1000m Match-sprint event
This event is one of my strengths since I am a sprinter and at the last couple of events, 2006 World Champs and the 2009 Deaflympics, I came 5th and 6th respectively. For some reason, the organizers had the event start at 6.30pm which meant that it was well and truly dark by the time it all finished. Normally, riders would qualify for their heats with a flying 200m individual sprint. But this time, due to the wet roads, the organizers deemed it too dangerous to do the flying 200 so it became a standing start 200m! It was quite unexpected for most of the riders and it was now a matter of figuring out which gear would be the best to start in, as changing gear mid-sprint would cost you valuable time. I picked the 53-14 as my gear of choice for my qualifying run.
It took a few moments for me to get on top of the gear, but it meant I was still accelerating at the finish-line. I posted a 15.9 second time for the 200m and this ranked me 6th overall. The fastest qualifier was the rider who beat me in Taipei in a photo-finish during the quarter finals, Steeve Toubol. He posted a good 15.1 time. The second qualifier was Luis Carlos Sanchez, a tiny pocket-rocket from Columbia who posted 15.2 seconds for his 200, whom I was ultimately up against in the semi-finals.
After the qualifying heats, the top 16 riders advanced and I was paired up with Huai Cheng from Taiwan who is also a decent sprinter. The match-sprints were held on a 1.4km tight criterium circuit through the village of Mont Tremblant. When the gun went off, I took the early lead and noticed I had a gap on Huai so I started to go into time-trial mode, but Huai closed the gap back and I went into cruise-mode, making sure I stayed in front. Coming out of the second to last corner, I sprinted hard in the hopes of shaking him however he was right on my wheel and I made the mistake of allowing him to pass just before the last corner; its a 200m straight dash to the line from the corner! I was close behind, but due to the greasy surface from the rain I eased up through the corner and found myself two bike lengths behind. However, I managed to peg him back with 100m to go and from there it was an easy advance to the next round.
I was paired with a Russian rider that posted a 15.7 time in the qualifying heats and I needed to be on the top of my game to beat him. Again, I made sure I was in front for the whole lap (and did not make the same mistake with the Taipei rider) and kept a good tempo throughout. I attacked just before the final corner and powered to the line, as I rolled over the finish-line I checked behind me and it was a good bike length win to advance to the semi-finals against the pocket-rocket Columbian who seemed almost unbeatable.
It was a best of three match-sprint with the Columbian. The first match, I led from the front and tried an attack before the first corner but he responded to get back on my wheel. I then promptly slowed down to play a little cat and mouse. The Columbian was quite twitchy and faked a few moves. I kept the pace at a reasonable clip, not hard enough to dull my sprint but fast enough to dissuade any attacks from behind. About 150m before the final corner, I launched a big attack and got a small gap but my speed going into the corner was a bit much for the conditions of the road. I felt like I was going to wash out, so braked a bit to scrub speed off, and this was probably a mistake as it allowed the Columbian to close the gap again. As I came out of the corner, I just put my head down and sprinted as hard as I could and thought that I had it in the bag; however in the last 20m, the Columbian edged himself past me and beat me by a wheel. Wow, he was impressive to do that with his sharp acceleration and high cadence sprinting skills. He weighs less than 50kgs versus my 85kgs and does not appear to have any muscle mass on him.
In the second match-sprint, I took a different strategy by making sure the Columbian was in front of me for the whole circuit. Wow, he really liked playing the cat and mouse game! He came to a track-stand twice during the 1.4km circuit and faked numerous moves to keep me on my toes. I had the feeling he wanted to be behind me as that is where he would do the best. I had counted on my ability to accelerate (my “jump” is considered to be very good – but I had never tried it from such a slow speed), and was content to watch the Columbian from behind. I intently watched him as he also kept watching me. We must have been doing 10km per hour going up to the last corner and past the 200m sign. I was in my 53-14 while I noted the Columbian was in his 53-23. BANG: the Columbian just took off before I could react, it was that fast and it stunned me completely. He had opened a good 5-6 bike lengths on me just like that while I was trying to get on top of my gear. The Columbian looked back after his initial surge and started celebrating pre-maturely, arms all over the show and screaming with delight. But when he saw me coming at him fast, he needed to re-launch his sprint to ensure his comfortable win. My dream to get Gold was over and now had to focus on getting the bronze medal versus another formidable opponent, also a category one rider in the US, Scott Stubach. Stubach’s qualifying time was also faster than mine so I knew I needed to play the game right to get the bronze medal.
