by Tara Unverzagt
Tara Unverzagt of South Bay Wheelmen made the journey to Manchester, England to compete at Masters Track World Championships. She shares some of her experiences with us, including how she became a World Champion.
My first race of the week was a 500. This was good and bad. The 500 is mentally a bit easier than mass starts. It’s easier for me to say “Trust your training. Give it your best, that’s all you can ask of yourself. How that puts you in the results is out of your control.” But I REALLY wanted to PR and I never have my best race the first day. I was surprisingly not nervous, focused on the process. I had mapped out my timetable of where I needed to be when for the day, what I needed to be doing, what I needed to eat and when, etc. So I could just step through the plan. I had figured out the timing of the schedule up to my race and could see if they were “on schedule” or not. I had studied the competition, knew what to expect. Although, I’m faster than any of my publically posted results indicate, and I knew one of them could be too.
I got in the starting gate. I had a solid start and a perfect run. I came through the pursuit line and was headed straight into the GAINT score board. I was desperately trying to decipher what it was telling me. I wasn’t thinking clear enough to even figure out which time was mine! And I realized I really needed to get off the track. I didn’t want to be one of those people that I hate who spend WAY too much time on the track and apron after their ride. I went down to the apron and came around to where my coaches were standing and their reaction made it clear that I had won!!!! I was two tenths slower than I wanted, but who cares when you’ve just won a World Championship!!!
Scratch – World Champion
I reviewed strategies with my UK coaches before the race. They were brilliantly simple and straightforward but required patience on my part, not my strong suit. Again, I had mapped out my schedule for the day. Focused on the process. Reminded myself that it’s ok to be nervous before the race, I KNOW from experience as soon as that whistle is blown or gun is shot, I’ll be in the zone and nerves don’t have space in the zone. And I have to say, it’s really cool to have your coaches keep saying “Look, you’re the fastest woman in the field.” But I also think “Yeah, so it’s mine to lose. That’s what makes me mad!”
I was planning on driving the first 1/2 lap or so, to get the race up to speed. I didn’t want to “race in the clouds” where people go slow in the balustrade, above the blue line. But I didn’t need to worry, two other racers were out like a flash. Cool! I hopped on their wheel. The pace was never slow, very similar to the men’s races in the US. The tempo was fast and people attacked from there. It was easy to just work the front of the pack and never have to work too hard. But I did end up on the front of the pack above the pole too often. My coaches had told me to tuck in and I knew I wasn’t tucked in. So I spent a lot of time trying to back up to tuck in while keeping an eye on anyone taking a flyer over me.
There was an Irish woman, one of the women on my radar, who took strong fliers twice. My coaches had said not to chase after attacks unless they got too much of a gap. So while my instinct was to just go, I instead wound up, but waited for a wheel to hop on to pull me up. While all this was going on, the women didn’t have any issues with the wood track, we were going too fast for it to be a problem anyway. And the bike handling skills weren’t terrible, but no one was looking around. On the track, you can glide places without looking, but if you want to “move” you need to look before you go and they weren’t. The Japanese Lady was the worst in this area. I decided I REALLY needed to stay in the front four which were basically single file, especially as the speed increased, as the race was coming to an end.
With two laps to go, the pack was moving quickly, I was 4th wheel, we came through corner 4. I was thinking about my end game, where do I need to go, what do I need to do now, when BANG!!! There was a crash behind me. I’ve been in enough races that were won by people that didn’t stop racing when everyone else just assumed we were neutralized that I kept on the gas with the three people in front of me. Coming around the back straight, the official called us to neutralize and to go high. After being called down to the apron, the race re-started with five to go and most people were still in the race. I was surprised to find that not a single person seemed to have been rattled by the accident, thankfully. I guess this really was a world class field!
With everyone well rested and only five laps to go, the tempo was FAST. With two to go, the German Frau went off the front. I was up track and wound up to chase. I looked down to see if there was a safe line to the pole lane. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Irish Lass come from the back of the pack on the blue band. Interesting, that’s not allowed, but I was focused on finishing the race! She and I got to the German Frau at about the same time, I back pedaled to slice in behind. And therein was my major mistake. At that point, there was only 1 1/2 laps to go, I should have just flown by both of them and controlled the last lap! Argh! Coming out of corner 2, the Irish Lass attacked and I went with her. I had all sorts of matched sprint tactics go through my head, but I didn’t have the patience to do any of them. I just wanted to get to the front! I went to pass and I gained on her, but could tell I had run out of runway before the finish line! I was going to be inches from fully passing her! Argh! 2nd AGAIN! Just like nationals in the scratch race and points race.
Oh well, the Irish Lass raced a great race. She was super strong and deserved the win and I said as much to her as we were coming off the track. I went to my rollers to cool down. A few minutes later, they announced the Irish Lass had been DQ’d and I had won! My first reaction was “that is NOT how I wanted to win. She raced a good race. She deserves to win.” It turned out that sketchy move passing the field on the blue band was called. Ok, that was a fair call and had it been just me and the German Frau, I would have won for sure. And would the Irish Lass have gotten to us at that point if she didn’t go under the field. I’m guessing she was boxed in and that was the only way out. You can’t do that, so I’m good with the win.