Monday, March 17, 2008

Match sprint cycling: Like watching paint dry?

Maybe I need to get out more, but I found myself highly entertained by this video of two guys on bikes doing nothing for about four and a half minutes. Seriously. Last night my Number One Son, who rides fixed-gear bikes in downtown Chicago for everyday transportation and who goes to the track on weekends to race, e-mailed a link to this video of his favorite track cycling event, the match sprint:

I'm guessing most of you didn't watch it all the way to the end. You got bored with all that "grandstanding" and clicked off. But that wasn't grandstanding. It was a fierce psychological battle, and I was riveted. Who would be the first to crack? Who would give up and start pedaling? And weren't their legs killing them? (A fixed-gear bike has no brakes, so the rider must keep tension on the pedals to hold the bike still--otherwise, it could go backwards, and the race would have to be restarted.)

You see, it's the man who loses the draw who takes first position on the track. He doesn't want to be first because the guy behind him will have the advantage. (It's easier to beat somebody you can see just in front of you than it is to beat somebody behind you who might surprise you at any moment with a burst of speed.) So the lead guy rides as slowly as he can, even stopping his bike (doing a "track stand") in an attempt to force the other guy into the lead. Here's a very short video that explains things better:

When my kid comes home from Chicago, he always brings his bike, and I make him entertain me by doing track stands and other tricks in our driveway. So this morning I was reminded of something I posted back in 2005. Here's that entry in its entirety:

Last night I was banging away at the final final draft (this time I mean it) of a romance novel when I got a breathless e-mail from Number One Son with a subject line that read, "No-handed track stand!" There was a file attached, and the message read, simply:

Image - me teetering two feet away from a 20-foot drop into Lake Michigan. I'm *too* awesome!

Only another mom will understand with what trepidation I opened and viewed the file:

I am supposed to thank Carlos Cabalu for allowing me to post this shot and I would, because it's quite a nice photo, really, with the blue, blue water and the pink evening sky, but Carlos, what were you thinking? Instead of reaching for your camera, dude, why didn't you yell at my son to move away from the edge?

For those of you who are wondering what a no-handed track stand is, I will explain that my kid was balancing on an unmoving bike. He can do that for about thirty seconds before the bike falls over and he does a trick called a horizontal trackstand, which is not something he likes to brag about being able to perform.

Number Two Son has given me quite a few scares, too, mostly by dangling off the sides of mountains. It's a wonder I have any hair left.

In the manuscript I'm finishing (still finishing) right now, the story's hero is a nut who does extreme sports. Ask me, just ask me where that idea came from.

That book, of course, was A Season of Forgiveness, which was released in October of 2007.

Now I'm going to give both of those match sprint videos another look before I make a midmorning pot of tea and get back to my writing.


Carolanne said...

That's amazing - focus, concentration - well like you said, a "fierce psychological battle"."

I'm impressed!

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, good, another oddball. I don't feel so alone now.

The track stands are even more impressive, Carolanne, when you realize they aren't being done on level ground, but on a 42-degree slope. And you might not have caught this, but all that s-l-o-w riding is impressive because if the riders don't maintain a certain minimum speed, their bikes will slide right off the steep track. (Watch the video again and you'll understand why the bikes wobble so much at the slower speeds--the riders are fighting to keep their places on the slope.)

My son tells me there are huge tactical advantages to riding in second position--which is why each rider tries so hard to force the other guy out front.

In a match sprint, the first rider to cross the finish line wins. But the riders are in no hurry to get to the finish line. Isn't that the craziest race you've ever heard of?