World Masters Team Pursuit

I set out with the intention of finding a team that would take the title and set a new World Masters’ Record, which sounded straight forward enough…

Most people who have watched team pursuiting will have seen only the very best in the world aplying their trade.  At this level, it tends to look incredibly smooth and even easy, but when watching pro-riders at the top level, one tends to underestimate the many hours of practice that go into such polished performances.

Having ridden this event just once before, I was however under no such illusions.  I know it is technically difficult and physically demanding, and with no opportunity to race together as a team before the World Masters Championships themselves, preparation would be everything.  So the first obstacle was actually getting the team together in Newport for training. 

Let’s be honest, the carbon footprint left by our training sessions is significant and despite that, we managed to ride together for less than half of the training time I had hoped we would get! Niki Kovacs had to travel all the way from London, while Mel Sneddon and I were “local” by comparison, in Newbury and Worcestershire respectively. Niki experimented with taxis, trains and hire cars, but never found a reliable way to get to Newport on time and despite her commitment and creativity, she often lost over half of the precious two hour training time we had available to us.  Mel and I also had our travel challenges with tyres blowing out, road closures and traffic delays.

On the rare occasion when we did all manage to get to the track at the same time, it was certainly not plain sailing, but under the watchful eye of Chris Davis, we started to learn the technical aspects; getting up to speed as a team from a standing start, smooth, high changes that deliver the next rider fast for their turn on the front, ovalising the lap to get the best line for the team and fan finishes to shave precious tenths of seconds off the final time.

We knew what we needed to do, the current World Masters’ Record was 2:29.864 and by the third session we were riding to a schedule that made it look very likely we would lower this … and then everything else that could go wrong, did go wrong! In explicably, one of us would simply be unable to hold onto the others’ wheel in training, which crushed our confidence and then one by one, we all got sick – stomach bugs, sinus and chest infections that required an assortment of performance diminishing drugs laid us low and stopped us from riding together as a team.  In the end, our training time was a fraction of what I had hoped we would get and what I knew we needed.

Such was our run of bad luck, that we actually called the team Murphy’s Law, which on reflection was tempting fate just a little too much.  On the day we were predictably nervous – we hadn’t even had a chance to determine the final line up – and so it was no surprise that our qualifying ride was untidy.  We managed 2:30.538 almost a second slower than the world record time, but it was the fastest of the seven teams from Australia, America, Ireland and GB and good enough to earn us a home straight start in the Gold Medal ride off.  Now all we needed to do was the same again, just faster!

If qualifying was untidy, the final was downright scrappy. I came out of the gate cleanly but rode too fast over the first lap and a quarter (neither big nor clever!) and that immediately put one of my team mates on the back foot.  Sensibly she took half lap turns to recover, but the changes were not slick and we even managed to flick up a few of the sponges that are laid out around the track to ensure riders do not cut corners.  I still have an image of one flying at me as we came into the last few laps – I recall that I ducked, but that is difficult when riding on aero-bars, so perhaps I imagined that!

From about half distance, we could see the team we were racing against in the same straight as us and that was a huge incentive to push on, but all credit to them, they held us off and we did not catch.  And whilst it seemed impossible on so many occasions, we did lower the World Masters’ Record by two tenths of a second, with a ride of 2:29.361.  A friend put it to me that we had “done a Bubka” in emulating the incredible Ukrainian pole vault champion who broke the world record an incredible 35 times in his career, only ever by the smallest of margins. It is an incredibly flattering analogy, but one that I shall keep in my mind throughout the Winter.

My thanks go out to my team mates for putting up with me, to Chris Davis for his incredible patience in helping us and as ever to my Pit Bitch David for his technical help with bikes during training and on the day itself.

My Lake 402 cycling shoes were definitely up to the job and such was my commitment to the project that I even shared my TORQ energy, gels, bars and recovery with my team mates.  My bike is “pimped” with CeramicSpeed bearings, for a bit of free speed and this year Helly Hansen have provided base layers, sports bras and pre/post race wear, all of which helps to keep me as comfortable as I can hope for when the heat is really on!