Criteriums hold a special place in the hearts of the American bike racing community. A type of bike race characterized by participants doing laps on a closed course usually less than a mile in length, crits, as they’re typically called, are extremely popular in the US. They were originally created in Europe as a sort of “parade” for spectators to see big name racers, but they’ve quickly become one of the go-to styles of racing for amateur bike racers the world over. While crits are run pretty much anywhere people race bikes, it seems their level of popularity, and the level of intensity, is on another level here. My guess is it boils down to two main factors: the way our cities are laid out, and the high level of spectator friendliness.
With our wide roads, (relatively) smooth pavement, and a tendency to use interconnecting blocks, American streets are perfect for short, looping race courses. Organizers rope off some roads, pay the fees, sign the forms, bring on some sponsors and they have themselves a race. Obviously it’s more complex than that, but it’s significantly easier than trying to shut down stretches of road… something the locals typically don’t like. Ironman can throw tons of money at cities so they close their roads, and can even leave roads open in a pinch since riders are supposed to keep right and ride basically single file. Plus, course considerations aren’t as big a deal, no problems with a sharp U-turn or a road shoulder-width path through a turn. In contrast, road race organizers typically have a tiny budget, the racers often like to make use of the entire road, and the flow of the course is something that has to be considered. It’s an expensive logistical nightmare, unless you’re hosting a major race like the Tour of California.
Like NASCAR and other speedway type races, crits are extremely spectator friendly when compared to their road racing brethren. At, say, the Tour de France, if you wish to spectate you find a spot on the route that looks cool, you trek out there and hang out for a few hours, the racers go by, you scream and cheer, then you go home. It can be thrilling to see them whizz by, but you end up “watching” most of the race on TV or through the race radio. In contrast, crits lap the course over a dozen times, so spectators see the racers multiple times during the race. Some courses are even setup in a way so spectators can see the action all over the course! They also make use of primes, or awards for racers who “win” various laps, which helps keep the intensity of the races high and gives the spectators a chance to see multiple sprints for the line. We watched a race the other day that had 12 primes yet was only about 20 or so laps long.
Crits aren’t at all unique to America, we sure didn’t think them up, but we’ve certainly embraced them to the fullest. So the question for me was simple, was I ready to embrace them, and could I even hang with the frenetic pace and extreme intensity they’re known for? The answer to both questions is: Yes!
Picking my poison
After doing triathlons for a number of years, I figured it was finally time to dip my toe into the bike racing waters. First I thought about doing time trials, thinking the discipline fit my skills coming from triathlon. Then I started to consider road racing, considering I’m a fairly strong climber. Waaaaay on the bottom of the list were crits. They tend to favor sprinter types, and despite being able to crack the 1,000 watt barrier, a sprinter I am not. Plus, they seem a bit hectic and crazy with a lot of time spent in close quarters with other riders, so let’s just say I was intimidated. But I found myself coming around to the idea gradually, and after some prodding from a friend, I decided to go for it.
My first race would be the Adrenaline Twilight Criterium, and considering it was my first race I was slotted in Cat “crash” 5. Unlike triathlon, which uses age to group the athletes, cycling uses categories… which is way better. Cat 5 is for the newbies (quick aside, women’s classes only have 4 categories), and after 10 mass start races—things like crits, road races, etc—you can upgrade to Cat 4. From there, it mostly depends on points, which you earn by placing near the top in the races you enter. As you gain points and/or wins, you can level up all the way to Cat 1. From there, if you’re good, and I mean really good, you can make the jump to pro. So where as in triathlon it’s not uncommon for you to “race” against elite athletes who consistently put times that are within spitting distance of the pros, many of whom could go pro but don’t because they get more sponsorship perks, you tend to race with people with similar abilities to yourself in a bike race. It makes the field more level, the races more competitive, and the action more exciting… and I wish triathlon would adopt something similar.
