The 2005 World Track Championship, held from March 24-27, saw the best track cyclists from five continents come together to compete in their respective events, and strive to become Champion of the World. The pinnacle track cycling event for 2005 was held in the ADT indoor velodrome, a stadium part of the Home Depot Sports Centre in Carson, Los Angeles, California. This impressive sports park boasts some awesome facilities including a 27500 seat football stadium, 11000 seat athletics ground, 8000 seat tennis stadium, as well as the 3000 seat velodrome. It is an official U.S.A Olympic training facility for tennis and cycling and has been the host for the U.S.A leg of the rugby sevens World Cup.
For the New Zealand team to compete at these World Championships, the journey would begin in Aquascalientes, Mexico, an industrial city of 300 000 situated 1900m above sea level. After qualifying spots in all men's and women's endurance events through the four World Cups in the previous months, a team of eight endurance men were sent to Mexico and would be joined by two women; Catherine Sell and Joanne Keisanowski in Los Angeles.
Greg Henderson, Marc Ryan, Jason Allen, Richard Bowker, Tim Gudsell, Matthew Hadock, Hayden Godfrey and myself along with support crew; Coach Terry Gyde, Assistant Willie Rastrick, Mechanic Stevo Wallis, Physio Paul Holloway and Sports Scientist Steve Rickerby travelled to Aquascalientes on March the 3rd.
The draw card inviting us to Aquaclientes was its position at 1900m above sea level and this means altitude training! Whilst I am certainly no expert on the theory's of training at height, it is known to help increase the body's efficiency of oxygen uptake by raising the amount of red oxygen carrying blood cells in the body.
This is where the role of Steve 'the pain doctor' Rickerby comes in. First thing every morning we would grudgingly stumble to Steve's room where we had the pleasure of getting our finger pricked several times as well as taking heart rates, weight and filling out a simple questionnaire about our general well being and training performances. This sounds all very easy but when you have 15 holes in your finger it starts to be not so much fun! Steve would take lactate levels, Haematocrit and Haemoglobin levels, monitoring us every step of the way. Then the coaching staff could make sure we were not overdoing it at training, watch as our body's started adapting to altitude, and look at the changes when we returned to sea level.
Mexico is a country where there are huge gaps between rich and poor and poverty in many areas is high. We would ride past guarded fenced housing estates with BMWs and Mercedes parked inside and ten minutes later be passing little shanty towns, made up of sheets of tin and carrying a smell that made us want to step on the pedals. We were told that the waiters and waitresses in our hotel were paid less than 500 pesos a week, a sum of less than fifty U.S. dollars.
Training in Mexico was certainly an experience, from the never ending deadly judder bars, angry mongrel dogs who like to chase bikes, and roads in not the greatest condition that meant we were constantly on our toes. Also we had to be very careful with our hygiene, the water in Aquascalientes is undrinkable and it is best not to eat anything that has been in contact with the water, like tomatoes and lettuce, unless you want to be sitting on the toilet all day! Little things like remembering to brush our teeth with bottled water were crucial if we wanted to get to L.A. in good health. It certainly makes you appreciate how good we have it in New Zealand. However we were able to experience some of the local cuisine, omelettes for breakfast and anchiladas for diner although contrary to our belief, no burritos and tacos, how we know them to be found!
The track at Aquascalientes is a 333m outdoor concrete velodrome and has hosted a round of the track World Cup the past several years. While there were the benefits of training at altitude to be had, to be honest, training on a windy, bumpy, dusty outdoor track is not my idea of fun. It certainly made the transition to the smooth, windless, indoor boards of Los Angeles an enjoyable one.
Obviously there is only so much training, eating, and sleeping one can do, and so one afternoon we had the opportunity to go and watch Le Toro or the bull fighting. Bull fighting in Mexico is like rugby in New Zealand; very popular and an event the whole family goes along to watch. The day we went to watch young men of the area, hoping to become bull fighting stars took on the bull, first taunting it and putting on a spectacle for the crowd. Then they would first get permission from the city's mayor before finally driving a sharp spear like object into the bull's upper back with the goal of killing it in one swift movement. A brass band was playing, the crowd were chanting and it was possible to put bets on the fight although probably best not to bet on the bull! Not really my cup of tea but an interesting experience all the same.
Another highlight was the now annual coaches' kilo, the coaches chance to put all their big talking into action. With only two starters back from last year, it was a hard one to pick but in the end the idea was to see as much detonation in the final lap as possible. No one disappointed from Willie the big bear Rastrick to Steve R, a track newcomer. In the end it was the dark horse Stevo the mechanic with the quickest time, Gydey, the most spectacular detonation on the back straight of the last lap, and Paul the handicap winner, improving his time by five seconds from last year.
The end of our two weeks in Aquascalientes finally came about and it was time to fly to L.A. Training had gone well, a wicked team environment had been created and everyone was ready to be on the start line. The winners for the best Mexican moustache competition, after 14 days of growth, were decided; Jase, Richard, Mark, and Hayden, before everyone came out cleanly shaven and ready to get through U.S customs untroubled. It was time to put all our training into fruition.
2005 has seen the World Championship format change to the same as that of the World Cups with less sprint rounds and repercharges, and only one round for the pursuits to qualify for the various finals. This effectively means shorter, more exciting viewing for the crowd but no second chances for the competitors.
After six days to become accustomed to sea level again and to experience the joys of training with millions of motorists, it was Hendy who was first up for the N.Z contingent with the 40km Points Race on Thursday night. The cool thing about the New Zealand team is that all your other team mates come down to watch and support you. Some say it is bad for the legs and it is best to be twiddling your thumbs at the hotel, but when you are about to race and see your team mates cheering you on from the stands it is the most awesome motivation as well as being huge inspiration for us watching when about to compete in the following days.
Seeing Hendy getting so close to medalling and mixing it with the best certainly set the tone for the rest of the week, knowing that with in ourselves, we were capable of getting results. Over the next few days we were able to do that, 6th in the Men's and Women's' Points Race, 6th in the Men's Individual Pursuit, and 4th In the Teams Pursuit, N.Z.s best ever result, after going down to Australia in the ride off for Bronze. 6th in the Women's Scratch with Cath Sell, 7th in the 50km Madison and a silver medal in the Men's Scratch race, Hendy backing up from 2004 and finishing on the podium again.
In total 15000 people came to watch the World Championships over the four days, with full capacity crowds almost every session. Every day there was spectular racing, the riders putting everything on the line for what they had trained so hard for so long to do. For the New Zealand team, a change of management and coaching staff has bought about some hugely positive changes and we can now only look forward to the future knowing that winning medals is what we must do. Melbourne Commonwealth Games 2006 looms, I certainly can't wait!