Aaron Gate - Omnium World Champion 2013 - now the full story
Posted on Mon., Feb. 25, 2013
Aaron Gate continues his great run of form on Keywin Carbon CRM pedals by winning the Omnium title at the UCI World Championships in Russia. Initial NZ Herald story at:-
Now the full story from the man himself:-
The trip home from Minsk, Belarus, has been completed – all 40hours in transit of it – so I had plenty of time sitting on planes to do some typing. To say that it has been a successful campaign would have to be a pretty big understatement: Simon van Velthooven – Silver in the 1km TT; Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins – Silver in the Team Sprinter; and myself – World Champion in the Omnium.
The selection process, and how my campaign towards the World Champs started off towards the end of the National Track Champs. After I had won my 3rd (of 4) events at the Nationals, Mark Elliott, the BikeNZ High Performance Director came and had a chat to me as I was warming down on the rollers. My target leading into the Nationals was to try and perform well enough to get selected to ride the Points Race and possibly the Individual Pursuit that that BikeNZ had qualified spots at the World Championships in, but were only going to fill due to the financial cost of the campaign if someone showed medal potential. He asked me if I was still keen to ride the World Champs – which I certainly was! It was the next day before the Madison (which I went on to win with my teammate and fellow Aucklander, Myron Simpson) when the now head coach, Dayle Cheatley, came and had a chat to me about it all. He explained that Bike NZ had recently been advised that they actually had a spot for the Omnium at the Worlds as well, and being an Olympic event, he asked if I would like to try my luck at it. "Sure, why not!"
Let the action begin...
We started a short build up in Invercargill a few days later, to lead the small selected team of four sprinters and myself through to the World Championships. It had a really different feel to any of the other track campaigns I had been on in the past – small team, with all of my training sessions by myself rather than always being with the guys in a Team Pursuit. As a positive, it gave my coach Simon and I more freedom to determine exactly what I needed to do leading into competition to be firing on all cylinders. This is because each athlete can respond slightly differently to different kinds of training efforts and stimulus, especially when getting close to competition time – and for me, less is usually more! The hard yards were done, the km's were "in the bank", the power was all there; it was now simply a case of working on some technical aspects, and hitting a couple of key sessions to keep the body moving and ready for action. Most of the technical stuff was just adapting to the bike I was going to race the bunch events on, along with working out the best way for me to ride the Flying Lap, and getting out of the starting gate, with some input from sprint coach Justin Grace. The Flying Lap was the event that I had by-far the least experience in. The SRMs were telling me that my short-sprint power was at personal-best level, but it was now just a case of applying that to the event and getting it all onto the track. Just to paint a quick picture of the Flying Lap – you have 3.5 laps to complete the timed event, rolling out one-at-a-time in the back straight, but your time is only recorded for the final lap. The aim is therefore to conserve as much energy as possible in the first 2.5 laps so that you can go as fast as possible in that last lap, but also coming into it at top speed so that you're actually going as fast as you can the whole way though. The technical aspects I worked on was the lead in line (the best way to use the track's banking for as much "free-speed" as possible), lead in speed (a gradual progressive build to save energy, and maintain explosiveness in the legs for the final part), and holding the bike as low down on the track as possible in that last lap (this part may sound simple, but doing close to 70km/h on 33cm wide sprint handlebars, while trying to keep your head as low and as aerodynamic as possible, is actually a bit of a challenge!). All coupled with some motorpacing to help leg speed and freshness along, and a few road rides to maintain aerobic capacity – and I was ready to head to Belarus with the team!
View from the hotel room Window in Belarus - it didn't stop snowing for the first 3 or 4 days we were there.
