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Letters from Larssyn: Back on the bike, racing for training

I just competed in my hometown race, the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge (AVC). The AVC has always been one of my favorite races, but it wasn’t in my plans for the season until I broke my back and was given a leave of absence my team in Switzerland. I returned to Portland, thinking there’s no place like home to recover. I got back on the bike after a couple weeks, and figured that since I was here and on the bike again, maybe I’d be able to race. My coach argued that normally, one should get a full month of just riding before even thinking about the sort of intensity that a race like this

By Larssyn Staley, Andeer Cycling Team

I just competed in my hometown race, the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge (AVC). The AVC has always been one of my favorite races, but it wasn’t in my plans for the season until I broke my back and was given a leave of absence my team in Switzerland.

I returned to Portland, thinking there’s no place like home to recover. I got back on the bike after a couple weeks, and figured that since I was here and on the bike again, maybe I’d be able to race. My coach argued that normally, one should get a full month of just riding before even thinking about the sort of intensity that a race like this would bring. I assured him that it would be okay, that it was just for fun and would be good training before heading back to Europe.

The race approached much more quickly than I expected, and I got good and nervous in the last few days beforehand. My first event on Friday morning was a 3km pursuit. I was super nervous because I love the pursuit; to be good at it, you need so much specific training, and I’d yet to do even a few laps at tempo. My coach and I agreed that I would use a very small gear. Since my back is still pretty weak I had little chance of getting a proper gear rolling without pulling something.

With the tiny gear and tons of nerves I started quite fast. But without any real training, my lungs couldn’t support the kind of leg speed I needed to stay on tempo. I died big-time just before completing the first kilo. It was not a fun race. I quickly realized how hard it is for me to not be competitive – to race just for fun.

Afterwards, I got pretty worked up, because I had posted a faster time as a 14-year-old. My coach told me not to worry, that it was only training, and reminded me that a normal person would still be lying in bed. He encouraged me to try to have fun.

I was entered in every event, endurance and sprint, so training it was. As the weekend went by, with so many events, at times I wasn’t sure if I was warming up or cooling down. I rode to and from the track for each session, too. I figured anything I could do to keep my legs moving was good – if I didn’t, I might not be able to get them started again.

Saturday morning I put on a bigger gear for the mass-start events. I did the keirin, but only one advanced from each heat and Jenny Reed was in mine, so I didn’t really have a chance and went into the repechage. I was slowly getting into the rhythm of racing for fun and getting more aggressive along the way.

In the points race on Saturday evening, about a quarter of the way through, Erin Mirabella and Annette Hansen, the 2004 3km national champion, got a significant gap on the field. I knew it was not a good pair to let get away.

The whole field was strung out; I was in fifth position and Becky Quinn was in third. When she got to the front, she charged through but only pulled a half lap. When she pulled up track, so did the woman on her wheel, so I attacked.

About then, Hansen dropped off Mirabella’s pace. I went by Hansen and on towards Mirabella. I knew if I could get to her I could have the race made. She saw me coming, and not wanting to ride three quarters of the race alone in the heat and wind, she swung up track, giving me just enough time to pull through. We worked well together, taking half-lap pulls. We eventually lapped the field and then the group that was chasing us. I was second and Mirabella won.

Sunday wasn’t really a day for me. The women’s sprints started off the morning. In the first sprint, I bolted from the line, hoping to tire out the two sprinters I was up against. It didn’t work; they came flying around way before the finish line. On the next one I waited, playing their game, and the sprint didn’t start until three quarters of a lap to go. But I couldn’t come around and once again was out of luck.

The third sprint, I was racing for seventh through 12th place. I sat at the back, hoping they would forget about me, and then I jumped over the group with a lap and a half to go. This sprint was my best one. I almost made it to the line, but a couple came around me at the last second. I didn’t make out too well in the sprints, but I improved on each one, so it was fun.

Sunday evening was the final session. The women’s event was a five-mile scratch race. By this point I had so much racing in my legs -pursuit, 500 meters, a couple keirins, a miss-and-out and a points race – that I didn’t really warm up. I just rode to the track, trying to loosen up a bit, and then sat on the rollers for a few minutes. The weather was so hot, and I was tired and just wanted to get the race finished so I could go home, go to sleep and dream about Monday and how it was a rest day.

The scratch race at the AVC is pretty interesting because every lap the first rider across the line gets $6 and the second rider gets $4. Let’s just say it keeps the race fast. After maybe five or so laps I followed a woman as she jumped for the cash on the backstretch and came around to take the six bucks. I didn’t stop there, though – I just kept going. I expanded my gap and time-trialed along, picking up the first-place money every lap. I came so close to lapping the field that I had them on the same straight, but when Mirabella saw me getting close she would have none of that and went on the attack.

I was slowly losing ground. I knew they were getting closer, little by little, and was just trying to hold on. With seven or so laps to go, they rang the bell for a $100 prime. Now riding solo off the front of such a good women’s field is one thing, but then having to sprint after doing essentially a 4km pursuit – that hurts, a lot. I knew the field was coming and wanted that money badly. I stepped it up several gears on top of my pace but was nipped at the line. After that I was so dead and flew backwards in the field trying to grab any wheel I could. I hung on, but only managed to finish in the middle of the group.

It was too bad I couldn’t hold on to win. But I figure it’s good to be able to ride with these girls after being back on the bike for such a short time.

And I couldn’t ask for a better weekend of intervals to get me on the right track before heading back to Europe!

Ciao,
Larssyn