by Kelly Clarke
At the LaCrosse Omnium, Kelsey and I met Anna from Minneapolis who told us we must absolutely come out and race at the NSC Velodrome in Blaine, MN, because they might be tearing it down after this season and we would love it. Last week we did. And I more than loved it. I am thoroughly convinced that the NSC Velodrome is the best place on earth. Unicorns, rainbows and butterflies convene there in a magical light of competetive track racing that will leave you blind.
Blaine is the only outdoor wooden track in America. It’s beautiful. Short slats of wood come together to create the banked oval. A lot of maintenance is required to keep it nice, and the track enthusiasts in Minnesota volunteer on weekends to replace broken or worn slats. If you crash on this track, you will need tweezers to remove splinters. But don’t let that deter you. This track is perfect.
I had emailed the track director, Bob Williams, earlier in the week to make sure we were kosher to race. Most tracks require you to be certified on them before racing there, because of the banking. The NSC track is 250 meters with a maximum banking of 43 degrees. In the corner, you have to hold around a minimum of 17 mph to not slide down the track. Kelsey and I had been certified at the Chicago Velocampus, which is 166 meters with 50 degree banking, we had both raced at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook (382m, 18 degree max bank), and we had USAC licenses so Bob said we were good to go.
This is good etiquette – to let the track know you’re coming ahead of time. As Anna explained, ‘This is someone’s house, you don’t just invite yourself in.’ With all bike racing, it’s good to remember to respect the people and infrastructure that allow you to race, as well as your competetitors. Without them it couldn’t happen.
We arrived at the track just in time. A late start leaving Chicago and some traffic had us arriving a half hour before the races started. I got my numbers and got dressed as fast as I could to get some laps on the track. It was crowded. I took some laps around the Stayers Line.*
*There’s lines on all tracks to keep consistent.
From the bottom, to the top:
Cote D’Azure, or Apron: for exiting and entering the track (light blue)
Pole Line: used to measure the track (black)
Sprinters Lane: just above the pole line – shortest line around the track
Sprinters Line: Defines the Sprinters Lane. People sprint here! (red)
No Mans Land: used for passing riders in the sprinters lane
Stayers Line: Area for slower riding (blue)
The track was fun to ride. I felt comfortable on it, especially because I rode the CVC the previous night. I was still unsure how racing would be. You start races on the top side of the track, clipped in and holding on to the railing. I had never done this, because at Northbrook there are poles with ropes and its just easier to start standing. I figured I’d just hang in the back and see how it goes.
Add on top of the best velodrome sundae the cherry that our first night racing there would also be the first time there were enough women to have split fields.
The first race was a 12 lap tempo heat. This race would determine if you were in group A or B. Kelsey and I were in different groups for the heats, and I was up first. The race got started and I watched the ladies roll away from me. I had a slow start, but then I caught up. The group broke up right away. I decided to just ride around at a decent pace, not try to work with anyone. That’s what I was confortable with at that point. I passed some people. Others passed me. I ended up in 7th place and in the A group. Oh shit. I was going to be racing with the faster, more experienced girls.
Now there was some time before the next race. Time to socialize. I met some of the Koochella girls (Anna’s team), and the other ladies that race at the track. Like most bike scenes – the women are the best. Inviting and friendly. There was stretching, foam rolling, yoga and shared snacks!
The second race was a Miss And Out. Each lap, the last person to cross the line gets eliminated. So you don’t have to be first, but you can’t be last. I hung on for a few laps, but got knocked out pretty early. No big deal. I was just really happy to be there at the track, racing with some top notch women.
Kelsey’s second race was a 15 lap scratch. A scratch is like a mini crit – first person over the finish line after 15 laps wins. Kelsey looked trepid at first, but settled in and finished third!
Next up for me was the State Championship 40 lap scratch race! I figured I’d get popped off. I even discussed with some Koochella gals that we’d work together when than happened, and what to do when we got lapped. But guess what? I didn’t get lapped. Stuff happened, and I was right there – moving around in the fast pack, and even pulling sometimes. It was so much fun to be in the mix of a fast race on such a great track. At one point I got popped off, but I got together with two other ladies and we started a fantastic paceline doing half lap pulls. We bridged back up to the main group. Tiana (T-Bits) won Zubaz from Second Chance Racing for being the most aggressive rider in the race. Everything was wonderful.
Kelsey geared up for her 20 lap points race – every 5 laps points are awarded to the top 3 riders. Lilah decided to jump into the race and ended up coaching Kelsey at points, telling her when to jump. The second bell lap, Kelsey took off. She won with room to spare and was well out in front of the group for some time. She was towards the back for the third, but took off early for the last lap and won that one, too! She ended up getting second place in the race, and second place in the omnium!
Racing in Blaine was so much fun. All the Chicago track cats should try to get out there before the season’s end. And to all you cyclocross heads – want to practice your explosive power for the sand? Get thee to a track! Northbrook has informative clinics every Monday and Tuesday. Or go out to the CVC on Wednesdays and experience the rollercoaster of track fun. Track is the best thing to happen since sliced bread, and NSC is a triple decker club.