The nerves, the nerves are calling
Race day rolled around, and for once I didn’t have to be up at the butt crack of dawn! Well… actually, I did. The race wasn’t until 11am, but we still had Team Challenge practice to attend, and that was at 7:30. So we rolled out of bed, I got into my spiffy Team Challenge kit, loaded the bikes up onto the car, and hit the road. We arrived at practice right on time, where we promptly realized I forgot to swap Tam’s pedals from her road bike to her tri bike… whoops. I wasn’t planning on riding anyway, I was going to be doing enough of it in a few hours, so we ended up hanging out and going to grab a quick breakfast while the team went out for their workout. After everyone was back, we showed off our modifications to the spirit blanket, and then hit the road for the race.
The event was at Qualcomm Stadium, in the north west corner of the parking lot. When I arrived, the sea or orange pylons marking out the course brought back memories from my autocrossing days. The crit did make use of significantly more pylons though… they basically formed a solid line around the entire course instead of just being obstacles. I found a parking spot, I unloaded my bike, swapped on my race wheels, mounted the GoPro (and promptly stripped the damn screw), and hit the track for a few test loops to see what I was up against while Tam scouted for the registration area.
My immediate impression, “Holy CRAP this road is beat up.” It was a minefield of cracks, crevasses, potholes, and broken asphalt. As I lapped the course I made mental notes of the layout: turns 1 and 2 were easy right handers I could pedal through, turn 3 was more of a “kink” to the left that started us up the short punchy hill. It wasn’t very long or particularly steep, peaking at around 6%, but it was enough to warrant me dropping into the small ring as I was scouting the course. Turn 4 was at the top of the hill, and was another fairly easy right which lead to a quick chicane around the stadium sign. This all preceded the course’s “descent”, and probably the most beat up part of the track. Turn 5 was the great equalizer, a sharp, possibly decreasing radius turn on extremely rough, sketchy pavement. This was the only place on course where you had to slow down, so being able to properly set the turn up and accelerate out of it would be key. Turn 6 wasn’t much of a turn, similar to turn 3, a slight bend to the left that lead us back to the start/finish line. This was all punctuated by the relatively stiff headwind on the finishing straight… I wasn’t super jazzed about that.
After a few laps, I hopped off the course and made my way to the registration tent to get signed in and grab my number. I took a few minutes to pin it on my jersey and then took a quick test ride to see if it bothered me. It promptly irked the hell out of me with all its flappy-ness, so I stopped so Tam could adjust it a bit before going out for a few more test laps. With the number sorted, it was time to try and figure out the line into and out of turn 5. The tarmac was awful in that corner, so it was impossible to find a clean line, plus there was still broken glass and other debris on course so I had to be really careful not to eat it or blow a tire. This all made it hard to pick the, ahem, cleanest line while practicing, so I never really managed to get comfortable with the corner before we started.
I didn’t want to burn myself out, so after a handful of laps I headed back in to relax my mind a little before I did my final warmup. It was also time to hit the porta-loo a few times since I had all kinds of anxiety pee goin on (I wasn’t the only one, another racer waiting in line made a crack about it). John and Genna had shown up to lend their morale support and cheer me on, so we stood around chatting for a few minutes before it was time for me to get a proper warmup in.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to warm-up. I basically never warmed up for triathlons, I mean obviously I should have, but I just didn’t. The intensity isn’t super high, so while the risk of injury is there, there’s no real pressure to stay with the pack so I was fine with just warming up as I went along before really upping my pace. Crits, on the other hand, they’re spheres to the cinder from the whistle, so warming up is very important. I had read a few articles with some suggestions, so I just did a kind of modified, easier warm-up than they suggested. I didn’t stray much out of power zone 3 or so and tried to keep my cadence high to try and get the ole heart rate up. On a few occasions I popped out of the saddle and did a kind of mini sprint, since I read this is good to really wake the muscles up. But I didn’t go too hard, my legs felt a little tired so I was worried about burning them out before the race started. I did manage to get the ticker going at a good rate though.
