In pursuit of World Records

Event: World Record Attempts (Grand Prix of Colorado Springs)
Location: Colorado Springs CO
Date: 7/11/2014

Cyclist: Jim Turner

· 200-meter time trial – World Record in men’s age group 75-79 of 14.100 seconds
· 2K Individual Pursuit – World Record in men’s age group 75-79 in time of 2:51.420

This will be more of a story about what’s involved in doing a World record attempt than an actual race report. To avoid a lot of repetition I’ll always mean the men’s 75-79 age group when I refer to National or World records.

The story begins in 2013 when I started to look forward to moving in a new 5-year age group in 2014, men’s 75-79. After looking at the National and World records for that age group, the times seemed soft to me so I started thinking seriously about going after those records in 2014. All my training and racing in 2013 was pointed to being prepared for 2014.

The three records that I envisioned having a chance to improve are the flying 200-meter time trial, the 2K Individual Pursuit and the Hour record. The latter is how far you can ride in one hour on a track bike on a velodrome. The Hour is the best known and most famous of cycling’s timed event records.

I discussed this plan with my long term coach of nearly 12 years, Dan Smith. Dan endorsed my goals and has been planning my training all this year toward achieving those record times and distance.

As a first approach and to serve as kind of a practice run coach Dan and I decided to set up attempts at the National record for the 2K Pursuit and the Hour at our local Hellyer velodrome. A National record attempt has to be done as a scheduled USACycling event. I scheduled that event and Alto Velo was the sponsoring club. We did that on May 1st this year when I established the first Hour record and bettered the existing 2K Pursuit record.

With that as a starting point Dan and I began to consider best velodromes to use for attempting the World records. Hellyer is a great training facility but isn’t considered to be a “fast” track. Our list of candidates consisted of the indoor 250-meter velodrome at Carson CA, the 333-meter outdoor velodrome at Colorado Springs at 6100 foot elevation, the indoor 250-meter velodrome at Aguascalientes Mexico at 6200 foot elevation and the indoor 250-meter velodrome at Manchester England. Multiple World records have been set at all four of these velodromes.

The requirements for setting World records are considerably more stringent than for setting National records. Certification of World records is entirely within the domain of the UCI (cycling’s international governing body). Here are some of the UCI rules:

The chief official of the record attempt must be an “International Commissaire (IC)” who is certified in the discipline of the attempt – track, road, cyclocross, etc. As I’ve learned at the cost of a lot of frustration, this is a particularly difficult condition to meet. For example there are only five track certified ICs in the USA – three in Colorado Springs, one in NY and one in Minnesota. There are none in Mexico.
There must be electronic timing and two independent hand timings. For Hour record attempts every lap must have electronic timing plus hand timings.
If the record attempt is successful, drug testing must be done by the country’s drug testing agency. That is USADA in the USA.

Since the Hour record attempt is the most difficult to schedule due to its length Dan suggested that I do an initial Hour attempt at the most convenient velodrome. That’s obviously the velodrome in Carson.

The plan then was to set up a second attempt at one of the velodromes at altitude. There is a very clear speed advantage to riding at altitude. With altitude as a requirement the choice was between Colorado Springs and Aguascalientes. CS has the advantage of being within (long) driving distance, I’ve raced there twice before (2009 and 2012 Master’s Track Nationals) so I’m familiar with it and ICs are more accessible simply because three of them are based in Colorado Springs. Two disadvantages of CS are:

It is outdoors and therefore subject to whims of the weather conditions. You have to schedule the velodrome for some specific day and time. If it is windy or raining, you’re in trouble.
It is a concrete track. The indoor tracks are high quality wooden surfaces with a significantly lower coefficient of rolling resistance.

The velodrome at Aguascalientes is at altitude, is indoors and has a smooth wooden track. Based on recent records set there it is considered by many to be the fastest track in the world. The obvious disadvantage is that travel is more complex, you have to schedule through the Mexican Cycling Federation and obtaining an IC as your official is nearly certain to be difficult.

Dan and I discussed our options and decided to try to schedule an Hour record attempt at Carson and a later attempt at Aguascalientes. It wasn’t difficult to find a time block at Carson and a tentative date of July 7 was set. That’s when the difficulties began. You have to submit a request for a record attempt to USACycling. They in turn contact the UCI for approval. The UCI approves the attempt and submits a list of names of possible ICs for your attempt. The UCI came back with four names. None of them were available for our planned date or dates near that date.