42 hours in transit, and we had finally made it to the race hotel in Minsk. The next day we headed to the track to have a roll on the boards, try and flush the travel and extended seated periods out of the legs, and check out of the facility. It was a really nice Velodrome, in a pretty massive building. I think the only real downfall was the toilet scenario – a single men's, and a single woman's toilet, a good couple hundred meters from the NZ pit, to cater for all of the athletes, staff and officials in the infield. There were some pretty good queues built up at times, so good bladder timing before each event of the Omnium was pretty crucial! I did notice a couple of yellowish-hued "water" bottles tucked away in the pit areas of some other nations… but I at least managed to avoid getting that desperate!
A few days after our arrival, the competition was underway. Simon and Eddie were competing in the Kilo on the opening night, the Team Sprint of Ethan, Sam and Eddie the second day, and the 2-day Omnium kicked off on the third. It was really awesome to see Simon collect his silver medal in the Kilo, along with the Team Sprint the following day (who were unfortunately a mere 0.048 seconds off the gold). This served as great motivation for me to want to perform, and the spirits in our camp were very high! I was excited and looking forward to race hour, and my legs felt really good as soon as I commenced my warm-up for the first event. The order of the 6 events in the Omnium is:
Day 1: Flying Lap, 30km Points Race, Elimination Race
Day 2: 4km Individual Pursuit, 15km Scratch Race, 1km Time Trial
2 laps to go in the Flying lap, right up at the fence. Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick / BikeNZ
Having not actually done an Omnium Internationally before (apart from the Oceania Championships over 2 years ago, although I am still currently national champion in the event after winning it when it was last held in November 2011), I had zero UCI ranking points in the event to my name so was seeded last, and off first! I jokingly said to the staff before I headed to the start "it's going to be great to set such a fast time that no one can touch me" – but, sure enough, everyone ticked through their turns as I warmed down, and no one could match my time of 13.109seconds (average speed of 68.655km/h). I had won the first event, which I was expecting to actually be my worst event out of all of them due to my lack of experience. This was a great confidence booster heading into the next race.
Full speed in the flying lap.
Things in the Points Race got off to a strange start – I found myself off the front solo before the first sprint only a few laps in. I just maintained a steady pace, keeping a constant watching eye on what was going on behind me – I thought that worst case scenario this could be an easy way to win the first sprint. Unfortunately, that wasn't actually the worst case, as I was overtaken right on the line to take 3 points rather than the full 5. The race maintained a very different dynamic to the likes of the stand-alone Points Race that I was 4th in at the World Championships last year. Everyone was quite focused on conserving energy – and rightly so with 4 events still to come after it – which left a lot of hesitation and stop-starting in the pace of the race. I was constantly getting caught out positing wise going into each sprint as well – the times I would hang back a bit and wait to be able to go under/around a couple of laps before a sprint the pace would stay on and I would be too far back, and the times I would have good positioning 3 or so laps out everyone would swing up and the track and I would get swamped for my position. I also think I was 5th across the line in at least 3 sprints (points only go down to 4th place). I started to get quite frustrated, and following the event, finishing 8th, I was pretty disappointed with how I had ridden and the high from winning the first event was now replaced with quite a bit of doubt in my ability heading into the next events. That is the beauty of the Omnium though, it's the best all-round rider, and the competition was far from over. I managed to get back to the hotel for a couple of hours before the next event that night. This proved to be pretty valuable in the fact that it allowed me to clear my head, and come back ready to compete in the Elimination and treat it as a standalone race – rather than an extension of my average Points Race. It feels quite strange for me to say that too, as normally I pride myself in not letting that kind of thing have any bearing on my thoughts or performances, and not that it did in the end, but I feel it does help illustrate just how mentally and physically, demanding and fatiguing the Omnium is as an event.
On the attack multiple times in the Points Race... But it wasn't to be. Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick / BikeNZ
The Elimination is where the last rider across the line of every second lap is eliminated from the race. This is enforced via an electronic box fixed on the top of your stem – when it flashes red, you're out! It is policed quite strictly too – as it turned out for the Chinese rider in the race. He failed to realise he was out (with the box on his bike flashing, his number being called out and displayed up on the twin big screens, and the commissar holding up his flag. When this happens, or in the case of a crash, a yellow flag is held up and the race is "neutralised" so that no further riders can be eliminated until he could work out he was eliminated and remove himself from the bunch. The down side for him here was that if it takes you this long to get out of the bunch, you are disqualified – and not just relegated to last, you are removed from the entire event and not allowed to start the second day of completion. The gun is fired once the race is back on and eliminations are recommencing.
