It had been 10 years since I had even the thought of heading back to the Superdrome in Frisco, Texas for any reason. After spending over 2 months of my life suffering till near collapse daily on that track under the direction of the notoriously tough US Sprint Coach Andrezj Bek, I wasn’t looking for a reason to go back. A non-stop 2 months of day after day just blurring together and becoming a seemingly endless stream of rollers - road - track - road - ergo - sleep - repeat. Notice I didn't say "eat" anywhere in there and I'm not really sure if I did for those 2 months! But when USA Cycling published the 2014 Pan American Championship qualifying criteria (view it here) document on tax day April 15th, I found a reason to make plans to revisit the Superdrome.
In the new selection procedure for the 2014 Pan American Championships, USA Cycling has moved away from the typical “make this time standard and we pay for you” approach, and gone to a much more open and inviting approach (with a few little twists of course, but more on that another time). You do still, in a round about way, have to make time standard listed in the 2014/2015 International Sprint Program document (view it here), even though this document is not referenced in the Pan Am document. But now, for the first time that I can remember, the 2014 Pan Am qualifying procedure was now centered around the best ranked rider(s) via UCI points and then NTC points per discipline. This approach has a similar taste to it like the Olympic qualifying where the best consistent performances are rewarded with entry to the give selective event. While this does insure a little qualification “safety” for the top riders that might have an injury mid season. It also leans in favor of the athlete(s) with the deepest pockets that can do all of the races possible for points and pick up the greatest number of points through the greatest number of opportunities. But this also means the riders will have to spend the large majority of their summer racing instead of specific dedicated training for a peak at Pan Ams. It’s really a six-in-one half-dozen-in-another conundrum that you will always have when it comes to any selection procedure and athletes will always have to adapt and maximize their performance while meeting selection criteria as best they can.
But the biggest benefactor in the new selection criteria is undoubtedly the NTC racing calendar. Historically, for riders that were focused on Olympic objectives, the NTC races didn't serve a great experience or qualification purpose. There was the positive trait of equal prize money for men and women, but with most of the competitors being local or domestic riders. Beyond that, the only benefit was the potential to add NTC champion to your resume. This made tracks with high caliber international racing like T-town much more appealing to Olympic focused riders. But now with the change to the Pan Ams qualifying, the NTC is going to see a major bump in attendance this season!
With all that in mind the plane ticket was booked and hotel reservations were made. With the summer trip home to T-town coming up for the month of June, the UCI CL3 Matrix Cup would serve as a small test before the big CL1 racing in T-town. Training was coming along in spite of a few hiccups here and there so my excitement and form were finally starting to build. Then the week before we were scheduled to leave I recruited to help out with the Canadian sprint camp (read that blog post here) in LA. On the second day while we were executing some standing start practice from with use of the starting gate. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with starting gates, they are simply put a behemoth of a device designed to lock the rear wheel and the bike of a rider into a stationary position until the countdown for the race has reached zero. The gate is then rapidly removed from the track before the opposing rider/team comes rocketing around the track, potentially colliding with the starting gate. Because I had a lot of experience and was very efficient at this process, I was charged with executing the start gate procedure for each set. Then, as we were close to finishing out the day, while I was removing the gate after a start, I lifted it too high while looking behind me in the direction I was heading and the gate flipped over and the corner landed on my foot fracturing my toe! At first I thought it was just a quick silly mistake, but when the pain wouldn't subside and walking became more and more a painful, I realized I was in some real trouble. In the days following I could barely limp around the house and putting a sneak on was nearly impossible. Let alone a cycling shoe. But with the trip already booked and paid for, I decided to still go to assist Travis Smith and the Momentum Coaching Group crew with their racing.
When we touched down in Dallas, I realized it had been 10 full years since I was last here and to put it simply, I was more than a little nostalgic! I can definitely see a War Stories (seem them all here) post coming in the near future about my time year ago in Dallas, but for right now I'll just focus on this most recent weekend. Being back at an outdoor velodrome was truly moving for me. I hadn't realized just how much I missed having the sun beating down on you or the warm breeze blowing by you. I was reminded that the conditions aren't always as perfect as they were during our time there, but there really is something special about watching the sun set over the railing of a velodrome. The game of hide and seek you play with the sun as you ride along the rail just before the sun disappears over the horizon is a joy we usually take for granted. A joy I will be sure to be very appreciative of this June while I am back east in T-town! But enough on my nostalgia and on to the racing!
First off, I must hand it to the race organizers and USAC for getting such a massive turn out at the racing! Both the men and women's sprint tournaments had a ton of competitors! And not just pack filler either! The top echelon of competitors was on high form and all of the racing was super competitive! Every round of riding had plenty grudge match, bike throw photo finishes. It's actually a shame that there isn't better story telling in the reporting of races like this designed to encourage an exciting storyline to draw the public's attention in to the racing and the series. The powers at be always want everyone to be friendly, hug and sing kumbaya afterwards. And I'm saying what's wrong with a little rivalry? A little Sena vs. Prost F1 style grudge. It doesn't have to be for real, it just has to be dramatic enough to attract the public's attention. Just some good old fashion story telling!
It was very impressive and personally motivational to watch the men's sprinters getting in to the mid and low 10's for their 200m TT's. It's awesome to see that no matter how tough the road ahead might look, there are still athletes determined enough to make it happen on their own. I have much more respect and admiration for a rider who can get themselves to a 10.5 on their own and never gives up, than the rider who goes 10.1 with support but quits when the going gets tough. I've seen more than a handful of the latter in my career.
My favorite part of the weekend though was being able to help out and watch my girlfriend, Missy Erickson, come on to great form as she did her final preparation work for her trip to Moscow next week to chase down her USAC international time standard. She blazed around the track for the women's 200m qualifying in spite of the gail force winds to a time of 11.8 which was the number 1 women's time. She then also rode the men's 200m qualifying immediately after and got an even better time of 11.7 which qualified her 16th in the men's sprints! After that it was on to the men and women's sprint rounds for Missy and with her coach Travis racing as well as coaching the rest of his athletes I assumed the duty of taking everyone to the line and giving the final pep-talk pre throw down. This is actually one of my favorite parts of coaching. The final moments before the race begins are any athlete's most vulnerable. Every rider handles these moments and responds to them a little differently, but as the last person they will interact with, it is on the coach to have a presence that inspires and motivates the rider both verbally and nonverbally. A skill set that I learned from the best in the business, my long time coach Gil Hatton. The greatest reward for the coach in these scenarios is seeing the athlete put forth their best possible performance. It isn't always a victory, but sometimes an athlete's out of character ride that gives the athlete a new understanding of what they are capable of and allows them to push their limits more and more on a daily basis afterwards.
All in all it was a great trip to have gone on. I do wish I would have been able to race but I would have need full form to have performed up to my expectations of myself. Missy went on to win the Women's sprints and the 500m TT in 36.1 (nearly her best 500m TT at sea level ever). I am always impressed by her and her focus and determination. Her methodicalness and attention to detail is sometimes beyond even my own! I am super proud of her all the time and wish her the best of luck in Moscow on the fastest sea level track in the world! Can't wait to hear all the stories and read her posts (view her blog here) about her experiences over there. Safe travels Missy and I'll see you in T-town!