I recently had the opportunity to head on up to Trexlertown and watch the USAC Elite National Track Championships. I am by no means an expert about the intricacies of track cycling. I am a general cyclists who likes to dabble in bike racing from time to time. I am also a Father of 3 small girls, and I covet the small bits and pieces of time I can put together for myself and my hobby. I have always wanted to get up to Trexlertown and watch a track race. However, with limited time, the voice in my head would always say, “I can watch other people ride their bikes or I can ride my bike. Nope, I’m going for a bike ride.” This time I decided to watch other people ride their bikes. These weren’t regular people though, these were very talented and fast people! I spent the better part of 3 hours watching in amazement and rooting for “Mac” Cassin. It was time well spent and I allowed myself to soak up as much cycling as I could.
I am not the person to write an article about the intricacies, traditions, or history of track cycling. This was my first ever track race and I can only give you the basics. The cyclists ride on an oval track that is banked at an angle on the turns. It would remind a casual observer as sort of the NASCAR racing of bicycles. The bicycles they race only have one gear and that one gear is fixed onto the wheel hub. Hence, the name Fixed-Gear Bicycle. This means that if your rear wheel is turning, then your crank/pedals are turning. There are no brakes on this bicycle. You simply slow down and speed up by turning the pedals faster or slower. Even with all of the technological advances to cycling, this is the one thing I imagine hasn’t changed since the beginning of cycling. That, and the need for an oval track and a human rider. Those three areas are the same as they were 100 years ago; rider, fixed-gear bicycle, and an oval track.
I was watching the second day of the “Omnium”. The Omnium reminded me of the Decathlon. There are different events that the cyclists compete in, and each cyclist scores points within each individual event. By the end of the second day, the cyclists with the most points scored, wins the Omnium. Pretty simple stuff to understand. However, in one event, I was surprised to see a motorcycle on the track leading out a group of cyclists. Not only was it fun to watch, but this voice in my head kept saying “You need to try that! I wonder if they could put some beer on the back of that motorbike… Maybe you could chase the bike around the track as fast as possible while trying to grab a beer? Maybe a hundred dollar bill?” As you see, this was how my mind was working while I watched this track race. I was wondering what could be done to liven things up a bit. I was expecting a bigger crowd for a national level event. I know, I know, some people are not going to be happy with the some of my weird ideas. Track cycling is a fairly old sport. Not as old as wrestling, or javelin throwing, but it has been around long enough where there is a lot of tradition and history. People get a little ruffled when you start talking about change. So, this is where my slight criticism of attendance and Teddy Roosevelt come in to this story. So please, don’t consider me a critic, more of an admirer that just noticed that attendance wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
The athletic performance on display was something I really cherished. I was amazed at the athletic performance some of these men and women were putting out. I wondered about each persons journey that led to this day, and to this event. How hard had they worked? Did they ever question their abilities along the way? How many times did they consider quitting, or how many people scoffed at them only to strengthen their determination and resolve? In their youth did someone tell them that girls can’t compete at this level and they were wasting their time? As I observed these riders I focused not only on their performance that day, but also thought about all of the work and determination it took just to show up. To me, there is not much difference between the person who places 20th in this event and the person who stands on the top of the podium. All athletes had to work extremely hard just to show up. The difference between 1st place and 20th place could be as simple as a good training year and a training year with injuries, personal struggles, or just a tough year. Regardless of outcome, all athletes worked extremely hard and dedicated themselves with great devotion.
The other element of track racing that I loved was the ability to observe everything that is exciting about racing. You get to watch a break form off the main group.
You get to observe the struggle, fight, and determination it takes for a solo bridge attempt from the main group to the break.
I also was able to watch an amazing solo attempt around the track. Alex Darville had one such attempt. He was off the main group for a solo run for around 15 laps. Monumental effort and suffering was on display. His mouth was gapping wide open trying to consume as much oxygen as possible. There was a wreck right in front of my viewing area, and just like NASCAR, the caution flag came out and his solo effort was interrupted.
As I stood there and cheered these cyclist, I was immersed in ideas and thoughts. I wished there was a better scoreboard system in place to see where everyone was in the Omnium competition. I had a hard time following standing and placings. I also thought it would be awesome to see track cycling in the dark. This is not for national level competition, but an idea for entertainment to drive interest and revenue. Imagine if you could shut the lights off at night, embed some lights in the track to mark lane positions, put some lights on the bicycles and riders, and assign colors to teams. Then we just crank up the music and watch a team track competition in the dark with a “TRON” like feel. I’ll leave this right here:
Again, not criticizing the athletes, their devotion to the sport, or the history behind the sport. I just wish we could have packed the stands with people cheering. That’s the only thing we were missing at this fabulous competition this Tuesday. These athletes were putting forth efforts deserving of a larger crowd. They deserved more energy and enthusiasm. My shortfall was that I could not cheer loud enough to match their athletic contribution.