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An Introduction to - Track Cycling
Jeff Labauve's Mexico Experience
Mexico Track World Cup
Mexico City, August 9-12, 2001
By Jeff Labauve*
This was, for many of us, our last chance. The news came in about a week in advance - there would be no trip to Malaysia for most of the team. That meant that Mexico City would be our last chance to score points toward our World Team berths it was also our last chance to disprove the naysayers. We knew that this would be a good chance for us to do well without the German team in attendance. Not to discount the competition that was there, the ever-present powerhouse of France, squads from Italy, Japan, Great Britain, host nation Mexico, as well as several South American countries hungry for points would be difficult opponents.
Our young team (average age of 24) was comprised of eleven riders: Myself (Sprint and Olympic Sprint), Giddeon Massie (Sprint and Olympic Sprint), Josh Weir (Olympic Sprint), Adam Duvendeck (Kilometre), Garth Blackburn (Keirin), Jame Carney (Points Race and Madison), Colby Pearce (Madison), Mike Tillman (Individual Pursuit), Jenny Reed (Match Sprint), Erin Mirabella (Individual Pursuit and Points Race), and Tammy Thomas (Match Sprint and 500m TT). We were far from favourites entering the competition but that would soon change.
First Day on the Velodrome
Thursday, August 9, 2001
The Velodrome is a strange thing. Every one is a little different than the last, and some are very different. This one fell into the latter category. The track is a 333.33 metre concrete velodrome with 38 degree banked turns and almost flat straight-aways. Now the 38 degree banking is nothing to get worked up over but the straight-aways are a different story. When you have such a steeply banked track you need to have a smooth transition to the straight-away or you will feel like you are hitting a brick wall when you come off the wall for a flying 200. Does everyone follow me here? Now add about 5 mph (due to the altitude) to your top speed and come off of that banking and you are in for some very scary riding.
After a couple of passes we kind of got used to it, at least as comfortable as we could get in one day. I was feeling especially good, I had done a couple of passes in race gear and felt like I was ready for competition. Des was also starting to get excited he clocked me on my runs at 5.04s for the first 100m, that was by quite a margin faster than I had ever gone and would put me in the running for another top eight finish for sure. Everything was going well and everyone felt strong.
Garth and I finished changing back to warm up gear and got on the track for cool-down. We were just about to finish cooling down when out of nowhere we got broad sided and thrown to the ground. Once I got up and made sure nothing was broken I checked on Garth. He was lying face down on the track and not moving. Before I could do anything, our incredibly capable Soigneur Michelle Jaques was over him and in control of the situation.
With nothing left for me to do I went and sat down to clean out my minor abrasions and sort out what had happened. Turns out as we were tooling around on the blue line two team pursuit teams were going all out, one in the pole lane and the other overtaking. The overtaking team tried to squeeze in between us and the other team and didn't quite make it. After several hours of worry we were relieved to find that Garth had only received 15 stitches in the palm of his hand near his thumb. My injuries were far less severe. I had a superficial scrape on each elbow and a decent bruise on the back of my left thigh (handlebar tattoo). I was able to put that behind me and concentrate on the task at hand: racing.
Day One of Racing: Morning Session
Friday, August 10, 2001
Racing started at 9:00 am so we arrived at the track our normal 2 hours beforehand. One problem: at 7:00 am in Mexico City it is still dark and the lights weren't on. We waited until first light and began our warm-up. With only men and women's Match Sprint this morning we had four riders out, Giddeon, Jenny, Tammy, and myself. After warm-up Jenny and I made our traditional race day 1 second bet. She had to be within 1 second of my time, we've never put any conditions on the bet but I think if we had I would owe Jenny a lot of dinners by now.
I was slated to go off sixth from last. I was able to see a couple of riders go off and check out the line they rode. I finally got onto the track and rolled around the top of the banking. Coming out of turn four with a lap to go I started to accelerate in the saddle. At the finish line just before turn one I really started to crank it in the saddle. Then finally in between one and two I jumped out of the saddle and held the line high through turn two then gently arced my trajectory down the banking to turn three and four through to the finish line.
As I rolled around the track slowly decelerating I strained to hear through my aero helmet to hear, "Diez y dos dos el primero tiempo." With my grasp of high school Spanish and the sight of Des jumping up and down on the infield I was able to understand that I now had the best time.
There were still five riders to go and since the 200m TT is normally run in reverse order of World Cup ranking that meant I had some tough guys going after me. As I cooled down on the rollers I tried to relax and not watch the other riders. I was just trying to concentrate on the upcoming sprint rounds because in a Sprint Tourney anything can happen after the time trial.
Finally the last rider had gone and I was still number one. Roberto Chiappa of Italy (one of the top five riders in the world for the past decade) was the closest to my 10.22s with a 10.24. It was a strange position to be in ranked number one at a World Cup. I am not often ranked number one in the US races let alone competing with the best in the world. I decided to let that feeling pass and make sure I didn't screw up the opportunity I had been given.
The first round of sprints went, as it should. I won fairly easily against Mario Contreras in front of his hometown crowd. I was afraid if I beat him badly I would be lynched but they were respectful of the difference in our speed and cheered all the same when the ride was over. Giddeon, who qualified tenth, went on to win his first ride to make it into the second round; in his first experience in a World Cup sprint tournament. Tammy and Jenny the first and second qualifiers respectively in the women's event went through their sprints easily also. In addition I won the 1-second bet by a couple of hundredths of a second.
Day One of Racing: Evening Session
Friday, August 10, 2001
After a short break back at the hotel we were back on the track for the evening session and more sprinting. My second round and quarter-final rides went much like the first: quick and easy against the Japanese and two straight over Olympic Silver medallist (Olympic Sprint) Craig Maclean of Great Britain, and I was in the top four of a World Cup event.
