Nikos and Johnny Win Nationals
By Nikos Hessert | Jul 26, 2014
Race name: Jr. Track National Championships
Race date: Saturday, Jul 26, 2014
I came to nationals this year looking for vengeance. Last year as many of you know I won the points race, but due to USAC rules, all juniors under 17-18 competed in an omnium of all their events. I hung onto the lead for a while, but eventually was pushed down to third due to my inability to sprint worth a damn. This year however, the stakes were higher, and not just because I'm pretty sure California cows are into some weird stuff. Not only did the winner of each event get a jersey for that individual event, they would also have a chance to race with team USA at the Jr WORLD championships in South Korea. So as I walked into the Velodrome on that faithful Friday morning, I knew what I had to do, and that I could do it.
Unfortunately, nationals started off on the wrong foot. My first event was the individual pursuit, and i was going in fresh. When I got to the start line, the time to beat was a 3:34.8 or about 32mph over 3k. Definitely a fast time, but given the times I had been able to run back home, certainly not unfeasible. The starting gate opened, and I took off like a bat out of hell. Sure enough, however, I went out way too fast. My splits were almost a second too fast the first 2 or 3 laps, and my first kilo was 2 seconds faster than intended. Unfortunately, soon afterwards my splits started to tank. I died in the worst possible of ways, ending up with a disappointing 3:40 (30mph) and a slightly less disappointing 2nd place. As I finished my pursuit, however, there was only one thought in my mind: "Crap, how do I walk again?"
After a slightly demoralizing loss in the morning, it was time for my last real shot at a jersey in the individual events. My old standard, the points race. Having won this last year, I was worried getting off the front would be impossible, but fortunately, no one works together at nationals. I was able to roll off solo to grab the first set of points, but was then quickly brought back. I sat in for the next set of points, then went looking for another breakaway. Soon, I had found it. A break of 4, with one guy hanging off the back. We had to keep ourselves in the redline for a good while, and it felt more like a sprint than a breakaway, but soon we had half a lap and the field sat up. I was in a bad position to contest the next series of points, and only ended of 3rd in the break, but soon after that we were in sight of the field.
As we neared the now fairly stagnate field, 3 of the 5 imeadiatly jumped right in, taking the 20 points available for lapping the field. However, noticing that there were still a few points sprints left, i chose to remain just off the back, lurking in wait. As the 5th man entered the group, i knew the race was now mine to win. I remained just far enough off the back to remain the leader on track, but i had to keep a carefull eye on the field. If they picked up the pace too much, or one of the origional breakaway started to lap again, i was done. Fortunately, the field kept breaks in check, and never went too much faster than around 28 mph. So, after sweeping up the last possible sprint, and ignoring many calls from the stands to lap the field, i jumped back in to take 20 points and the lead.
However, there was still one more sprint, and i only had a 5 point lead over 2nd place, the favorite to win, and almost impossible to bring back once off the front. With about 5 to go, he attacked, and i waited for the field to jump on him. When that didnt happen imeadiately, I put on my most athoritative voice and yelled at the field to chase him the hell down. When that didnt work, i jumped after him myself. Unfortunately, it was now clear hed take 1st in the last sprint, and that id have to get at least a point in the last sprint. The final bell rung, and i hit the gas hard. I was on the front, and soon, a rider came around me, then annother. As we hit the homestraight, the 4th rider started to come around and i dug into every last bit i had. I ended up winning the last sprint, and my first national championship with a bike throw for 4th place. Needless to say, I was elated. I recieved my first jersey soon after, and the next day, i was a part of team USA.
There was also a scratch race, but if im honest, it was hard to focus on a race id never done well at after having already accomplished everything i wanted. So, when i found out one of my good friends from california, Chazmichael Morales, still needed a spot on the worlds team, i agreed to cover breakaways for him. I figured id be doing that anyways since i cant sprint, and besides, im always willing to help out a friend in need. So as the race wore on, it became clear that it was going to come down to a sprint finish. Mostly because i chased down and broke the hearts of many people trying fuitilely to escape. There were a few breaks that were extremely menacing, at one point, i ended up otf with the 1st and 3rd fastest pursuiters with a little over 3k to go, but NOONE took a pull. Joke was on them, as the race hit 5 to go, my work was done, nothing was going to get off the front, time to sit in and nab a nice respectable 5th in the spri... OH CRAP where'd all of these people come from?! In the few seconds that i relaxed, i was roughly shoved to the back, and fuitiley tried to make up some positions as the pack hit 40mph. As we hit the last turn, i saw Chaz ignite his sprint, but get edged out by a bike throw by the race predictor favorite. Still, since there were 2 spots on tea USA available, i got another friend for the LOOOOONG plane ride out of LAX.
Finally, Nationals concluded with the team events. We already had team pursuit in the bag. 3 of the to 5 were on our team, the other two didnt want to play. The 4th guy on our team was another very strong rider who had been extremely competitive years past at road nats, just missing the podium on a few ocasions, but decided rightfully that track was better. Our opponents were 2 average sprinters and 2 pursuiters that had failed to crack the last two places in the result. We won by almost 40 seconds, having never ridden a pursuit together before. One of my favorite moments of nationals was getting to see our 4th guy, Weston's, reaction to winning his first national championship. As i look back on it, being able to get 2 of my friends an offer from team USA and seeing the happiness on westons face was the proudest moment of vertainly this month, and probably my cycling career. Winning a jersey was a monkey off my back, but it turns out what they say about giving vs receiving is true. Then again, i didnt have to choose, so all the better! After that, in the team sprint, we managed to take second on horsepower alone (we executed so badly it wasn't even funny). But i was able to get weston and i another medal, and on the last event of his last nationals as a junior, we got out 3rd man his first medal.
This was by far the best week of my life, and as i write about it all the same great moments come right back to me. I learned many valuable lessons, met even more great friends, and won a 2 jerseys most people wont be able to strap on once. As always, I owe it all to my incredible team, Coach Randy who taught me nearly everything i know about elite track racing, my parents who everyone knows by now are the most amazing people ever, and every single person ive met along the way whos believed in me when even my oversized ego was starting to doubt itself. I cant wait to get home and see all of you again, i certainly owe a few of you chipotle.