Track Cycling Nationals Brings New Opportunities After A Long Road Season
by Joanne C. Gerstner
Aaron Keith, Joe Berenyi and Chris Murphy take instruction from Sarah Hammer-Kroening prior to a race in Tokyo. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Tandem cyclists Hannah Chadwick and MK Wintz feel excited and nervous for the next few days. The USA Cycling Para-cycling Track National Championships, which start today and run through Sunday in Carson, California, could change the trajectory of their growing cycling careers.
The pair are hoping to set personal bests, hit national standard times and, in turn, get on their first U.S. roster and world championships team. They’ve been training hard — together — since January, when they became part of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center residency program in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I feel like everything we have been doing, day in and day out at the OTC, has been pointing to this,” said Wintz, the tandem’s pilot. “Having the chance to be at nationals means we will be able to prove where we are at, and that’s exciting. I really feel like we’ve done everything we can to be ready. This is a huge opportunity.”
Chadwick, the stroker, added, “I’ve gone from being a little anxious, like a few days ago, wondering, ‘Can I do this?’ to now feeling excited that I get a chance to do this. I’m sure that’s normal. I am looking forward to seeing what we’re going to do out there. I know you can practice a lot, but getting the chance to really compete is the thing that shows you where you are at.”
The global pandemic upended the track schedule in recent years, essentially wiping out some of the 2020 and much of the 2021 schedules. Following the 2020 world championships, which were held just before the pandemic shut down much of the world, the only major event that happened for track was the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021), which used the 2020 worlds results to help determine the U.S. team.
Things are getting back into the flow, save for one quirk, right now.
The 2022 nationals are a quick turnaround in disciplines for some top competitors, as the road season wrapped up just a few weeks ago with a world cup and then world championships in Quebec. It’s an unusual schedule, as track normally runs in the start of the year and is separated, schedule-wise, from the road season.
Some competitors have trained both for the last few weeks or months, while others recently made a clean switch-over from road to track.
Sarah Hammer-Kroening, U.S. Paralympic Cycling’s associate director of high performance, said the experience will be more challenging than usual for the road-to-track group.
“I guess we can compare it to during the (Olympic/Paralympic) Games years, where you have to do both in a 10, 12-day period,” said Hammer-Kroening, herself a four-time Olympic medalist in track cycling. “I think it may be more mental on the switch than physical, in some ways, because you have focus on different things. The start is different, getting on the track and getting that feel back. Those are all important things that need to click back in after you come from the road.
“They will find the way. It’s like the more time you get on the track, the more you can sharpen the sword.”
Newly crowned road time trial world champion Clara Brown withdrew from nationals, saying she needed a break to heal some overuse. The 2020 Paralympian, who has won four world championships medals in track cycling, including 2020 gold in the track time trial and omnium, said she hopes to still make this year’s team.
The 2022 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships start Oct. 20, in Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, France.
“I really love the track, and I am sad I can’t be there, but I really want to be at my best for Worlds,” Brown said. “So I hope everything will be OK.”
Hammer-Kroening, who is one of the country’s most accomplished Olympic track cyclists of all time, wants her riders — from veterans such as Paralympic medalists Aaron Keith and Sam Bosco, to newcomers such as Katie Walker and the Chadwick/Wintz tandem — to reach for their best.
“Anytime we are having some new people out there at nationals, I tell them we are measuring their success in terms of their gains — that doesn’t need to mean are winning, or on top of the ranking list,” she said. “It’s about seeing where they started, and where they are now. If you’re chasing world records, great. If you’re in your first nationals, we will take you for where you are too.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.