The last Sprint of the season – by John McLaren

I turned up at Newport for my last race of the season. It was kilo and Keirin sprint event, but after my last kilo effort at Newport, I decided to avoid the kilo at all costs!

After being on holiday for 2 weeks, putting in some very non-sprint type rides, I wasn’t sure how I was going to perform. My only performance indication was racing Steve (Bidders) for signs, which was pretty funny, until he realised my weakness…lack of speed endurance!

After signing on and sizing up the competition (not in the same way Steve does…look at the photos on FB!) I decided to try a new warm-up. I took Libby’s turbo so I could warm-up with some power, rather than spinning on the rollers with no resistance. At first my legs were feeling rather heavy and lacking power. I thought, “That’s not a good sign!” But I persisted with the new warm-up and my legs burst into life after a few flat out efforts and melting Libby’s turbo in the process (she wasn’t amused).

The event got under way with some very talented riders flying around the track, posting some proper rapid times. The winner of the men’s kilo clocked a 1:04.1 (faster than the winning time at the national masters set by Paralympic Champion Jody Cundy), so I knew the Keirin pace was going to be quick.

Eventually it was my turn to get on track. We lined up and picked a card for our starting order. I drew no. 5, so started quite high up the track. All 7 of us lined up, while listening to the new rules. I watched the derny cruise round picking up speed, then as it approached, the starter blew her whistle and we were off.

The pace at the beginning felt really slow, but was good to settle everyone before the fun really started. As we approached the home straight at the end of the 3rd lap, I was thinking, “Get ready to cover any moves, stay low and stay in the slipstream of the rider in front.” The derny pulled off, and the pace steadily increased. With 2 laps to go, I was still in the same position and still drafting the rider in front. I knew it was going to kick off soon. As we entered the back straight everyone threw the hammer down. It was time to give it everything. My initial pick up was slow, but that was mostly down to my slow reactions rather than power (basically caught napping a bit), so I lost a few metres on the 5 riders in front. By the time I passed the bell with 1 lap to go I was about 5m behind. I was pedalling as fast as I could on my 96” gear. Staying low and as close to the pursuit line as possible, I wasn’t backing off, but couldn’t bridge the gap to the riders in front. I pushed hard all the way to the end and felt very pleased with 6th out of 7 riders for 2 reasons:

  •  Difference in kit – they were on the quickest equipment. Aero carbon bikes, carbon discs and carbon 5 spokes with speedsuits. Whereas my kit is more entry level and not very aero (at +40mph being aero is massively important).
  • Phase of training – I’m only part way through my strength phase. I still have power and speed phases to come next year on top of more strength training.

I asked Libby to time my last 200m, because I knew I was much faster than my poor flying 200m time at the National Masters suggests.  Libby got my last 200m at 11.6 seconds. That was another reason to be really pleased, because that was achieved mostly on my own.

The first 3 laps of race 2 were very similar to race 1, apart from people were moving around a lot more, which messed up my rhythm a bit, but by the time the derny pulled off I was in a position to give it the beans after another lap or so. The only problem was these guys were very strong kilo riders and someone thought it would be a good idea to go with 3 laps to go. I half-heartedly went with them to begin with hoping they’d slow down, but as we flew down the home straight I saw we still had 2 laps to go and I swooped up to the top of the track and called it quits, thinking I’d save my energy for the last race, hoping it would play out similar to the first race, because I don’t train for 3 lap races. I came off the track and smiled to Libby and she knew straight away why I pulled off with 2 laps to go.

Race 3 came round pretty quickly. The last race of the night. My last race of the year. I drew no.4, so was pretty much in the middle of the pack. Again, after lap 1, the riders were fighting for position, for the next couple of laps. By the time the derny pulled off with 3 laps to go, we were all having a good old scrap for position. One of the riders was leaning on me to gain my positon round turn 1, but I wasn’t fussed, thinking to myself “I’m use to doing this at 170mph, so this is nothing”. Then with 2 ½ laps to go, it was on. I went flat out, after learning from my mistakes in the previous race. I was up with the 1st 5 riders for another lap. With ½ a lap to go I started to get dropped a little. I was running out of steam and I hadn’t even started the last lap yet! By this time I was a good 10m behind the pack in front. I kept on pushing hard, but was falling back further and further. I had to keep going as hard as I could to keep the other rider, who was drafting me, behind me. On the final bend I was proper struggling. I don’t know what power I was doing, but I didn’t feel like much. I thought, “I can’t give up now. I can rest as much as I want on the way home, but have to keep pushing”. On the final straight I couldn’t see or feel the guy behind me. I knew I had beaten him. This gave me the extra boost to keep pushing hard to the end. I finished 6th again in the final race and realised I actually dropped the other rider behind me. Libby clocked me at 12.4 seconds for the last 200m, a time I was pretty happy about, considering I ran out of steam before I started my last lap.

Although I wasn’t up with the top guys, I felt really good about my performances and it reminded me about how much I enjoy the sprint events. It also showed me the training I’ve been doing over the last 5/6 months has made me a stronger, faster rider, and has made me even more focussed on the men’s sprint in July 2017. By then I’ll have better equipment and a stronger, faster, more powerful engine.