by Chris Birch
Seven MIT Cycling members descended on the 45-degree banked 250-meter wooden velodrome in Frisco, TX, for the USA Cycling Collegiate Track National Championships on September 20 through 22. Their mission? Gold medals, Stars and Bars jerseys, and the hotly contested DII National Championship title.
Track cycling is one of the most dynamic disciplines of cycling with events that challenge athletes not only to overpower their opponents, but also to outwit them. Cyclists ride counter-clockwise on fixed gear bicycles without brakes on a 250m or 333m oval “track” or “velodrome” with banking up to 55 degrees.
“Apart from racing, just riding on the track is flat-out fun!” says Spencer Daniel Schaber G. “The 45 degree banking is daunting at first because you have to ride 17 mph just to stay on it, but after getting the hang of it, it’s like a roller coaster.”
Katherine A. Wymbs ‘14 was pure enthusiasm at the event: “Nothing quite compares to diving into the sprinter’s lane from high on the banking like a lightning bolt into the Flying 200 [meter time trial] and maintaining speed around the [final] turns!”
The Collegiate Track National Championships consists of seven events across three days: some events are performed solo (long and short individual time trials called “pursuits,” and matched sprints), some raced as a team (team pursuits and the co-ed sprint), and some against all other athletes simultaneously (points race and scratch race).
With a record turnout of 120 riders, the MIT team had to rely on each other to ensure teammates were ready for their races. Schaber says he “repeatedly swapped aerodynamic wheels and handlebars, changing chain rings and cogs to get the optimal gear ratio for each event.”
Notably, Christina Marie Birch G clocked 4:03 for a 3-kilometer individual pursuit, earning a fourth place medal. Michael Lane Garrett G earned 7th in the Flying 200-meter time trial by completing his sprint in under 12 seconds. Zachary A. LaBry G and Garrett placed 8th and 10th respectively in the men’s 4-kilometer individual pursuit, only a second apart with times of 4:58 and 4:59.
The women’s team, comprised of Birch and first-year track cyclists Wymbs and Edrie Buenaventura Ortega G, finished the 3-kilometer team pursuit first among teams fielding only 3 out of 4 possible riders. The men’s team included Garrett, LaBry, Schaber, and Zachary Seth Hartwig G, and finished 10th in the men’s 4-kilometer version of the event.
Each day the team arrived at the track before sunrise, warmed up under stadium lights, raced until 3 p.m. in increasingly hot conditions, only occasionally with a 1-2 hour break for lunch and air conditioning, and then returned to the track at 5:00 p.m. for racing well past nightfall. Wymbs confessed MIT’s secret for success: “I think that one of the reasons MIT did so well as a team was that we have more experience than other teams at operating on less than eight hours of sleep.”
Garrett, by far the most experienced track cyclist of the troupe, noted that camaraderie was at the heart of the MIT victory. “It was great to have seven riders who gave each race 100% and then spent the rest of the time supporting their teammates — truly an MIT team effort.”
USA Cycling will remember MIT’s gold-winning performance on the track as well as Ortega’s breathtaking rendition of the National Anthem on the final day of competition. Ortega is a newcomer to track cycling but already understands many of its nuances: “It takes more than having the strongest riders to win. It takes patience, control, and awareness to take the gold.”
The MIT Cycling Team’s victory would not have been possible without the generous support of the MIT Club Sports Council and sponsorship by FXDD, Thoughtforms Corporation, Schlumberger, The Branta Group, and Exponent.