Saturday, February 01, 2020

Plan 2020 - New Project for 2020

Plan 2020 - The Track

I was about to post some random stuff on a bike forum when I realized that this is the kind of stuff I'd post on my blog, so I'm putting it here instead.

My big thing for this year, 2020, is to give track racing a shot.


I gave it a shot in 2009 pretty seriously, making the hike up to the New Hampshire track as much as possible to get some racing in my legs. In the scheme of things, though, I gave it a pretty low key approach. I used a bike that I got back in the 80s, a bike so bad the rep was selling the frame and fork, with nice $40 headset, for $100. I got a rear wheel from one of the guys (I think it was free?), and then... well, I forgot about it. I used it twice in the early 90s, at T-Town, but that was it.

In 2009 I was so low key about track that I stopped at the bike shop on the way to the first race to get a crankset for it. The arms worked loose (incompatible bottom bracket axle and crank arms) but the set up worked for a couple trips.

Eventually I got some better cranks, figured out a better handlebar, and used my old TriSpoke front wheel. Then life intruded - I haven't been on a track since August 2009.

The Riggio, version 1.0 I think, with left over cranks.

This time... this time I'm going to be a bit more serious.

It all started sometime in the middle of 2019 when I started looking into the 500m times for the M50-54 age group. See, in 2009, when I went to the track, I felt pretty unconfident in myself as far as bike racing went. I was struggling on the road, and when I went to the track I felt like I'd just stepped into a world full of riders like me, but better - good jumps, good sprints, but better.

Too good for me.

At least that was my attitude. Definitely a down type attitude, but learning quickly.

"He's Not The Only One"

I remember distinctly watching one race at the track. I was in a, "Wow, everyone is so fast here" kind of mood, watching a blazing fast A race, the racers slicing and dicing, huge attacks, huge counters... just so impressive.

I'd just commented to myself, out loud, that the rider "that didn't even win the A race" had such powerful legs. I must have said it in a half-intimidated, half-in-awe way.

The rider next to me hear what I said. An A rider himself, he leaned over to me.

"He's not the only one with big legs you know," he commented, pointedly looking down at my legs.


I filed that comment away.

Before the season was up I'd won at least one Keirin race. I'd won a scratch race. I'd really done terrible at a pursuit. I tried a Madison. I even got my front wheel to touch the roller on the back of the motorcycle. I started feeling like maybe I could do this.

Then the season ended and, as I said before, life intruded. Track racing, for me, came to a full stop.

Fast forward 10 years to mid-2019.

Zwift and The Long Sprint

By 2019 it's been 4 years since I've been on Zwift, and I've pretty much done all my hard training on Zwift, except for actual races. Zwift has pushed me to go really, really hard on the trainer, sprinting for 20-30 seconds, uncomfortably long sprints for me. I prefer a 10-15 second sprint, so to jump 4 seconds before a 22 second sprint... I mentally cursed Zwift co-founder Eric Min (the guy I could never beat at SUNY Tuesday Night Sprints) a few times after one of my first attempts doing a long sprint in the Zwift world (Watopia green, for those that Zwift).

This was in 2015 - I'd stopped training in mid-June, so by July I was suffering on the bike.

Slowly, though, I started figuring out the longer sprints. I learned to sprint a bit longer. I managed to hold out just another few seconds. I got comfortable expecting a 25 second effort, as unpleasant as it might have been just a year before. I started to expect more from myself in those long sprints.

In early 2015 I won a race by following a move 30 seconds from the finish. Although I suffered like mad, although I didn't actually sprint, I won the race by a huge margin, the biggest since, well, since a one off race about 20 years prior.

The Zwift Win race

What's that got to do with Plan 2020?

Let me explain.

