Sunday, January 29, 2012

Once Thought I Drew A Lucky Hand.

I fricking love track racing. Yesterday I started another day down at DISC, showing my track noobs how to ride bikes and headbutt each other simultaneously. And I finished the day watching some nineteen year old colossus beat the world champion in the keirin at the National Track Championships (and hey, fast forward to 6:55 in that clip if you want to hear what a deafening silence sounds like). While road racing - and to a lesser extent, criterium racing - offers the same chance that a weaker rider with stronger tactics may succeed, on the track you can see it happening right in front of you. And on the track the effect of tactical decisions are magnified, due to the short duration of the races. If someone attacks during the last two and a half laps of a keirin, and the field doesn't react immediately, then all of a sudden you are racing for second place. That makes for dramatic racing. And the best part is, if you do stuff up, miss a move, and end up dead last, it's ok, because you've got another race coming in fifteen minutes. For an ADHD type like me, it's all I could ask for, and then a little more.

And track racing is booming in this state, both at the grassroots level (numbers at DISC on a Tuesday night have been increasing for some time, excepting the Christmas holiday lull; Bendigo Cycling Club have occasionally had to add an extra grade to their Thursday night racing; last year's Austral was sold out) and at the elite level (much to my dismay, the Saturday night session at the World Track Championships here in Melbourne has already sold out. That's right. There's not a spare seat in the house, on a night which will likely also feature pre-season football, numerous first-release movies and fancy nightclubs that sell cheap alcohol. And the World Champs are still three months away).

So imagine my dismay when I read more declarations on the internet that "Track Cycling Is Dying". Usually written by folks who only race on the road and in criteriums, these articles / tweets / updates are not only statistically incorrect, but they also represent a trend that can only do damage to track racing. Take for example Joe Wiggle, who is kinda into cycling, and has maybe ridden a few crits and seen Cam Meyer in the Olympic points race on TV. If he reads on the internet that Track is Dead, then despite how much fun Cam seems to be having, he's hardly going to splash out the extra cash on a track bike (and, conversely, if he keeps reading over and over again that Cyclocross is totally the most awesome thing since the French reinvented kissing, he's not going to hesitate to drop a thousand bucks on a new Specialized Crux, no matter how garish the colour). This may sound obvious, but people want to be involved in things that other people also want to be involved in. These articles become self-fulfilling prophecy: If you say something is dead often enough, it eventually dies.

Strangely, though, these declarations haven't yet had the predicted effect. As I wrote earlier, the numbers are increasing, the racing is getting better and better, and the volunteers are eager to help. All these articles do is illustrate the lack of understanding that the authors have for the format. It's like when old music critics try telling you that Punk died when Sandinista came out. It didn't, of course. It just morphed into something that those music critics didn't understand. Unlike punk, track racing hasn't morphed into anything, and this time it's this incongruous constancy that has left pundits confused. I mean, come on! Folks have been riding Madisons, for example, since 1898! If just a few of these doubters would write about Madisons, or the bizarre world of track sprinting, or even the Hour Record, then all of a sudden racing on the track would be a less mysterious and more appealing prospect. Old mate Joe Wiggle would spend $400 on an entry-level track frame and be diving off the banks in no time.


Shane Miller said...

Re: Masters Track.

The entry numbers are in decline at both a state and national level. (source: CV/CA entry lists). I raised this with CV this time last year. Nothing has changed. This weekend most events will be a token showing, very few championships contested. (5-6 of a potential ~64)

As an Olympic year, and with the World Track Champs being in Melbourne, imo we're seeing a spike in interest that may not be around next year or the year after that. This has not converted into riders 30yo+ entering races either.

Along the same lines of people saying it is dead, so it dies.... Saying everything is fine is just as damaging. Nothing will be done to address the issues.

It is good to hear at a grassroots club level that things are booming. At a State and National level for Masters it is a fucking mess.

Anyhows - This is only Masters I'm talking about. I'm very well aware that this sport is Junior/Elite or gtfo.

brendan said...

You know, Shane, you're allowed to ride Elite. And if your age stops you from being the best of the best, you can ride in a lower grade and still win!