Elimination under-way - pure chaos at the start (but I managed only hit the wheel in front once though!). Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick
I was having a really good race, and was feeling good. I had a bigger gear on than what I rode in the Points Race, and I was able to roll it nicely and maintain a position near the front of the race the whole time. This is my preferred Elimination tactic, stay at the front and don't let more than a couple come over you before you push your way out and around to the front again, trying to stay on the outside of the wheel in front as much as possible so that you don't get boxed in at the wrong time. Some other guys – such as the German in this one, like to keep things a bit more chaotic and ride at the back, only passing 1 or 2 riders coming up to the line on an elimination lap each time to stay in, and this role in the race is known as someone playing "Devil", as in carnival and casual track racing events that is the name the Elimination Race often goes by. I maintained my position at the front though, and soon we were down to 5 riders, with Hansen being eliminated, down to 4….3…. with now just Tim Veldt and Glenn O'Shea. I lapped up from my position on the front, to take a short breather and let the other two come underneath me, and then I hit it down the back straight and got around O'Shea just leaving me and the Dutchie remaining. Unfortunately for me however, he was a pretty strong sprinter, and allthe laps on the front had started to take their toll on me, he jumped me and I had to settle for second. This was a very productive race for me though, as I already had a good points buffer on Veldt, and meant that I had now closed the gap a bit to Hansen and O'Shea – who were therefore to ride off against each other in the last Individual Pursuit heat the following day, and I was still in 3rd place overall so would rider against Veldt who was 4th.
On the front of the Elimination, keeping a watchful eye on those trying to come around. Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick
Before the IP I was thinking it would have been ideal to be in the top two, so that I knew exactly the time I had to do to beat the main rivals, but with them riding against each other after me I just had to go out there and lay down my best possible time. At the end of the day though, they are both great IP riders so I knew it was going to have to be an all-out effort to beat them. The one advantage for me though was that I knew from looking at past results that my opponent had never been able to do a particularly fast time in this event – so his Dutch skinsuit was going to provide a bright orange carrot for me to chase towards the end of my race. And that it did, I had him in sight with 6 laps to go, after I had started fast and carried on smoothly. I continued to squeeze a bit more effort into the pedals, riding low on the black line as to cover as little distance as possible, and keeping my head down and out of the wind. I fought my way around him and through the final two laps to clock a time very similar to the one I had done at nationals a couple of weeks earlier: 4:21.607. I was pretty confident with this time, but knew Hansen and O'Shea who were next on the track were going to give me a run for my money. They were both not quite able to match it though, with the Dane 1 second behind me, and the Aussie a couple more. This moved me up to being now just 1 point behind O'Shea with 2 events to go, and Hansen just behind me.
Individual Pursuit mode. Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick
It was a fairly short turnaround of about 1.5hrs before the 15km Scratch Race got underway. Tactics were slightly different going into this than a standalone Scratch Race – rather than trying to win outright, the points buffer the 3 of us now had back to 4th place meant all I really had to do was beat them both. This meant not necessarily chasing down every move in the race, as I had no real need to unless the move included, or attack came from, either of these two key riders. It was by no means an easy race, the pace was on the whole way through unlike the points race, and positioning remained key for me for the entire race to ensure I would not get caught out. Things got full on with about 8 laps to go, and with 2.5 laps to go we were all strung out and fighting to get to that finish line first. O'Shea was in front of me, and Hansen on my wheel. So because of this, I had to be careful not to catch O'Shea too soon or Hansen would be able to sit on and come straight round me in the finish straight, and if I left my run too late O'Shea would beat both of us. With a bit of calculated timing and luck, I ran up on O'Shea with just half a lap to go, just as he was stepping out around the rider in front of him. We were neck and neck, side by side, and now 3 wide with him in the middle of another rider below us going around the last banking. My legs began to tie up and he edged back in front of me, but the track fell to my advantage when I got the downhill run off the banking into the straight and just edged past. Hansen still behind, with it being near impossible to be able to get around the track 4-wide. This was a big relief, but also a build in pressure – with O'Shea and I now equal on 17 points. I was technically in the lead, due to having the lower accumulated time from the time based events so far, but the winner of the event was just going to come down to whoever could be the fastest in the Kilo.