Bronze medal match-sprint
The light was fading rapidly and it was now a best of three match-sprint versus the American, Scott Stubach, who is well known for his sprinting prowess. The air was electric with the tension from all the spectators and team members supporting their riders. It was the most mentally draining race I have ever done and my wife told me afterwards that it was her most nail-biting race she ever watched me do.
My strategy for the match-sprints was ALWAYS to stay in front and never let the American get in front of me. I kept a good steady clip throughout the lap and chose lines through all the bends and corners to ensure Stubach was not getting in front of me. Going up to the final corner, I saw the American start to launch his sprint and come past me so I gave it a big one and hit the corner with a ton of speed and almost ran out of pavement (there is an island on the outside of the corner) and then just put my head down to finish the job. It was so close but most of the spectators thought I had it, however the video finish showed that Stubach took the first sprint by a tires width. I was pumping full of adrenalin and puffing with the big effort that I had to roll around the entire 1.4km lap in an attempt to recover.
I had a couple of minutes in-between, while the Columbian versus the French rider sprint was going on (no one could beat the Frenchie). I was able to loan a trainer to spin on for those few minutes before we were both up again for the second sprint. Again, I made sure I was in front and used blocking tactics by using the right lines to ensure Stubach did not pass me. I was coiled and tense like a black bob-cat waiting to pounce at the right moment and that moment came going through the final corner. I took a straight line through it and ensuring I apexed it tightly; as I came out I clicked down one gear and smashed it hard as I could. I could feel Stubach coming and it took every ounce of my strength to win that sprint, but it was yet another close one but I knew I got it as it was about half a wheel by the line.
It was now 1-1 and the next sprint would determine who would collect the bronze medal. Again, I took the same strategy and this time Stubach had clear intentions of getting to the front. Stubach took off fast, and I was still trying to get my left foot clipped in… however I managed to keep half of my bike in front and since I was on the inside, I was able to assume control of the front coming out of the first corner. Stubach tried on several occasions to sprint past me but I had foreseen the places where he would try and pass me and successfully blocked his line each time. It was nerve-racking and going through the S-bend I moved into the drops, ready to sprint if need. I kept good tight cornering lines so my opponent could not take advantage of that. I saw Stubach coil and then launch his sprint to come past me close to the final corner and I responded by launching my own sprint and sailed through the last corner and it was game-on for the last 200m. The last 200m felt like an eternity I was in front and putting every ounce of my power into the pedals, so that I was starting to spin out but I could not afford to change another gear as that would cause a slight loss of momentum. I heard screaming behind me (it was loud enough for me to hear!). With the finish-line right there, Stubach had moved up alongside me and we both did desperate bike throws at the line and it was so close that I did not even know if I had won or not.
I was heaving from the effort and I was completely spent. I rode another 1.4km lap to recover and when I came back to the finish-line, I saw my wife coming towards me and she gave me the thumbs up and said that I had got it. I was so relieved and ecstatic to have won the match-sprint to win a bronze medal for New Zealand. My wife hugged me tightly, and I could feel her quivering with excitement and pride. That last sprint was sub 11 seconds for the last 200m or an average speed of 60km/h. I was completely spent, but recovered quickly enough to enjoy the podium medal awards. We were a gleeful trio accepting our medals with pride and this was apparent to all observing.