Since I last checked in, I’ve had a whirlwind of racing adventures across Italy and France.
This post will cover my July racing, and I’ll publish another in a few weeks that will cover August and reflect on the past eight months I’ve spent in Europe and what’s next.
My first race in July was the Sei Giorni delle Rose, a six-day track event in Fiorenzuola d’Arda, Italy. As the last major track event in Europe before the Tokyo Olympic Games, Fiorenzuola was full to the brim of European national teams and olympic selections, making it by far the highest level racing that I had ever taken part in. Among other big names present were Benjamin Thomas, the current omnium world champion, and Elia Viviani, the 2016 Rio Olympic omnium champion. What I learned, after failing to qualify for the finals of the scratch, points, and omnium, was that I wasn’t yet strong enough. Although it should probably come as no surprise that I don’t yet have the level to compete at the very highest level in the world, it’s always disheartening to be handed losses, no matter the competition. After some reflection, there were certainly positives to take away from the experience as well.
While not capable of racing for the podium, I was capable of influencing the outcome of the races- attacking, bridging to moves and deciding when to use my energy rather than hanging on for dear life onto the back of the peloton. I was also able to fight for position and literally bump shoulders with the very same riders who would go on to compete, and win, medals in Tokyo. This was both incredible in that I had the chance to race with my idols, but also subconsciously terrifying because if I were to cause a crash that took down one of these riders, I would have a pretty hard time rectifying whatever mistake I made. The director of the race went so far as to speak to each and every rider before the start of the racing, explicitly stating the names of the riders that we were not “allowed” to crash out. Everyone else was fair game I guess.
Fiorenzuola concluded with three consecutive days of madison, for which I was paired with Mykyta Yacovlev, a 20 year-old Ukrainian who spoke zero English. Of course, I don’t speak any Ukrainian either. Without communication, racing together proved difficult, but we managed to ride solidly, learning along the way. On the final night, Mykyta crashed himself out during one of our exchanges, meaning that I had to ride solo for five or so minutes while he laid face down in the grass in the infield, motionless. Fortunately he only had superficial injuries, and after attention from the medics he got back into the race, still bleeding. By the time we finished, my forearm and hand were covered in his blood from the exchanges.
Photo credit: Ryder PH, Cantalupi_PH
From Fiorenzuola, I traveled back to Chambéry, where I had only one day to organize myself before heading to Le Mans, France, for another three days of track racing, this time against the olympic selection from the nations of northern Europe who had chosen not to travel as far as Italy for Olympic prep. Unfortunately, I had picked up a virus in my last few days in Fiorenzuola, and I wasn’t good for much in Le Mans. A three day turnaround to race after a 12-hour drive on the back of the longest race of my life was perhaps not the best idea! I didn’t gain much in Le Mans, but it was a good lesson.
Photo credit: Éponine Photo
Two days after coming back from Le Mans, still sick, I was asked by the team to start in a road race. As you might expect, I wasn’t good for much at this race, where it also happened to be raining- not the best combination. I called it quits after 45 minutes; it wasn’t worth it to continue.
After a day off the bike and another two to ease back into the rhythm of cycling, I was feeling much better, just in time to head off to the Tre Sere Città di Pordenone, in Pordenone, Italy, my last track event of this season. The event was a five-day, run under typical fall six day rules. For the event, the race organizer partnered me with Denis Rugovac, a 26 year-old from the Czech Republic with a long list of impressive results and a massive amount of racing experience. Denis and I roomed together in a hotel at 1300 meters altitude in the Dolomites that the race organization provided for us. The hotel was at the top of a 15km climb that often features in the Giro d’Italia; it was a beautiful spot.
For those who are unfamiliar, six days are cycling’s take on entertainment. Riders compete for six consecutive nights across a number of different types of races, mostly paired with their partner in madison events. The racing typically runs from 7 to right around midnight, making the racing something of a spectacle. The madison is a high-skill event, and is known as one of the most dangerous disciplines of cycling for the chaos caused by exchanges between riders.
Needless to say, the learning curve was steep, but I progressed very well across the five nights of racing, learning both from my own mistakes as well as the wealth of advice that Denis had to offer me. The five day finished with a 56km madison, which is by far the longest madison I have ever competed in. For reference, a madison at the world championships would max out at 50km. I was able to put together everything I had learned that week during the final race, and we managed to score in five sprints, and took advantage of some bad blood between a few of the teams at the top of the rankings to take a very late lap, climbing up the final standings up into fourth out of 20 teams: not bad for my first five day!
Below is a sequence of photos that nicely shows how a madison exchange works.
Below is another sequence from an exchange.
Some other photos from the racing, much of which was at night
Photo credit: ATPhotography
Funnily enough, the race ended on July 23rd, the day before my birthday. Because the racing went so late into the night, I was still at the velodrome when the clock struck midnight and I turned 20. Unbeknownst to me, my Dad had sent the race organizers a brief email letting them know when my birthday was, so I was quite surprised when I was pulled up onto the stage of a comedy act the race organizers had put on at the end of the night. The comedians tried to make use of my limited Italian, and we opened a bottle of Proseco on stage while the crowd sang happy birthday (in Italian of course). Thanks to my Dad, my birthday started off memorably before my seven hour drive back to Chambéry!
This season of track racing has been good. I raced in three different countries against riders from every corner of the world, and rubbed shoulders with nine of the 20 starters in the men’s omnium in Tokyo, even managing to beat a few of them on occasion. I finished the track season as the top-ranked American male in Points, second-ranked in Elimination, and third-ranked in both Omnium and Scratch, all of which I am proud of. A special thank you to Gilles Richiero, derny pilot and director of the Eybens Velodrome in Grenoble, for facilitating all of my training sessions this spring and summer.
While I had some solid results, I learned much more than they show, absorbing different styles of track racing used in different countries, velodromes and by national teams. While racing was the primary way I learned this summer, a large component of my progress also came from taking advice from riders infinitely more experienced than me. I’m looking forward to putting all of what I learned to use in the coming season, hopefully on the winter six day circuit.
I’ll be back in a few weeks with an end of season wrap up.