Being There: Ninth Annual Mike Walter 100 Lap Madison
It is one of the most beautiful moments to watch in track racing. Mimicking other handoffs such as passing the baton in track and field or short track speed skating push, the hand sling is, for a brief moment, one of the most remarkable points on the velodrome. With a one hundred-lap Madison on the schedule for the night, the Trexlertown velodrome would exhibit quite a few exchanges. The women races featured several omnium events, including a motor pacing scratch race.
The history of the Madison is unique. The name should look familiar since it was born in Madison Square Garden. In 1897 New York State passed a law stating cyclists could not race longer than twelve hours. It was an effort to curb what was believed to be a physically damaging event: the six-day bike race. To get around this law, riders would exchange by touch. According to the rules, an exchange may be by touching or a handsling. The hand sling is much cooler than trying to tickle your teammate back into the fold. Because this concept was developed in New York to step around laws, the Madison has been dubbed “America’s Race.”
The race is named after a cyclist from New Jersey who raced in the opening season of the Trexlertown velodrome. In 1978 Mike Walter was making a brief stop in the Lehigh Valley area before continuing onto take part in the Montreal Six Day. While on a training ride Walter was struck by a drunk driver, leaving him a quadriplegic. Mike Walter continued to spectate at the Trexlertown velodrome. His favorite race was the 100-lap Madison. Walter passed away in 2009 and since then the velodrome has hosted the Mike Walter 100-lap Madison. Friday’s race was the ninth running of the event.
Prior to the Madison, the women were on the track in a motor pacing scratch race. While similar in appearance as the Keirin, there were more than nine riders behind the motopacer. Each lap became progressively faster. Toward the end of the race it got twitchy and the women formed double lines gearing up for the finishing sprint. The Keirin is a great event, so adding more riders and more motopacing was a great race to watch. Missy Erickson was not present to defend her title, so the women were racing for a new champion.
Similarly, in the men’s Madison, Bobby Lea was not present to defend his title. The event was run with the usual drama. According to a nearby spectator, the British team was running a 63-tooth ring. Much to the alignment of the claim, the British riders would pull away for entire straightaways with a monstrous effort. They were in the initial break but could not lap the field a second time with the other three teams. In the end Roger Ainsley and Steven Hall were crowned the winners of the Ninth Annual Mike Walter Madison.
It was possibly the largest crowd I had witnessed at Trexlertown for quite some time. Perhaps it’s location on the schedule between July 4th beach trips and the August last hurrah before school trip. To see a moto-pacing race prior to a Madison is always fun, but to learn about a life of a fellow cyclist who was such a large part of the Trexlertown velodrome made the night more enjoyable.