Winning Gold at the Masters Track World Championships, By Michael Bird (Swami’s)

Wow, what can I say. This was an incredible overload of emotions.

This all started with a planned season of racing with my two big goals of doing well at Road Natz and then coming to the Masters World Track Championships in Manchester England to give it a try. After Road Natz, we had 30 days to polish up the form for Worlds. This required going to the LA track for training 2 times a week.

I had looked at the schedule and found the scratch race happening on the first day, Saturday, and the points race not until 5 days later on Wednesday. So I filled in the time by signing up for the 500 TT on Sunday and the 2K Pursuit on Monday with only one day off, Tuesday. I had not trained for either of these events, but figured why not, your here.

I booked my travel to arrive on Thursday a day before opening day. Travel was mostly uneventful except for a long layover in Chicago. While waiting in Chicago I ran into several other SoCal riders going to Worlds. So we arrived late morning and I was able to get hooked up with the event run transport from the airport to the track. This service also covered transport from hotel to track and back. Nice low / no stress solution to travel where they insist on driving on the wrong side of the road.

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Once at the track we all set up bikes and “claimed” our bike cubbie for the remainder of the event. Then off to the hotel, check in and take a deep breath. I made it….

Friday: I went over to the track and tried to rent rollers, nope all gone. Tried to book track time, nope all booked up. Well turns out rollers would not be a problem. Lots of sharing going on. And Friday I just slipped on the track for a few laps to get a feel. That helped.

Saturday: Scratch race up tonight. Seems all the mass start finals go at night. If you have heats then you do that in the morning session and ride the final that night. There were only 20 guys signed up in ours so straight through to the final.

I wish I could remember more of my actual race, but it is mostly a blur. I remember bits and pieces. Easy start, I was at the back, hitched a ride on another rider to the front, couple of minor surges, one guy gets off about 50 or so meters. I had made my mind up that I would not let anyone get a big gap without me. I went after him and took a Brit with me. This was good as there were several Brits and I was hoping they would either block or not participate in chasing. As we came up on the guy he blew big time. We just kept the gas on and off we were.

Our race was 20 laps and as we got off it showed 14 to go. We did half lap pulls and worked around to where we were lapping the field. I was in familiar territory now. A two up sprint for gold/silver. We were just hanging off the back of the pack. On the bell lap for some reason my breakaway companion started to gas it and we go into the pack high in turns 3/4 then he dropped low. I was up high and could see no clear path down low and knew he was covered up in traffic but I had a clear path up high.

I drilled it big time, Max effort, all out and knew I had it. I was told I went by 2/3 of the pack in about 100 M. I was surprised at how calm I was right then, but that would quickly change as I started to realized what I had accomplished. As I came around the track I vaguely remember the crowd clapping and I was met by the LA contingent at the rail. Went over to spin my legs out but the “VC” (Victory Ceremony) guy came around to gather me up for the podium. Quickly got my Swamis Podium shoes out and off we went.

This is the hard part for me. They line you up, march you out, give you your World Champion Jersey, medal, Euro cheek kisses, flowers and then you stand on the podium while they play your national anthem and raise the flags. I was close to losing it several times. I remembered all the hours spent training, working on diet, the endless support from my wonderful wife and some lost family time. I remembered my biggest fan was my mother who passed away almost a year ago I know she would be proud. Then all the pics and talking with your other podium buddies, always interesting when one only speaks French. What a night.

What was really cool is that a friend, Larry Nolan, from NorCal had also won his scratch race just before me. So it was his podium, first then mine, then we had a celebratory beer together in the hotel.

Great night.

Day 2/3: The Continuation of Worlds:

Days 2
The second event was the 500 TT. This was an event I did not / do not train for, but as it fell between the Scratch Race and the Points Race I thought why not ? So I find out there is a lot of technique to doing this correctly and thereby fast. I made several mistakes and still eked out a 5th place. This is something I can improve on in the future.

Day 3
The next event I did was a 2 K Time Trial. Again, not something I train for but an interesting event none the less. Because I had not listed a previous time, I was seeded early. I was heat 2 of 6. I posted the second fasted time, but knew the later seeds would be faster. I ended up 4th. So, now I’m in the medal rounds later that evening. As 4th, the best I can finish is 3rd and get a medal. Nothing but an upside for me.

