, I rejoined my AG2R Citroën teammates for a road race, the Grand Prix du Belley, on May 9th near Chambery. I felt some fatigue in my legs from the track racing, but I finished in 27th place, continuing an upward trend in road results this season. I raced again on May 13th, about three hours south at the Grand Prix de Branoux. Scarily, the race was held in a national forest where a man who that morning had committed a double murder was said to be on the loose. Though short at just 60km, the GP de Branoux was the hardest road race I’ve done this season. Each of the three 20km laps started with a 5.5km climb at 6%. Because the race was short, there was no neutral start. In a typical bike race, there is a “depart fictif,” a great French phrase for “neutral start.” The first 5km or so are non-race riding, to make sure that everyone is together with no major problems. Then the commissaire (or referee) starts the race. But with no neutral start, the race went uphill at warp speed from the gun, quickly shattering the peloton (or pack of riders) into small groups. I suffered through the race, placing 30th when all was said and done.
A few pictures from the GP de Belley and the GP de Branoux. Photo credit DirectVelo.
I’ve added a schedule tab to my blog for all of my upcoming races, which should be helpful.
Until next time!