Before I get into the details of Apple Pie, let me do some conscience clearing. Those of you who have thoroughly enjoyed my account in the previous post, should carefully look at the date of posting. If you believed it to be true, I assure you, you were not alone.
It was a beautiful day for a race. Of course when I arrived in Santa Rosa, the signs of day were nowhere to be found. It was dark and rather cold, at about 43 degrees. Registration was in the finishing stages of being set up, so not wanting to waste any time, I set up my trainer, bike and laid out all of my race gear. By the time I was done setting up, registration was opened and I went to register and get my number. All proceeded without incident, and I got my 800-series number, and went back to the car.
So I’m sitting on my trainer warming up, out of the corner of my eye I can see the course and the Cat. 5 racers already on it. I’m also seeing a lot of 400-series numbers rolling around. “Funny,” I thought to myself, “why would all these people show up so early for their race that’s clearly not until our Cat. 4 race.” I didn’t really give it much thought at the moment and proceeded to continue with my warm up. Then I saw a guy who I knew was racing in my field with a 400-something number and began to suspect that something wasn’t right. With about 10 minutes to race start, I ride to registration and have them check my number. Turns out I was accidentally placed in the wrong field with a wrong number. Frankly, at 6 something in the morning, I can’t lay too much blame on anyone – I can hardly think straight myself at that hour.
This is where gluing numbers truly pays off. With a swift motion, I peel off my number, grab the new one, ride to my car, give it a good spray and stick it where the old number used to be. All in time to take a lap with the rest of the Cat. 4 field before lining up on the line. This was probably the most anticlimactic start to a race I’ve ever experienced. After a series of instructions that were somehow mostly unrelated to the race itself, the official just stepped off the line. We all sort of looked at each other with that “what now?” look. Then, realizing there was something missing from her repertoire, the official said, “you can go.” That was our starting whistle. [Edit] Here's a video (thanks, Ashley!).
This was a very wide and fast course. The corners were taken very fast and by the time we reached corner five, the one before the start finish line, the pace picked up quite a bit. Somewhere within the first 10 laps, I was taking corner five on the inside when out of the corner of my eye I saw people going onto the curb and off the course. “Just keep going,” someone yelled from the field and we kept motoring along. On the next lap I could see the riders were up and no one seemed seriously injured. Most laps were in the 24 to 25 mph range with my fastest one being around 28mph.
I’m still trying to get this crit racing down and this being my third one, it was definitely another learning experience. I haven’t yet made up my mind as to whether I like racing these from the front, or from the back, or from mid-pack. You’re definitely safer at the front, but I end up spending a lot of energy to constantly stay there. In the back, while it’s also relatively safe, there is always a risk of a mid-field crash that would create a big gap. In the middle of the pack, there is a larger risk of getting taken out, but I would be shielded and close to the front, so moving up in the final laps would not be as difficult. I guess the only way to find out what works for me is to race a few more and experiment.
But getting back to the action. Around and around we go, I was toward the front most of the race, slipping back to mid pack only a couple of times to recover. With about five laps to go, a big guy (I don’t recall the team) went off the front and I figured I should probably jump into that break, but no break materialized. I ended up dragging the whole field to the already fading breakaway rider and we proceeded to take the remaining laps at an even faster pace. Then it was one to go and we were all together. Things were winding up before the last corner and once out of it, the sprint began. I gave it my best shot and crossed the line 13th, which is by no means a grandiose accomplishment, but it is the highest placing I’ve had of the three crits I’ve done by almost 20 places, so I’ll file that under “progress.” As I later learned, one of the riders in the back of the field ended up crashing in corner four and had to be taken to the ER with a broken collarbone. Hope he heals fast.
Another thing I need to learn/improve on is positioning going into the final turn. Somehow, when I’m on the straight going into the final corner, my position appears to be good, but once we come out of the corner, things get stretched out and I end up much further back than I was. But again, something that I’m sure will come with doing more crits. For the record, however, I’m not planning on doing a ton of crits and I still by far prefer a nice long road race, with a hill or two.