I really worried over this as I know nothing about pacing for Time Trial’s. However, Brett Clare offered this sage advice, “Don’t pace it, race it”…you simply have to beat the other guy. Times don’t matter. Well, I decided I would give it my all not realizing just how hard that would prove to be. It’s only 8 laps of the track, about 2:30 if your fast, a couple seconds more if your not so fast.

I had the help of a buddy who would be at my start finish line and in a very clever way telling me how I was doing against my opponent. As I would come around he would step toward me from the finish line I was ahead. The bigger the step the more time I was ahead. Same going the other way, if he stepped away from me from the line I was behind. Very simple no head turning, no having to decipher what he is yelling. It works incredibly well.

Everything was going well until about half way. Then he did move and I knew I was even up. Right about that time I noticed the lap counter. It said 4. No way I thought, there must be a mistake, I was sure I had gone more than 4 laps. It was starting to hurt. I concentrated on increasing my cadence slightly. Next lap back to stepping toward me. Last two laps nothing, he just yelled go go go!!! I buried it as best I could.

I finished and had won. So I made the podium. If I could only control my bike. I was wiped out big time. I think I hit about every lane sponge on both ends of the track but didn’t crash. Bike just would not do what I wanted it to do. Got stopped and damn near fell off. Hardest 2:31 I have ever done I think.

Happy to make the podium again and keep the Brits from sweeping the podium. (Us pesky Yanks!!)

And Final Day – Points Race:

Ok, the last event of the 2014 World Masters Track Championships in Manchester, UK. I have saved the best for last.

The last race on my schedule is the points race. Some affectionately refer to it as the working man’s race. It is 40 laps long and you sprint every 10 laps for points. Points are 5 for first, 3 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. If you lap the field you are given 10 points. The person with the most points wins, pretty simple sounding. Try racing hard, going deep for the sprints and still keep track of the points you have and how many points your competitors have….yeah not so easy, but oh man what a cool race. Maybe the most fun you can have on the track in a mass start race. This is my love. I’m in awe of the simplicity and yet the complexity of it all at the same time.

The field is stacked with Brits and I’m pretty much a marked man now. I think we started with 15, quickly dropped one and shortly split the field. It was full gas from the start with attacks from the Brits, no surprise there. The first sprint comes and I lead it out. As we come to the line a Frenchman gets by me. I remember thinking I don’t need to win this sprint, I just need to score points. I didn’t dig deep but floated with him after the sprint going up track. I wanted to get a look at his face. I saw what I wanted, he was gassed. The Brits countered and I went with the moves keeping them in check.

I have no memory of sprint #2 but I scored no points. However, this is when I launched my move to try and get a lap. I took a Brit with me which was good as I felt the other Brtis may not block but would not help chase either. We started working half lap pulls and gaining on the field. About two laps before sprint 3 we are close and the Brit starts to drill it and make contact. I yelled at him saying, “no, no” and he pulls up I think wondering what was wrong. A lap later we sprint for first and second points, I got first and he got second. NOW we can bridge to the field and get our 10 points. IF we had bridged before the 3rd sprint we would have had to sprint against the field instead of just him and I getting points.

So, we are all together now and I recover getting ready for the last sprint. I’m pretty sure I’m well ahead on points, but I’m taking no chances. Two laps to go and they let me lead, marking me. Just before we cross the line for the bell lap, I hit it hard going from just over a lap out. Max power, give it everything you have, last sprint for the year….I want no chance for a mistake. I win the last sprint and my second World title in a race I really wanted.

The second time on the podium is just as good as the first, maybe better in some ways as you can breath some and enjoy it a little more. The emotions are still there but not so crazy sharp, not so close to breaking you down.

I think the ultimate compliment came from one of the Brits after the race. Steve Davie came over and congratulated me saying there was nothing they could do, I was the strongest and completely controlled the race. I deserved the win. That meant a lot coming from him, he is a well respected racer and all around nice guy. These are the memories I will cherish for the rest of my days.

So, 2014 is on the books. I have had a season that was incredible. I accomplished my two big goals, the Natz Critierium Championship and a World’s Championship. To get two World’s titles is more than I could have hoped for…so folks never give up, keep training, set goals and go after them !!

Photos courtesy Michael Bird 

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