I decided to contact some of the riders who have done World record attempts at Carson. One of the people that I emailed was Keith Ketterer. Keith holds the National Hour record for age 50-54 and National and World Hour record for 55-59. Keith came back with a funny response. He said “Jim, you have a tiger by the tail. It’s harder to schedule a record attempt than it is to ride the record”. Keith’s advice was to try to tag on to some already-scheduled event that had at least one IC among its officials.

Following Keith’s advice I contacted the head official for the Junior National Track Championship that was to be held at Carson on June 25-29. There would be two ICs there so it made a good possible event to try to tag on to. I contacted the head official and she was receptive to my proposal but unfortunately my Hour attempt was just too long to find an open time block to fit into the tight Junior schedule so that didn’t pan out.

Then I finally got a bit of luck. Mark Rodamaker contacted me about his possible plans to race at the Grand Prix of Colorado Springs. Mark had set a World record there in 2013 for the 200-meter time trial for the 65-69 age group. He suggested that I might be able to do my 200-meter record attempt at the 2014 version of that event. I knew that they were also doing the 4K and 3K Individual Pursuit as part of the men’s and women’s Omnium so thought I might be able to tack on my 2K Pursuit record attempt. I contacted the organizer of the event at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and got a fairly favorable response. She talked to the officials for the event and I was pleased to get their approval.

This all happened on very short notice. I got approval on Tuesday, July 8. My wife and I scrambled to make plane reservations to fly the next day, July 9, booked a rental car at the Denver airport and a motel in Colorado Springs. An afternoon of frantic packing had us ready for our 6 AM flight from San Francisco.

I checked my email right after we got to our motel and totally freaked out when I found the following message in my inbox:

“Jim, I’m sorry to inform you that this weekend will be too difficult for us to cater to these record attempts.”

I just couldn’t believe this. I had received permission via email that my record attempts had been approved. I immediately wrote back that we had already spent about $1800 on plane tickets and pre-paid car and room rental. It was a huge relief that I quickly got back a message that, since I was already in Colorado Springs, they would fit me in OK.

By the time we settled in and I rebuilt my bike it was too late to get in a ride on the track Wednesday afternoon but there was an open track session the next day. I got a chance to ride a few laps Thursday and got some tips from Mark Rodamaker about how to ride my 200-meter time trial.

The Grand Prix itself took place over Friday and Saturday, July 11-12. This is a major event that awards UCI ranking points for Olympic and World Championship qualification. There were cyclists from 10 countries represented including a large contingent of Mexican cyclists. There were two master’s events included – a 200-meter time trial on Friday and a team sprint on Saturday. The Master’s 200-meter time trial was the second event of the Friday morning session and our start order was from oldest to youngest which put me first.

I’m really much more an endurance rider and very seldom do flying 200s. In fact I hadn’t done even one this year prior to that morning. I knew that there was no existing World record for the flying 200 so my time would be a freebie automatic record but I did want to ride a decent time. My time was 14.100 seconds which was reasonable but a bit disappointing to me. The National record for age 75-79 was 13.69 and I had hoped to get under that time. I had done a 13.74 at CS in 2012 (at age 73) so was only 0.05 over the National record time then. Of course this creates the rather strange situation that my World Record time of 14.100 is slower than the National Record time but that’s a quirk of the rules for setting World records.

The men’s and women’s Individual Pursuit from the Omnium were the last events of the morning session. The official instructed me that I would be the very last rider of the morning, doing my 6-lap 2K pursuit after the last woman’s 9-lap 3K Pursuit.

By rule they do bike checks for weight and geometry before any record attempt ride. I swapped out my drop bars that are mandatory for the flying 200 to my pursuit bars and took my bike to bike check. There are specific rules that the nose of your saddle must be 5 cm behind the bottom bracket, your pursuit bars can’t extend more than 75 cm beyond your bottom bracket and the tips of your pursuit bars can’t be more than 10 cm above the height of your arm rests. These dimensions had been checked on my bike when I did the National record attempts at Hellyer in May but hadn’t been checked since then. When the official put my bike on the test jig my saddle tip was too far forward (I knew that would be the case) and my pursuit bars were about 1 cm too long. You are allowed one “morphological exception” but not two. My saddle was as far back as it could go so my only hope was to shorten my pursuit bars. My pursuit bars aren’t adjustable for length so it was another panic situation.