The past year or so I had been having trouble with goal setting. I would set a goal like top twelve or top eight and once I got past that point I couldn't refocus to advance beyond my original goal. This time I vowed to not let that happen. My goal was top four and now that I was there it changed to one thing: winning. I would be racing against a Japanese rider in the semi-final and either Chiappa or Duble of France in the Final.
Giddeon reached the limit of his capabilities in the second round and was out of the sprint tournament and into the 9-12th ride slated for Saturday night. This was a tremendous boost for the team to see so many of our riders doing well. Tammy advanced easily in rides and Jenny lost in the quarterfinal two close rides against hometown riders and eventual champion Nancy Contreras. Adam rode an excellent Kilometre time trial in windy conditions to finish sixth behind World Champion and World Record holder Arnaud Tournant.
Day Two of Racing: Evening Session
Saturday, August 11, 2001
I was now starting to get nervous. I had all morning to think about what I was about to accomplish and my stomach was starting to feel it. I tried my best to shut it out and let my speed take care of it. My Semi-final ride against the Japanese rider went according to the textbook. I let him lead it out until turn three and then used his draft to slingshot around him to win by several lengths by the line.
I was now going to face either Chiappa or Duble. Chiappa led out the first ride against Duble and won easily. Duble led out the second and won by a wheel. Chiappa was leading the third ride in the first lap and slipped off the steep banking much to his embarrassment and the crowd's amusement. The re-ride was simple Chiappa led it out and Duble had no chance to come around.
Now I had to finish the job. I was getting more nervous by the minute. Once on the track all that disappeared and I prepared myself. Chiappa led out the first ride and I lined him up just like I had done the Japanese previously. This time it didn't work. Our speed for the final 200m was 10.6s, faster from the bottom than a lot of riders went in their time trial.
I settled in and decided to make it three rides. I still thought I could win it from behind. It was what worked for me against everyone else. Why wouldn't it work against Chiappa? Well, it didn't work. The second ride was even faster - 10.5s - and the fastest sprint ride of the competition. I set up my run perfectly but to come around a guy going 10.5 speed I had to go around 10.1 speed. I just didn't have it.
After getting over my initial disappointment I came to the realization that I just got my first World Cup medal, I had arrived. After that evening the racer's and coaches treated me a little differently. You wouldn't really notice it if you didn't look for it but the riders joked around with me more than normal, the coaches would give their little head nods of approval in the hallways. I had won more than just a medal, I had won the respect of the elite of track cycling. In addition to my final rides Giddeon rode an excellent 9-12th ride to take 9th place in sprint competition, Tammy took second in the Women's Sprint, and Jenny easily grabbed the 5-8th.
Day Three of Racing: Morning Session
Sunday, August 12, 2001
Rained Out. I was very excited to wake up at 7:00 am only to find that the session was rained out. Such is life.
Day Three of Racing: Afternoon Session
Sunday, August 12, 2001
The officials are going to squeeze all the events from Sunday and Saturday's points race into one marathon session. The riders who really get screwed because of this are the points racers. They have to do the Madison in the beginning of the session and the Points race as the last race of the session. Due to the fight for time, no one was allowed to warm-up on the track - we had to do everything on the rollers; not ideal but it would suffice.
Today I was ready to take another medal. This one would be with my teammates. After the Madison (Jame and Colby finished 5th) and Keirin heats (Garth made it through after a 15 minute photo-finish conference) Tammy got up for her 500m TT. After coming so close to the World Record in Colorado Springs a couple of weeks previously we were all excited to see what she could do here. Tammy got out and did a good ride but didn't have the snap she had the two days before, the sprint tournament took its toll and she finished a very respectable second place to an on-fire Nancy Contreras.
Josh, Giddeon, and myself were up now. It was time to finish what we came here to do, solidify our spot for World's. Josh got out to a good start with me glued to his wheel and Giddeon on mine. By the end of my lap I was starting to realize that I shouldn't have gone so hard when Josh pulled off, I was dying. I silently hoped Giddeon could hold on to keep us in the top four because I knew we could do a better ride in the final. He kept the power on and we qualified third in front of surprise finalist Venezuela.
We took our time and recovered from the effort of our first Olympic Sprint and prepared for our second. The second went off well just like the first with Josh going a tenth of a second faster than his previous start. On my lap I accelerated into it on a slightly larger gear and shaved another half a second off our qualifying time. Giddeon had a blazing last lap to put us one second ahead of Venezuela and one second ahead of our qualifying time.
Garth rode an excellent Keirin to take fourth, his best finish yet at a World Cup. Jame rode himself into the ground only to find he was racing against guys that didn't want to race. No one would help pull in the breaks. It was a very frustrating race to watch and I imagine even more frustrating to race. Guys would chase down a break and then immediately swing up to the rail it looked just like a women's national points race (no offense). Regardless Jame finished fourth to cinch his position on the World's team.
I've been on the podium a lot the past couple of years in the US. None of those podium appearances prepared me for what I was about to experience here in Mexico City. The officials gathered us behind the podium in order of finish and walked us to the front of the podium and our adoring crowd. The announcer then presented the winner, his medal, flowers, and then the silver medallist, and then the bronze medallist.
Once on the podium with the weight of my medal pulling against my neck, the flags of our respective countries were raised and the national anthem of the gold medallist was played. It was then that I realized that the stars and stripes was flying up there because of me. I did that. It is a very strange feeling to honour your country in such a way and although I wrote five pages about this trip I still can't put that feeling into words.
* Jeff Labauve is an up and coming US track sprinter, and represented the USA in the 2000 and 2001 World Track Championships. He lives in Frisco, Texas and began cycling in 1993 after watching Erin Hartwell win a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.