RACER BLOG: Jean Spies – reflecting on World Champs

The Final push of the 2018/2019 season.

In the seats waiting for ‘go-time’.

Hi again!

2018/2019 season sounds weird I know, but after all, the sport of track cycling is a northern hemisphere winter sport.  The final race of the season was World Championships. This came at the end of a really long peak I tried to hold — 6 weeks — the reason for this was I had three goals for this part of the season. There is always a fine line between fitness and illness. It’s as if the body is walking a tight rope between the two. The combination of low body weight and high-intensity training can take it’s toll let alone trying to manage a peak for a long period. The risk of illness is real and unfortunately for me those risks reared their ugly head.

Four weeks before Worlds we flew from Hong Kong to SA to do the final prep. This prep consisted of a lot of sharp hard efforts on the bike with compound and Olympic lifting. Everything went well.

This would be my first trip to Poland and the journey was the same as the other World Cups in a sense that we had to make ends meet on a tight budget. Poland is an interesting place, smaller rental cars than usual — or maybe that’s just due to all the bikes and spares we need to lug around. The folk there are not of the overly friendly nature either, their demeanour is much like the weather. Chilly.

Moving from cool outside temperatures to overheated buildings puts a strain on everyone’s immune system, especially athletes. In Poland, I really struggled with this and in particular with the dry air. I don’t quite understand how the air was as dry as what it was with all the rain and snow that they had. Anyways, the final nail in the coffin regarding my illness was the air inside the velodrome. It was super dusty, full of saw dust from the recent refurbishing and buffing up of the surface for the event. The dust was super fine and layered our clothing, equipment and, our lungs! This dust sent my immune system crashing.

It was that bad that riders from the top countries in the sport were using portable humidifiers with dust filters during their warm-up and in-between racing efforts. Soigneurs where literally standing next to the track with these things in hand to give to their riders as they came off the track. I, unfortunately, didn’t have a humidifier and had to use a buff as a dust mask. I also resorted to steaming up the bathroom and then sitting there for 10mins after each session to ease the lungs.

The recently refurbished Velodrome in Poland didn’t have the cleanest air inside it which played havoc with the athletes immune systems.

As per every World Cup or Champs, we get allocated training sessions. This time around we shared the track with New Zealand, Denmark and, Japan to name a few. My training was on point and the times showed that my body was battling but the numbers were there. The zip and snap was ready. I was ready, excited and extremely motivated for the racing to come later in the week.

On a side note; we had gotten a partial sponsorship from Pyramid Cycle design for new chain blades. The new “dinner plate” sized chainrings were absolutely massive — a 64 tooth and a 65 tooth chainring! It’s almost as big as having a third wheel on the bike.

New blades by Pyramid Cycle are of the 65 tooth variety to get the bike rolling well over 70kph.

The day before racing my final training session I had a few short race gear jumps [efforts] to do. I felt good on the bike ready and excited. Winding the gear up and accelerating through the corners, hitting all my markers, I managed a new PB for the 100m! I was super happy and ready for the next days racing.

One hour later though and things turned for the worse. Back in the hotel, I developed a raging fever and felt almost dead. Of course, this is panic stations for Brige [Boss] and I as we tried everything we could to calm my body down and to get something right in order to race the next day.  2-3 hours passed and nothing changed, in fact, it got worse.

Finally, we made the decision to go and see the UCI Doctor. At this level of racing the UCI have to provide a doctor for the event. The problem here is that if the Dr says you can’t race he withdraws you from the race whether you like it or not. Being as stubborn and as hard-headed as I am — I played the illness down to him. The next morning the fever had subsided but the cough, sore throat, tight chest and wheezing was still there. 

My first day of racing was the Keirin and of course, all the big guns were out. In my heat I had a pair of ex-world champions coupled with a pair of continental champions and don’t forget that they have all raced Olympics in the past — needles to say things were going to be flat out. I drew rider two behind Aweng from Malaysia who is a really aggressive rider who is not afraid to get push opponents around. Behind me was Sebastian the Frenchman, a man capable of doing a 9.6sec 200m! As the bike pulled off I lay off the wheel by about two bike lengths in order to run the slip. Rounding the corner I looked back and saw Sebastian coming. I accelerated as hard as possible but he had the speed over me closing the door with another rider on his outside. He went straight over to the front and set the pace. This movement had caused me and Aweng to be boxed in, there was a whole lot of movement elbow bashing and leaning on one another. I had nowhere to go, all I could do was sit tight and hope a gap came. But it didn’t.  As I have said prior, racing internationally takes a new meaning to everything I was taught as a kid. This point was one fine example of that. I was on Aweng’s wheel. He was not going down without a fight. With one rider inside the sprinter’s lane there was another right on his outside. Probably about 3cm between their elbows. So imagine that, all 6 riders within centimeters of each other. Then you get a crazy rider like Aweng who sees that 3cm gap as enough space to try squeeze through on the finish at 72km/h. With his lunge in between these riders and their lunge for the line, there is a big wobble, a touch of wheels and down goes the Malaysian in front of me. I have to swing up to miss the carnage.  The man has no fear I tell you.

Riding slip and timing efforts is an art which must be thoroughly understood in order to place at this level.