I looked at the stem on my drop bars and noticed that it was a little shorter than the stem on my pursuit bars. I took the stem from my drop bars, put it on my pursuit bars and passed the jig test by the smallest possible margin – a major problem solved much to my relief.

Mark helped me out for the third time when he agreed to stick around and call my lap splits for my 2K Individual Pursuit World record attempt. The existing World record was 2:52.4 and was set by a French rider in 2011 at the velodrome in Manchester. I targeted 2:51. The Pursuit is done from a standing start so the first lap time is substantially slower than laps 2-6. If I could do my first lap in 33 seconds then the next five laps would have to be 27.6 seconds.

I had a good start (thanks coach Dan and Lee Povey!) and did my first lap in 33.35. My time trial helmet completely covers my ears and I have to turn down the volume of my hearing aids so as not to get too much wind noise. It’s no small feat that Mark was able to call my splits loud enough that I could hear him every lap. After the first lap my lap times were 27.1, 27.7, 27.8, 27.9 and 27.5. My total time was 2:51.420, almost exactly one second faster than the prior World record, giving me my second World record of the day. It’s interesting that my pursuit time at CS in 2012 Master Track Nationals was 2:51.3 – within 0.1 seconds of my record time. By filling out one additional piece of paperwork my new pursuit World record replaces and improves my existing National pursuit record by about 7 seconds.

To validate a World Record one must do a drug test. Colorado Springs is home base for USADA, the USA drug testing body. The DCO (Drug Control Officer) wasn’t on site after my record attempts so my wife Ann and I hung around until he showed up. Of course one reads a lot about USADA in the sports news but this was my first time to actually do a drug test. The procedure is quite formal and a very strict protocol is followed. My DCO was quite friendly and very professional.

There was one funny aspect of the test. The DCO was using an iPad to fill in my information. When he got to the question of my birth year his iPad offered a dropdown list. The oldest year on his list was 1940. My birth year is 1939 so he couldn’t proceed with electronic data entry since there was no way to enter my birth year. He called someone for directions on how to handle that. The solution was simple – he switched to filling out the forms on old fashioned paper and pen which, of course, required starting all over. We got a good laugh out of that. It seems that USADA doesn’t do drug testing on very many 75+ year old people!

The analysis itself is done at a lab at UCLA. Results take 6-8 weeks. The test costs $800 and it is my responsibility to pay that.

We went back to the motel after the drug test. I had made tentative plans with the officials to do a third record attempt on Sunday for the World Hour record. Those plans hadn’t been fully solidified so I came back to watch the evening session and see if I could firm up the details for my hour record attempt. I still couldn’t find all the officials that I needed to talk to about the record attempt so learned that couldn’t be finalized until Saturday morning.

While I was hanging around, watching the evening events and looking for my officials I got a pleasant surprise when one of the organizers asked me to stick around for the final awards session. They said that they would like to acknowledge my achieving two World Records in one day. When all events were complete and awards handed out I got a callup to the podium, acknowledged by the announcer and presented with a very nice bouquet of flowers. I did get the presenter to snap a picture but it turned out very blurry so nothing to show for that.

On Saturday morning I was able to speak to the officials and pin down a definite time on Sunday morning when I would do my attempt at the Hour World record. Unfortunately as the day wore on the clouds came in. It rained hard all afternoon and evening. They had to cancel the evening session and move it to Sunday morning. Of course that bumped me out of my time slot and they weren’t able to reschedule my Hour attempt. That was disappointing but beyond anyone’s control.

I came back to the track to watch the Sunday morning session and cheer on Beth Newell in her final event of the Omnium (a 78-lap points race) and a separate 60-lap points race. Beth was outstanding. She finished 2nd in the Omnium and won the final points race. In the latter race she was behind by 8 points with 4 sprints to go so she had to win the final four sprints to win the event. She pulled it off with a great effort and won the event! Beth, Mark and I were the only Hellyer trackies at the Grand Prix.

I could only regret the weather conditions Sunday morning. They were absolutely perfect for what would have been my Hour record attempt. The flags were hanging dead limp at 9 AM when I would have started my attempt and were still dead limp at 10 AM when I would have finished. The temperature was an ideal 77 degrees and humidity was 50% – perfect! I’m 100% certain that I could have gotten that third World record. I’ll be looking for the next possible opportunity to do that.