Culture

Project World Title: Getting a feel for the track, and exploring France and Belgium

Although all competition tracks are 250m, there aren't many standards aside from that. Here's what I learned ahead of my world-title race.

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This is the second of a three-part series by Ashton Lambie, who set a world record in the individual pursuit, in Mexico, in August. This series details his preparation for and participation in the world championships in France in October. You can read the first part here.

I’ve always leaned towards the side of unconventional prep leading into races, and even a world championship was no exception.

After a quick spin the Saturday before the flight, I drove out to Bozeman to stay the night before an early Sunday departure. We arrived Monday morning to the Stab Velodrome in Roubaix for racing that started on Wednesday.

With most of us incredibly jetlagged, excited, and heavily caffeinated, we got right back into the circus that is a UCI track race.

I personally never sleep better than I do after a long day of travel, so I woke up Tuesday ready to get into our morning track session. Almost every day after travel it’s just an easy spin to get used to the track, two 20-minute efforts on an easy gear just to get the fatigue out of the legs a bit and wake up.

It’s always a bit tense getting up onto a new track and all of my senses were hyper-aware of the track and bike. I hadn’t ridden my track bike (let alone a track) since Mexico, so I was excited to get back on it! After the first few laps, the sensations returned, and I began to get a feel for the track.

Related: Behind the scenes gallery — My view of the track world championships

Although all competition standard tracks are 250m in length at the black line, there aren’t many standards aside from that. Tracks can be a variety of banking degrees on the straights and corners, different lengths of the “transition” between the flats and straights, and varying ratios between the straights and corners (think hot dog vs oval). It only takes a little bit to get the feel for a track, and to try and find the best line. Ride it wrong, and you can get thrown out of the bend from the inertia, get flicked around, and go a lot slower.

If you find the line, the track almost feels like it helps you through the corners; you get a boost of speed as you dive into the corner over the transition, the momentum keeps you pinned on the black, and the track whips you out of the corner as you get flung back upright.

Lambie rode faster in the final, with more power, than he did in the qualification round.
Every track has its own personality. Lucky for us, the Roubaix track felt like the LA Velodrome. (Photo: DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

After a few laps and discussing it with the rest of the team, we realized the track felt almost exactly like the LA Velodrome that we’d spent hundreds of kilometers riding around! The steep corners, the same aggressive transitions and tight corners wouldn’t make for quick times, but the familiarity felt great!

After that session, we joined the true open session on Wednesday morning. There ended up being more than 60 riders on the track at one point, and as a midwesterner who likes my space, I decided to stick with the road after that.

I’d done the hit-outs I needed and felt like I’d dialed in the rhythm of the line of the track. Nothing to do but hurry up and wait, and try to have a little fun!

I’d been talking about realistic goals with my partner and headcase manager, Christina Birch. Whenever I got too wound up, she’d remind me this was just for fun! I couldn’t do anything if Filippo Ganna rode a 3:57 or something crazy. I’d had a smashing season, I’d always be the first person under 4 minutes, and I didn’t have anything to prove. And since this was my first time in France and Belgium, I decided to go check out some of the countryside!

Before my silver-medal ride at the last world championships in Berlin, I’d done a nice 3-hour road ride a few days out, so I decided to keep it the same. The first adventure was to ride to the nearby town of Lille to see a castle!

Turns out, the military and police are still using it (which makes sense, since that’s what castles were built for) so it was a quicker ride than planned. The next day took me over the very nearby border of Belgium, where I found beautiful fields, coffee, chocolate, and miles of quaint farm roads. And finally the day before competition, I rode to the nearby town of Kortrijk in Belgium.

After stopping for a Brookie (it’s a brownie AND a cookie), getting caught in some rain, and doing stoplight-based standing start practice, I was about as ready as I would be for my fourth world championships.