Coming off the track I was a bit disappointed in how the race had gone. I felt like I had let them get it as if I let myself down. Thankfully I had a second chance in the rep to get through. I decided to change to a slightly lighter gear for better acceleration as we had drawn number one on the bike. Deciding I was going to race from the front, as the motorbike pulled off the track I slowly increased the tempo looking to see if anyone was going to come from behind. As the riders behind me started to fan out across the track I would up the tempo further bringing them back in line. At 400m out, I decided it was the right moment to go. I got out the saddle and accelerated down the back straight as hard as I possibly could. Driving the entrance and exits of the corner. Getting the bell I was going as hard as I possibly could coming down the back straight I noticed a wheel on my outside, so I kicked again driving the last corner with everything I had, coming into the last 50m my legs could barely turn I was fading fast the line wasn’t coming fast enough. The Venezuelan rider came alongside me with 15m to go. 10m, 5m, 2m, 1m and throw your bike at the finish as hard as you possibly can. As we went over the line I was knocked by another rider on my right. This was yet another rider trying to take a gap that did not exist, luckily no one went down. Coming out of the lunge onto the banking I looked across the stadium at the big screen was a picture of a camera next to my name the problem was 4 other riders also had the picture of a camera next to theirs. Photo finish!

The photo finish of the rep was oh so close and worked out in Jean’s favour.

It felt like an eternity before the decision was made but — Yes please! — I got second place in the rep. Quarterfinals here we come.  This was the first time I had gotten through to the next round at a worlds event. Needless to say, Brige and I were over the moon.

The problem was the fever and illness and the two prior big efforts were catching up with me, fast. In the quarters there was nothing left in the tank, I tried to get something out but even the reserve tank was empty. All I could do was hang on for dear life and oh my hat was that race fast, the last 200m ave speed was 68km/h what they don’t tell you is that the last 750m of the races speed was also 68km/h. In the end, I got 16th overall for the Keirin which is a huge improvement from last years Worlds Champs in terms of the placing, but also in terms of the way I had raced.

My second day of competition was the kilo event which is better described as the killer. 1000m of absolute agonizing pain, its not a sprint and its not an endurance event, its like some evil space in between the two. The hardest event out. If I could describe how it feels its like hitting your head against a concrete wall as hard as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can before passing out. I have seen many riders been carried off of their bikes after these efforts. And no, I don’t know of anyone who likes doing a kilo but yet we always come back for more just to see how far past our limits we can go.

To let you in on a not so secret, secret, I am a decent kilo rider. Before getting sick my goal was to beat the one-minute barrier which is close to the world record. My training was focused around these long efforts. Now with the illness the goal was reduced to just don’t come last, don’t make a total fool of yourself here.

Going through my routine for warm up I knew I could only do what I could do, the one thing that stuck in my head was to be as aero as I possibly can, this is the only way to get a half decent time now. I have previously gone and done aero testing with engineers who have studied this field so the set up was perfect to be able to do this. Sitting in the start gate waiting for the clock to count down 5,4,3,2,1 and go. I heaved my body forward as hard as I could, trying to get up to speed as fast as I could. I probably lost a second in the first 125m alone with no power behind the effort. Going through the 200m marker I sat down and tucked myself as low as possible with a few long pedal strokes, I was finally up to speed, heading down the home straight I got into the aero bars shrugging my head down as low as I possibly could. Not that you can see very well from that position but who needs to see.

“I heard the bell with one lap to go but I can’t tell you anything about that lap.”

Another lap down, all I could think was keep your head down and pedal dammit. I heard the bell with one lap to go but I can’t tell you anything about that lap. I literally don’t remember anything from it. I had to settle for a 1;02.60 that put me in 15th position. 15th in the world — I can deal with that. The winning time was 59.84. For those that love numbers, my one-minute average power was 786 watts. This big effort was really the last straw for my body and I was now broken, it took me hours before I could see straight again, it took several more before my soul found its way back into my body.

My last day of competition was the first day of the sprint competition. The sprint competition is so long it is spread over two days at Worlds. It always starts with a 200meter qualifying round. If you ever want to see how fast someone can really go on a bicycle you need to watch guys flying at their own propelled speeds over 75kph+

I had nothing left but I was going to try anyway. I managed a 10.1sec 71.28km/h ave on the day. That was my 3rd fastest time of the year. Considering how I had felt the days prior to the event It was disappointing. But I know there was nothing more I could have done. In the final result I ended up 32nd.  We have always been told, control what you can control, and adapt to what you can’t. I feel like we did our best to control what we could all the way up until racing and then we adapted where we needed, such as using a slightly smaller gear.

So although I didn’t quite have the Worlds I wanted I am happy with the way the year has ended off. My final rankings for the season are 10th in the 1 km time trial; 21st Keirin and 37th in the Sprint.

We have a little down time now after worlds. I won’t call it off time as I only lasted five days without exercise before getting onto my mountain bike and back into the gym. This down-time is where single-track will be explored and the base miles will commence.

The Olympic Games is the biggest sporting spectacle in the world and I can’t wait for the Olympic season to kick off. We are looking for sponsorship and funding for this journey to Tokyo and if you would like to get involved please don’t hesitate to contact us.

I cannot thank our amazing sponsors and donors enough. It has and does mean the world to me so Thanks again. – Jean Spies

Let’s go Tokyo!

Ed’s Note

A few days after writing this blog Jean’s race bike and two training bikes were stolen from his vehicle. It’s now two weeks later and the bikes have not been recovered. Unfortunately, there isn’t insurance to claim from. At the present moment, Jean is looking for funding for a replacement race bike for Tokyo.

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