In the last 10 years three local racers, all Masters women that did Bethel and raced in the area, have gone on to do some incredible things on the track, winning National titles, even multiple World titles. The latest was this year, when CK won three Golds (and more) at Worlds plus a whole slew of medals at Nationals. With everything getting uploaded to YouTube and the internet I could watch some of the events, see pictures, and check times. Since I was on Zwift all the time, I would put YouTube on a different screen and watch bike racing while I Zwifted.

Specifically, I watched track racing.

So I watched clips of a lot of women doing the 500m TT (Elite Women do the 500m, Elite Men do the 1000m aka "The Kilo".. importantly Masters Men over 50 do the 500m). I looked at their bar set up, if they did drop bars or aero bars. Drop bars meant you could have lower drops and a further forward saddle. Aero bars meant bars had to clear the tire and the saddle had to be 5 cm further back. With such a short event it seems that most riders use drop bars, although technically aero bars, if you can put down big power on them, should be faster.

I watched the Elite men also, but mainly to watch their starts (it's a very unique part of track racing, unlike a normal acceleration on a road bike) and to see what sort of insane 500m times they'd set. Due to the length of the Kilo they all use aero bars so no questions there on set up.

Of course, if I looked hard enough, the M50-54 stuff was up there also, like their 500m TTs. See, once men hit 50 years old, they do "only" a 500m TT, not the infamous Kilo. For me the Kilo seemed a bit much, sprint until you blow up and then sprint for another 30 seconds... No.

The 500m though, that seemed more realistic. It seems a really good time for the 500m is about 35 seconds, which, coincidentally, is just a bit longer than the effort needed to do a 21-22 second time in Zwift's Watopia sprint. A proper sprint in Zwift involves about a 7-8 second acceleration before the line, then a 20-22 second effort to get to the finish, although I generally explode just short of the banner.

That all seemed great but with Nationals historically held in California or somewhere in the MidWest, it was unrealistic for me to contemplate doing Nationals.

I shelved thoughts of track Nationals.

2020 Masters National Track Championships

Then the kicker. In October 2019 USA Cycling announced that the 2020 Masters National Track Championships would be held in Pennsylvania, at T-Town, at the track I raced on in 1992. Compared to the far reaches of the West Coast, PA is literally a 4.5 hour drive away. It was doable.

I started thinking about it a lot.

I had to be realistic though. I headed over to Analytical Cycling, a site that calculates bike racing things like speed or elapsed time based on your power output.

And wouldn't you know it, they have a 500m TT page.

I plugged in some regular race numbers that I've put down, and came up with about a 37 second time. I put in some higher numbers, like half way between race peak and training peak (the latter being 500w higher at times).

36 seconds.

I bumped the 35 second average power up 100w, about 80w higher than my PR.

34.9 seconds.


Now, I'm pretty skeptical of the Analytical Cycling page as it were, because another one of their pages doesn't accurately chart what I experience with wheel weight differences, at least not in the magnitude that I experience wheel weight differences. It's a long story, has some explanation back there, but that's for a different day.

Anyway, theoretical is always theoretical until it's actual.

So I posed the question to more knowledgeable and experienced track racers. Their verdict was that the Analytical Cycling page numbers were pretty good rough estimations of real world stuff. Obviously things change in real life, wind, sloppy riding, etc, but one rider even showed a chart of his actual time in a 500m vs AC's model, and the two were virtually identical.


I started thinking that this could be possible, and there were two contributing factors.

One contributing factor - I haven't lifted seriously, for bike racing, since I was in high school, and I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, back then I succeeded only in injuring myself and basically turning myself off of weight lifting for forever.

(I lifted a bit in 2008 or so, and got a bit stronger, but realize now I was doing it all wrong - wrong muscles, wrong emphasis - it was more vanity than purposeful lifting.)

Recently an Australian cycling website put up some track training stuff. I know the site because many years ago that same site asked permission to publish a letter I wrote CyclingNews about sprinting. I read they Up Up UP stuff over and over and I feel like I understand more of what I need to do to get fit for efforts like the 500m or the flying 200m. It's nothing like what I've done before.

