July 27, 2012 (Rochester Hills, Michigan) – Located in the serene town of Rochester Hills, Michigan (USA) is Bloomer Park – home of an outdoor 200-metre banked cycling track known appropriately as The International Velodrome at Bloomer Park. With giant tiered step seating cut into the surrounding sod, this is one of the best places to watch some bike racing. From July 20- 22, the racing was fast and intense for the annual International 3-Day Madison Championships.
When I say “pirate” most people think Hallowe’en costume or Hollywood movie. But, true piracy stems from hostile invasion. And that is just what 16-year-old pedalling marvel, Will Jude Simonds, and myself planned on doing this particular race weekend; pirating. Docked in a secret location on the St Clair River [ed. Yes, they really were staying on a boat for the weekend.], our plan was to rush the border and attempt to steal the purse of the weekend at the Bloomer Park Velodrome.
Will is an aspiring stagiare* for the OCTTO-Cervélo team. There is no better way to test out a young talent than to subject him to a gruelling 3-Day Madison race.
For those of you who do not know; a Madison is a track racing event for teams of two riders. One rider is active in the race, at full speed or higher, sprinting for points throughout, while the other rider rides “relief” slowly at the top (outer edge) of the track outside of the race action.
As the race rider approaches, the relief rider drops down the track offering an extended left hand in anticipation of a rider exchange. The teammate who is in the race then grabs his partner’s hand and slings him into the action at full speed, transferring their respective momenta (and yes, this all takes place with only one hand controlling the bike at 50km/hr). The relief rider is now the active race rider and the race rider is relegated to the relief role and drifts up track to rest and recover at a slower speed before the next exchange comes up. Riders exchange every time they catch up with one another.
Sound crazy? Well, not if you are a true pirate.
Since Will and I had never raced together and we were up against a pretty stiff field, the first Madison was as much a shock as hitting the cold drink on a stormy eve. The attacks rung off like cannon fire with the scallywags team of Matt Walp and Tony Bruley hitting us early along with the sea dogs team Brent DelRosario and Cale Denison. But as the first sprint for points approached us, we witnessed the true beasts of the race: Blaine ‘After-burner’ Benson bolted away on a sling from partner Martin “The Vicious” Vecchio to take maximum points.
This Ready-Aim-Fire pattern of the Vecchio and Benson team repeated itself in the succeeding sprints for points as we did our best to clean up the 2nd place offerings. While the pairing of Nick Laughton and Chris Matthews found their sea legs, a clear split emerged in the standings on the first night. Vecchio and Benson lead with OCTTO-Cervélo in second and Luke Cavender and Allan Antonuk nipping at our heels in third. The Kraken had been released.
We retreated to our vessel docked in a safe harbour and launched “Plan B”: to recover for the second day of racing. Recovery involved tooling around the marina in a small “dingy” (basically a rubber raft with a 4 horsepower outboard motor mounted to the back). Not being totally familiar with boat life, I quickly learned a few lessons. One; unlike land vehicles, like a gas pedal or motor cycle, the throttle on a boat motor does not ‘rebound’ when you let go of it. Two; a dingy might not stay exactly in place if you jump on to it from a high dock. And three; a large tanker kicks off waves big enough to flood your dingy, even when travelling at low speeds.
A 3 Day Race is about more than just swashbuckling Madison races. With two Madisons per night, teams also had to accumulate points in other events to be competitive. One test that IVBP Director Dale Hughes always throws in is the One Mile Sprint. Two heats, one rider from each team in each heatŠ. First one across the line gets it. The Mile might sound easy but she’s a beard burner. Just short enough to ensure a ballistic fast pace and just long enough to really sting, this is the Bloomer Park equivalent of walking the plank.
I had taken the first heat with a long sprint over Cavender, DelRosario and Vecchio the Vicious. Next up was William the Young flying the OCTTO-Cervélo Jolly Roger. Will sat in the group like a barracuda stalking the depths. The tension swelled like a distant tsunami as the laps clicked down and Will hit hard, coming over the top of the group like a tidal wave to win the sprint by 3 lengths. The kid has legs. 16 years old. A bit old in pirate years butŠ still.
Regardless of our plundering of the Mile Sprint the previous evening, Vecchio the Vicious and After-Burner Benson accumulated an insurmountable lead in the final Madison. While we were not ready to say “die” it was mathematically impossible to catch them on Day 3. But we do the attacking and let the peg-legged officials do the counting so we back to swabbing the deck we went on the third Day.
It was becoming clear that the locals were uneasy with our attempted conquests. With the top 3 teams securely on the podium already, the Vecchio/Benson duo forged an informal alliance with the other local powerhouse of Luke “The cadaver” Cavender and Allan Antonuk. They wanted a 1-2 Michigan native finish. Could you blame them? If pirates were attacking, you would defend your home lumber as well.
The collusion really became obvious to us during the Miss & Out event. Also known as Devil Take the Hindmost, this race starts with all riders on the track. Every second lap, the last person across the line is eliminated until we get down to three. From there, it is a two lap sprint for the finish. The higher up you place, the more points you rack up for your team. The Miss & Out is a constant battle for position. Vecchio and Benson had built much of their points advantage by winning these events working together to “box in” William the young and myself.
Cavender The Cadaver had also cleverly aligned himself with the first place team to attempt to catapult his squad over us in the standings. So, on the last Miss & Out, we had to employ a strategy of riding hard tempo side by side on the front of the pack to avoid getting “boxed” by the locals…The hard man’s strategy – Pirate style. After fighting our way to the front in the opening laps, it was on. William the Young took to the pole lane and I rode dutifully on his right hip; the old Captain and Rear Admiral routine.
We kept the pace sturdy and picked it up any time someone challenged us at the front. We held our own until one rider from every team was eliminated except for the brazen Vecchio/Benson duo. This meant that we would combine for the second highest point total on the event and further cement our 2nd place finish. Job done and legs heavy, we were over taken on the front and Will succumbed in the next elimination.
But I wanted blood so I took a few more stabs at the front to knock out Cale Denison and found myself back in the dreaded “box”; Benson in front of me, Vecchio to my right and Cavender just past him, preventing my slowing down to escape from the back door. I could hear Cavender telling Vecchio to “keep him there”. As we approached the elimination, I saw a sliver of light open between Vecchio’s right hand and Benson so I thrust my bars straight into the gap. With a gentle nudge, I found my way through the gap to take out Cavender the Cadaver.
At that moment, I felt like I was in that dingy competing with a giant tanker for space on the St Clair. I was bounced around and three of the four horses powering that engine were lying on the side of the road. Blaine “after Burner” Benson rode me up the track and motioned to Vecchio to attack. I was done for.
We sailed on into the final Madison and fought till the end. At this point, it was tough just to hold on to second. But, I had learned that Michigan hates to be invaded and will battle hard with any interlopers.
Also, I learned that Will is a tough little sea biscuit. He held his own against an older and more experienced group of competitors. Currently, he is preparing for Junior World Championships in New Zealand and OCTTO-Cervélo wishes him luck.
*stagiare – French language cycling vernacular for a probationary intern.
IVBP website: www.velodromeatbloomerpark.com
Day 1 results: www.nas-track.com/velodrome/pages/results/20120720.pdf
Day 2 results: www.nas-track.com/velodrome/pages/results/20120721.pdf
Day 3 results: www.nas-track.com/velodrome/pages/results/20120722.pdf