As I lapped the course, I tried to keep an ear out for the announcers, I wanted to finish my warm up right when they started staging us. Turns out my timing would end up being pretty good, I heard them call us up to the line right when I was finishing up a lap, so I was able to snag an awesome spot right in front. Once I got to the line I did a quick mental check to make sure I had everything: water bottle, Garmin turned on, GoPro attached to the bike, single gel just in case, my bike, wheels were on it, helmet, shades, I wasn’t naked, etc… Right at this point, Vincent rolled up next to me. He was the one who convinced me to sign up for the race, but when we didn’t see him when we showed up we wondered if he was actually going to make it. As (bad) luck would have it, he got stuck in traffic on the way down, so it ended up being good that the race was starting a little late.
Vince and I chatted for a few minutes, then the USA Cycling official moseyed out onto the course to give her announcements and tell us the key rules—when the free laps stop (if something happens like a crash, or a serious mechanical, you can miss a lap out and rejoin with penalty), where the wheel pit is, if she blows the whistle at you leave the course, etc, etc—and it was time to go. She gave us a quick “Riders ready?” countdown, blew the whistle, and we were off.
And they’re off!
First priority, get my foot in the pedal. I failed. I fumbled with it for a second, losing precious positions as I did my best Matt Stephens impression. I eventually had to go without it clipped in just so I could stay with the group and not get dropped off the line. Once my momentum was better, I got my foot clipped in and was going in earnest. This whole ordeal was one of my biggest concerns of the race. I was off to a good start…
Next priority, get near the front of the pack. As the groups slow and accelerate out of corners, it tends to have a bit of a rubber band effect the further back you get. It’s basically how traffic works, one guy slows a little, the next guy has to slow a little more, the next a little more, etc, etc, until at the back you almost have to stop. The means the riders toward the rear of the pack have to push hard out of the turns to keep a gap from opening up, because gaps can be fatal. Once a gap of more than a few feet forms, you lose the benefit of the draft off of the rider in front of you making it harder to keep up, let alone gain any ground. In the Tour de France last year, Nairo Quintana and his team got split from the main group in major crosswinds, losing him over a minute at the end of the day, a minute that would prove costly at the end of the race. So, the further in the front you can be, without actually being in the very front, the better.
Thanks to my awesome clipping in skills I was no where near the front, but lucky for me the bulk of the group took the first turn a bit wide. This gave me a little window and I was able to dive inside and eventually slot myself in at around 4th wheel, which is pretty optimal actually. One rider made a bit of a break for it, but I figured the group would reel him in so I didn’t pay it any attention (foreshadow alert!). My next priority was just to get comfortable, try and maintain my position and maybe see if there was an opportunity for a later breakaway to form.
Of course maintaining my position went out the window pretty quickly. Once we finished the first lap, the lead rider swung off, and then the second rider, Vincent, swung off as well. Neither wanted to do much of the pulling, so that left one rider in front of me. I was still in an ok position, I wasn’t in the front, but I would’ve preferred to be a few more wheels back so I wouldn’t be looked at to pull. I thought about swinging wide a little to let a few other riders through…
But my thought process was rudely interrupted by an attack.
As we started climbing the hill, a rider made his move. I figured, what the hell, maybe we can get a gap and make it stick, so I jumped after him. I had to push pretty hard up over the top of the hill and on the descent before I could latch onto his wheel, but I was able to catch him and form a little gap as we made our way to turn 5. I took a few seconds to recover as we coasted down the hill, but then promptly lost his wheel as we took the corner. Great, I had to dig again to try and bridge the gap, but of course there was that wicked headwind complicating matters. I dropped down to a time trial position (with my forearms on the tops like if there were aero bars… don’t try this at home), but the road was too bumpy, so I put my hands on the hoods, got as low as possible, and hammered.
