While I am a roadie forever, last year I started heading up to the Northbrook Velodrome fairly regularly for the Thursday Night Racing series that happens May – September. Track was always a challenge that I was trying to figure out; only one fixed gear, a bike with no brakes, and every race had some different way to win or math involved (bleh, math). Even the shortest races could leave me wheezing and coughing (the infamous “track hack”) like I’ve never experienced in a road effort. It quickly became something I looked forward to on Thursday nights due to the 3 chances of racing a night, as well as when you weren’t racing, the opportunity to sit in the infield with a group of fantastic teammates and cheer, talk tactics, talk non-bike stuff, laugh a lot, eat food, and watch a lot of really amazing bike racing. Last year was fantastic for me as I learned so much from being up there, both on the bike and as a spectator.

The 2014 season has been awesome in that there’s been a regular showing of ladies up there, which makes an already great time even more fun for me as I really love having teammates to race with. Though this past Thursday was only our second night out there, Courtney O’Neill, Katie George and I had an amazing showing of tactics and teamwork.

Race 1 – Devil’s Scratch

*this is a combination of a miss-and-out, where the last person each lap gets pulled, and a scratch race – basically a crit on the track: first over the line at the end wins. In the Devil’s scratch, the “Devil takes the hindmost” as you do a miss and out to get rid of half the field, and then a 3 lap crit to determine the winner.

I haaate the miss and out. In usual fashion opening night, found myself boxed in and was pulled first, after only one lap. So last Thursday I decided that would not happen, and set a fast pace from the whistle, pulling the entire group behind me. It worked the first lap, and while people fought to not be last, I kept my ideal front spot and survived lap one. While not the best tactic in a large field, our smaller field allowed me to keep up this plan and I didn’t even see what was going on behind me the rest of the first half of the race as I just kept the hammer down and crossed the line first each lap. While this could really backfire on me in the latter portion of the race, at least it would get me to the scratch. With one final pull lap remaining, I told myself just don’t get pulled, and then I could sit up and recover on the “neutral lap” before the 3 scratch laps started. I crossed the line first and immediately slowed, trying to get my breath. I then did a quick peek over my shoulder to see who was still with me. In our little group of 4, I was shocked and delighted to see that both Court and Katie had made the cut! It was now 3 vs. 1 for the scratch! Excellent.

I happily took another slow lap and a half at the front, still trying to recover. I knew the four of us were still in a line, and I definitely had a teammate on my wheel, so I thought with 2 to go, I’d jump and try to get away. Lynn Rivier was the non-teammate in our group, and while I have lost numerous sprints to her as she’s really strong and a great track racer, hoped the element of surprise, as well as the fact she was so much farther behind me in the line would help me get away, or else she’d pull my teammates up to me and they could counter. I jumped hard and got away, and created a great gap, while the girls blocked. With ¾ of a lap to go, and my legs shutting down (track efforts are so different from road!) I tried to hold it as best I could, and crossed the line first. And Katie and Courtney finished right behind me – xXx podium sweep!!!

Race 2 – 8 lap Tempo

*Tempo is where points are given every lap: 2 points for first across the line, 1 point for second, and nothing for the rest. So it can make for a very fast race.

The ideal situation for a tempo is to have people off the front, winning all the points, while the field was kept in control. We actually decided we wanted to attempt a 2 woman xXx break, and planned to try a singular attack before launching 2 people. Katie was going to attack first, but Courtney found herself at the front with me behind her, and I suddenly saw Katie Paradis from Bicycle Heaven come flying by me in a strong attack. With no one on her wheel. “Courtney!! Go with that!!!” I yelped and she took off, and immediately Katie George was at my shoulder helping block the field. Courtney and K.P. took turns 1-2 over the line, scooping up all the points. I was waiting for the field to shut this down, and as expected, Lynn came around with Hannah Goc and our pace exploded. I reminded myself to just hang on and stay attached, and found myself third in the line. Lynn pulled off for Hannah to take over, Hannah took a strong pull at the front, and then it was my turn and I settled back in to a slower pace, not chasing down my teammate. This happened again, and then it was evident Courtney and K.P. would not be caught, so with one lap to go, Katie and I started thinking about third. Katie jumped and while the field tried to follow, they were all pretty exhausted from earlier chase attempts. I took a higher line up the track and managed to come around everyone chasing Katie, and followed her across the line to take 4th. Which was a pretty amazing revelation for me – there are some strong women in this group, but tactics really work, especially when you've got Courtney doing a beastly breakaway effort for a full 8 laps!!

Race 3 – 9 lap Points Race

*In a points race, every X number of laps (perhaps every 4 laps in a 12 lap race) would be a points lap. The officials will ring a bell, and the next lap the winner gets 5 points, second gets 3, third gets 2, and fourth gets 1. The rest of the field gets nothing.

This race is a lost cause for me as there is a lot more math involved, and last year I’d usually just stick to the pavlovian response of “hear bell, go fast”. But having teammates to help with attacks, I knew this could play out well for us. We were told there would be points on lap 4 and the final. Katie the beast being Katie attacked at the start of lap 3, and took off. She got a decent gap, but the field also wanted points and was having none of Courtney and my blocking efforts, so it became an all out group sprint. I watched our gap to Katie closing rapidly, and was worried she wouldn’t be able to hold it, but she managed to just claim the 5 points as Lynn, Courtney and I came screaming across the line right behind her, grabbing 3,2, and 1 point respectively. I looked back and saw the four of us were now on our own, so called out “hey, all points for us if we can stay away”, and tried to set a faster pace. But we were tired, and the chase group determined, and we were all back together within the next lap. I was really feeling the drain of earlier races, and tried to sit in, and with one to go, the group took off again. I again sat in trying to save myself as I watched Katie again sprinting away at the front, then saw Lynn closing in on her too with Courtney right behind. Mustered all the effort I could to take a higher line and come around the group at the top, and started yelling at Katie to take my wheel and I’d lead her out. I went as hard as I could down the final stretch and Katie stayed glued to me but couldn’t come around, and we finished just in front of Courtney and Lynn. My 5 points on that lap put me in 2nd for the race, and Katie’s 3 points put her in first, with Lynn in 3rd and Courtney in 4th. Another stellar effort. I was bummed that we didn’t get Katie across the line first, but my wonderful spectating teammates said that was absolutely the right thing to do – by me grabbing the 5 points and reducing the max amount of points Lynn could take to 3 (though Katie won those and Courtney and Lynn took the remainder), I thus helped Katie win. Cool!

Using our tactics, Katie, Courtney and I managed a xXx sweep of the overall evening omnium podium! More importantly, we had a ton of fun working together and seeing how tactics really can make a huge difference, whether it be at the track or on the road.

I really encourage people to come to the Velodrome on Thursdays, as in addition to the ladies, the cat 5, 4, 3, and P/1/2 races are also filled with very talented teammates that really put on quite a show and are amazing to watch. And it's just a really fun time. It’s going to be a great year for xXx at the track!