Over the summer I started doing body weight squats (just body weight, meaning no additional weight). My legs were screaming after 15 or 20 of them, although in short order I was doing 40 or 50 at a time. World class sprinters are expected to be doing about twice their body weight in squats, and here I was with zero pounds struggling.

I had a lot of room for improvement.

Another contributing factor - for my power I am relatively small aerodynamically. I don't need to put down the same kind of power as a taller rider. One recurring theme that pops up when I post a picture of me in the field goes along the lines of, "That's not fair, you're too low!"


There are the obstacles of course.

The first is most obvious - I have very little experience on the track, with literally zero experience doing a standing start, zero experience in the 500m, and two ever flying 200m events (with predictably terrible results). I have to do as many track days as possible to make up for this, and practice starts on a heavy flywheel stationary bike (which I have, actually) or on a track bike on the trainer.

The next is the lack of absolute power. Depending on who you ask, I'm down 500-800w peak power, and I'm basing my competitiveness on a 35 second average power that I've never hit. This is with no weight lifting but still, it's a huge margin. I have to develop ultimate strength over the next few months, and get some explosiveness in there as well.

The third is lack of "speed power". My trademark sprint technique is to shift into a higher gear as I sprint. I like keeping my rpm within about 8-10 rpm during my entire sprint. Track sprinting is different - the numbers I see are things like "peak rpm 145" and "if you drop below 130 rpm you'll lose a lot of time in the last 50m". This will take some hard efforts, but I'm trusting in the UpUpUp observation that "speed power" can be developed in the final 6-8 weeks of training.

The fourth is my lack of scientific training. As my former leadout man, teammate, best man, winter training camp host, etc, pointed out, "You're the most unscientific training person there is". And he meant that in a nice way! I don't "train", I just ride. What's interesting is that most of my training rides are exactly what are described in UpUpUp, super easy with some very short, sharp efforts. I'll have to increase the number of short, sharp efforts, but I can deal with those. It's the aerobic stuff that kills me, anything over a minute or two.

Need Clearance to Pursue Goal

I spoke with the Missus about this because going to the track for giggles and committing to traveling to Nationals were two different things. I've literally never done a Nationals, ever, and I won't be going there just to say I participated. I'm going because I want to compete.

To do this I'd have to invest in a proper bike, start lifting seriously, and make time to race on the track.

Money is a big thing. I figured $2k max on a frame, $1.5k on wheels, $100 saddle, $300 bars, $1000? on my last remaining SRM (upgrade or at least servicing it), some more here and there. A stem. Narrow tires. Strap system for the pedals. Possibly size 40.5 shoes (my 41s seem a bit long).

We're talking $5k here, for an incomplete bike, without travel, without time factored in. I have never spent that much money in a year on my bike.


Even my SRM equipped Campy Record Cannondale bike cost less than that, and that was a complete bike where I recovered $1200 selling off unnecessary parts. Before that? I don't think I spent more than $2500 at a time except maybe for the tandem.

This is literally the largest investment in my racing that I've ever made.

To be fair, my track set up would be usable for many, many years. It will be a world class frame, aero enough to hold its own, with a good SRM crank, rear disc wheel, front TriSpoke (that I own), possible front disc wheel (if doing an indoors Nationals), all proven equipment. I could race track for a while on my planned set up. But it would be useless anywhere else - I wouldn't be able to use the frame, rear wheel, bars, etc, anywhere except on the track.

Plan 2020 is a Go

After a short discussion, the Missus said yes. She was literally nodding yes before I got done with my presentation.

I mean, okay, she's always been supportive, but this was a big ask, financially and time-wise, so it's a big deal to me. It was obvious I'd thought about it at length (many months), I'd considered what I need to do, how much time I had to do it, and what I could accomplish realistically. Still, though, it is a big deal to even think about attempting this.

Now I have to get going on it.

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