Saving precious watts with aerodynamics, by keeping my head down (but only so much that I can actually still see where I'm going!). Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick
There wasn't enough time to go back to the hotel, but I managed to escape the stale air of the infield and grab a cold shower (the water out of the tap was probably colder than any ice bath I'd ever done!) to help the legs recover a bit before the final event in just under 3 hours' time. The track conditions (temperature and atmospheric air pressure) were down a bit, and fatigue was building, so I decided to play it safe and ride a slightly smaller gear than I had planned in the Kilo. O'Shea and I were to be last off against each other, the winner (so long as we weren't too far behind Hansen) was to be crowned World Champion. Previously I would have been extremely happy to walk away with any medal at a World Championships, but today that Rainbow Jersey was in reach, and I wanted it, badly. As I walked up the ramp following Chris the mechanic with my bike, I glanced up at the big screen. Hansen had just finished, and clocked a seemingly unbeatable time of 1:02.437 and to make matters worse – his opponent on the other side of the track had also gone close to the 1.03 mark and only finished 4th. I was somehow going to have to beat my PB in the event, by a lot, in conditions that weren't lightning, after having just smashed my way, and legs, through 5 previous events. I was going to have to leave everything out on the track. The other main technical thing I had worked on was exit out of the start gate – a forward moving, powerful, clean start can gain you valuable and easy time. The timer reached zero and I was under-way the next 4 laps felt like they were in slow motion. I could see O'Shea in front of me after just one lap and I realised he had suffered a mechanical, but I had to keep going. I crossed the finish line for the 4th and final time, looked up at the board, and saw in disbelief the number 1.02.271.
Clean start out of the gate. "A. Gate out of a gate"...
1 lap to go: Legs on fire, lungs out of air, vision blurring...
All I could do had been done.
Photos credit: Guy Swarbrick
I was happy, there was no better way I could have ridden that Kilo or gone any faster, but now it was a case of O'Shea getting his bike sorted before a chance to restart and better my time. Worst case scenario I had a Silver medal, but it was a nervous few minutes waiting to see if it could be a Gold one. 3 laps through, his splits were all close behind me at 2nd place, but he began to fade, and fell to 5th place in his final lap.
I had just won the World Championships!
It was a quite bizarre, surreal feeling. Soon I was going to be standing on the top step of the podium, receiving a gold medal, cycling's coveted rainbow jersey (along with right to wear the rainbow strip in every Omnium I compete in for the year) and hearing God Defend New Zealand.
One of those random goals that I had written down a couple of times when asked where I wanted to go with my cycling career, the kind you feel obliged to mention even though you don't know if you would ever actually physically be able to do it: "Win a World Championships event on the Track". It has now been ticked off, and that rainbow jersey that I, and I'm sure many other cyclists have always dreamed of, is now mine.
From left: 2nd - Lasse Norman Hansen, Denmark (2012 Olympic Omnium Champion), 1st - Myself, New Zealand (Current Omnium World Champion), 3rd - Glenn O'Shea, Australia (2012 Omnium World Champion) Photo credit: Guy Swarbrick
So from here I will say: onto the next one
Thanks once again to my sponsors:
Keywin Pedals, Giro Helmets and Shoes, Cannondale Bikes, and SRAM and Zipp Components
along with Team L&M and Ricoh Racing