This is the first criterium of the year where I was able to enter the race in two fields. At 8:30 in the morning, I lined up for the E4/5 race, and at 1:15, was the E4 race. And here’s what happened.
The course was long, about 1.2 miles with most corners being safe and wide, but there were a few pot-holes on the back side and an S-turn that caused a few shoulder rubs, but no crashes
in our field.
It was a mixed field of just under 40 racers, most of whom seemed to be 4s I’ve raced before, but there were many 5s and those I haven’t raced against. This forced me to change my strategy a bit and instead of hanging out near the back and slowly making my way forward as the race draws to its conclusion, I tried to keep myself near the front and follow wheels I knew would get me places.
It’s becoming more and more fun to race because with each race, I see the same faces and there forms this racing bond of mutual respect and friendship that turns into a healthy competitive rivalry when the whistle blows. John (Mike’s Bikes), Mackenzie (Spokesmen), Oscar and Isaac (both from Dolce Vita) were the guys I’ve raced with a bunch this year. There were also a couple people from BBC that I knew could race a good crit, Hussein and Greg. Those are the wheels I was trying to stay on and see how the race develops.
The pace started off brisk, but would oscillate frequently throughout the race, from hard prime chasing to the pack swelling and taking turns four abreast. At some point through about the middle of the race, I was on the outside and saw Nick (Mission Cycling) coming up through the field on the inside lane. I knew he was going to attack and I felt like I wanted a piece of that break. I was right. I was about half a wheel behind Nick with a row of guys between us. As he passed the second wheel, he jumped and I jumped after him. I caught him, rested a bit and pulled through, but by the time it was time for Nick to pull again, the field was on our tail. Seeing we weren’t going to get away that time, I sat up.
I kept myself near the front the remainder of the race and figured I’d stick on Mackenzie’s wheel for the rest of the race and see what happens. Coming into last lap the pace was picking up and I was near the front of the pack, still on Mackenzie’s wheel. After corner four, however, Mackenzie decided to jump into a hole that I knew I could not squeeze through, which resulted in him taking out a couple of John’s spokes, but luckily everyone stayed upright. This, however, boxed Oscar into the gutter, and forced me to take a slight detour. The resulting gap and the fast pace of the crit at that point proved to be a touch much as all I could muster up was chase back to 11th place.
Not quite satisfied with the results of that race, I went to spin for a bit, get recovery food, relax and think about the next race. Another thing I learned post this race is that the primes were very, very good. Sometime exceeding the goodiness of the podium award.
Still thinking about the primes, I was determined to snag one for myself and then see what happens after that. The whistle blew and the race started. All the guys I mentioned above were in this race and my strategy was pretty much the same, other than the fact that I was out to get a prime.
The race started much slower and the first two laps were at a very comfortable pace, but HR never got above 160. Then the bell went for the first prime and the pace picked up with the peloton stretching out a bit. Isaac went for it and got it. That would be his second on the day. A couple more laps go by and one of the BBC guys goes on the attack. As we cross the start/finish line, the prime bell is ringing. I’m sitting about 10-12 wheels back as the peloton starts to stretch out to bring the BBC rider back.
I find myself in perfect position for a sneak attack. The only thing that can let me down now are my legs, but they’re feeling pretty good at this point. I have a clear line on the inside, with about 200 meters to the next corner, with the BBC rider almost caught and visibly tired from a hard solo effort. I start my move along the inside line, fast enough that I’m passing people, but not so fast that they think I’m attacking. As I pull up to third wheel in the main field, I jump and drill it with all I’ve got. I fly by the BBC rider, take a sweeping right-hander and keep drilling it even harder. I look back to see a giant gap forming. Now I’m 100% committed to the attack, I drill it even harder yet. As I made the next corner, I looked back and saw the gap widening still, but I also realized I misjudged the number of corners to the finish line, but having such a gap and being solo, there was no way I was letting this prime get away. Just a few more moments of pain and I was solo across the line by a mile.
As I crossed the line, the bell rang again – back-to-back primes. This meant that the field was going to come around and come around fast. I more or less sat up after getting the prime and rolled back into the field as there was more than half of the race to be raced. I hung out mid-pack for a lap or two and started to move myself up again. The pace remained relatively high. With two laps to go, I was sitting fourth wheel with the pace at around 25-26mph. As we approached the same place I attacked for the prime, the pace slowed as the guy on the front either didn’t want to work anymore, or got tired. After a few moments of this, I looked back and saw the field riders about to swarm the head of the field (that would be us) jockeying or position into the final lap.
Then I decided that I didn’t want to be swimming in cyclist soup for the remaining lap and a half and figured it would be nice to animate the race a bit, and maybe even cause some pain, even if it meant my own results wouldn’t be that great. So I got on the nose and drilled it at about 27-28 mph for almost an entire lap. As we crossed the start/finish for the penultimate time, with the bell ringing, I felt like I was at my limit. After corner one, I told Oscar he better take over, but he asked for a bit more, so I dropped a gear and dug a little deeper to get the field through the next S-turn, after that someone jumped and those behind me followed. As I watched the field take the next corner, I saw Isaac on the nose leading Oscar out for the sprint.
Mackenzie ended up in first and Oscar got 5th. My job being done, I came in behind the field. Sometimes it’s the result that matters in a race, other times it’s going out with a plan and getting it done. I got my prime (which included a set of cables/housing, a t-shirt, a $10 gift card to a bike shop and some cliff-bars) and kept the end of the race safe by keeping the pace up – I was satisfied with that for the day.
Three races on deck for next weekend. Maybe someone will be nice enough to give me a lead out (hint, hint!).