Tyler Farrar hadn’t been on a track in four years, so the Garmin-Cervélo sprinter borrowed a bike and spent 20 minutes practicing handsling exchanges with Christian Meier before jumping into four days of track racing as part of his pre-season tune-up.
“Neither one of us are track specialists,” said Farrar in between races at the Saputo 4-Day at the Burnaby Velodrome in British Columbia. The winner of two stages in both the 2010 Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, he gave autographs to young fans and posed with them for photographs.
“We’re both here to get a good workout and not embarrass ourselves,” he said. “You can train really hard but nothing’s the same as racing so I’m hoping this does this for me.”
Farrar said the 4-day was a great way to get some intensity in preparation for the Australian Tour Down Under in January, which he’ll follow with the classics, Milan-San Remo, Milano-Torino, and the series of cobblestone races leading up to Paris-Rubaix.
First up at the 4-day was a 125-lap Madison with sprints every 25 laps. The Madison is a relay where partners alternate racing and recovery laps and throw each other into the race with handslings.
“The first race was a bit scary, making the exchanges with all the traffic; but it comes back fast,” said Farrar, who was on the U.S. junior national track team before he focused on road racing. Farrar’s no stranger to Burnaby’s tight, steep track, having spent lots of time there when he used to live only an hour’s drive across the border in Bellingham, Washington.
One of only four indoor velodromes in North America, the Burnaby track has hosted national championships and is a Canadian National Track Training Centre. The 4-day was its first UCI-sanctioned race.
“Racing on track makes you a more complete bike rider,” said Farrar. “It helps you develop handling and pedal stroke and it developed my speed.”
“For Tyler and I being road racers, we had a bit to catch up with our leg speed,” said Meier, who’s signed with UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis for 2011. He conceded he was nervous until he practiced a few slings, even though he’s the 2006 Canadian National Madison Champion. “It was great to get leg speed in and heart rate up.”
On day two, Farrar and Meier won a 160-lap Madison but the competition wasn’t easy. The 12 teams included Madison specialists Colby Pearce and Daniel “Hollywood” Holloway, who lapped the field and won the first race on day one, seizing the lead in the four-day overall title race. They didn’t relinquish it and took the overall while Farrar and Meier placed fifth in the GC.
“Colby and I knew we had to fire the first bullet because it’s better to defend. We didn’t know how we’d do against road guys like Tyler who get better and better each day,” said Holloway, wearing his signature oversize white glasses.
Holloway and Farrar battled each other when they were the only ones left during the last lap of the day three elimination race. The crowd of 800 spectators cheered loudly as the two sprinted it out with Farrar winning at the line.
“It was hard racing,” said Pearce, who was the U.S. national track team coach from 2005 to 2007. He held the U.S. hour record (50.191 km) in 1995 when his Madison partner Holloway was eight years old. In 2011, Pearce is starting a development team in Colorado and he’s contemplating taking back the hour record, now held by Norm Alvis.
Svein Tuft and Zach Bell placed second in the GC and won the 125-lap Madison on day two. The Canadians are both 2008 Olympians: Tuft was seventh in the time trial and Bell was seventh in the track points race.
“We really had to work,” Tuft said about the Saputo 4 Day. “The first night I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.”
“You can’t underestimate Zach and Svein,” said Pearce. “Zach just came with a silver medal at the Columbia World Cup so he’s got the track legs right now. Svein is tough as nails. He’s made of iron and leather and boards of hard oak, tough like leather, hard like steel. In his spare time for fun, he does ultimate fighting. In my spare time, I play with my kid and Daniel watches TV and surfs the web.”
Local junior steals show
In the women’s field, it was local junior racer Jasmin Glaesser who stole the show. She more than held her own in a field stacked with two current World Champions (American Sarah Hammer in the individual pursuit and Canadian Tara Whitten in both points and omnium), 2008 World Keiren Champion Jennie Reed, American National Champion Cari Higgins and Swiss National Champion Pascale Schnider.
In the first race, a 100-lap points race, Glaesser won a sprint. On day three, left with Tara Whitten on the last lap of the elimination race, Glaesser attacked early and used the banking to win the race.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this,” said 19-year-old Glaesser, who only started cycling competitively in 2009. “I’ve been pretty happy that I’ve been able to be part of the lead riders. It’s great to be around pro riders like Tara and Sarah and see how they race.”
A German citizen, Glaesser is waiting for her Canadian citizenship so she can join the Canadian national team and aim for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
“For a junior to win against a field like this is pretty impressive,” said Tyler Farrar, who caught some of the women’s action while on his rollers. “She’s racing against the best in the world. It shows she has talent.”
Sarah Hammer thrilled the crowd on day one when she lapped the field four times in the first points race.
“That’s one of my strengths, being off the front,” said Hammer. She came to the Saputo 4 Day to practice tactics in bunch races after years of specializing in the individual pursuit. She’s aiming for the omnium title at the 2012 Olympics and appreciates any opportunity to line up against her main competitor Tara Whitten.
Hammer won the overall GC, Whitten placed second, Pascale Schnider was third, Joanne Keisanowski was fourth, and Glaesser was fifth.