I closed a little ground as we went past the start/finish, but then as I took turn 1 I realized I was precisely where I didn’t want to be. In front of a small group, pulling. This was dumb, and I was feeling the effort in my legs and lungs, so I swung off and slotted myself back in at around third or fourth wheel to let them do the work as we turned toward the climb. My HR had shot up well into zone 5, so I needed to take it as easy as I could to bring it down out of the “I’m going to puke on the guys behind me” range. I tried to hold the wheel in front of me, but I was starting to struggle a bit and lost a few more spots. Thankfully the damage wasn’t anything too bad, and we had brought back both breakaway riders, but clearly jumping when I did was a big mistake.
I managed to claw a few spots back, getting up to around 6th wheel or so, by the time we finished the lap, but right when I was about to take a breather there was a big acceleration from the front out of turn 1. I had to dig pretty deep to prevent a gap from opening, but the accumulated fatigue of the early poorly timed attack, and having to surge out of turn 5 were starting to take their toll. About right here is where I started to become legitimately concerned about my earlier screw up, and my ability to hang with the group. While my heart rate was slowly leveling off, my legs were being flooded with lactate and clearly were not fans of what was going on. I had to hop up out of the saddle on the climb, hoping for any respite I could find, but I was starting to bleed positions… and it was still very early in the race.
“Don’t get dropped, don’t get dropped, don’t get…”
This would be my mantra for the next few laps, I really wanted to finish my first race not being lapped a bunch of times. I still hadn’t figured out my line on the back turn, so I was having to jump pretty hard to reattach to the pack, and on the climb, which should be my strong suit, I was losing spots like crazy. I had gone from the front of the pack, to the worst place to be, bringing up the rear. Great, I made a big time rookie mistake, and I was paying for it. Compounding things was the fact I was feeling a bit dehydrated, because I was stupid and didn’t drink enough water before the race. I was taking swigs from my water bottle, but because of the intensity I wasn’t taking them often enough, so I wasn’t getting much relief. Things were starting to go downhill so fast they’d make Einstein have to double check his math.
It was time to make a strategical shift, no longer was my goal to stay in the front, it was to just survive. I figured my best bet was to forget trying to keep my spot, but rather just control the bleeding while giving myself a chance to recover. The recovering part of the plan was going ok, I was gradually starting to feel better… The other part? Yea, not so much. I still don’t know how many people were in the race, but I’m pretty sure basically all of them were in front of me by this point. Not good. I needed to start picking my way back to the front, or I was certainly going to be spit out the back, and if that happened, my race was effectively over.
I sucked it up as best I could, and started to snipe off riders as I saw openings. I took a guy through a corner when he left the window open. Passed a guy who was laboring up the climb. Went inside a few guys who were freewheeling on the descent. I was starting to making up ground, but not a whole lot. Things were certainly better, I was no longer the caboose, but I was probably around Babou’s car, which still wasn’t exactly awesome. (Let’s see if anyone gets that reference.)
Time to earn those Polka Dots!
If I was going to make up any significant amount of spots, it would almost certainly on the climb. I’m a pretty solid climber, and I was noticing that most of the other riders were having a harder time than I was on the climb as the race went on. I just needed an opening and I could probably pick up a bunch of spots, so I kept my eyes open for a window… and sure enough, one appeared.
The rider in front of me freewheeled through turn 2, giving me an opening to swing wide and pedal through it. This allowed me to carry more speed into the climb, and it was on. I accelerated up the hill and set my targets on a rider at the front who was riding a little wide. I caught him and latched onto his wheel, forming two lines through the chicane and into the descent (I wasn’t in the best line, as I had to squeeze between a very narrow opening between a huge crack and the pylons). After a little bit of jostling for position, I shut the door on a few riders and slotted myself 6th wheel. I was back in business.
Much to my delight, the pace of the race started to dip a little bit and was beginning to resemble something closer to a fast group ride. There was the occasional surge, but for the next few laps I could actually relax a little and see if I couldn’t work out my line on that stupid turn 5. The slower pace meant I didn’t have to jump as hard coming out when I inevitably would screw up the line, but I was still falling too far back on the exit than I’d like. Sometimes I’d nail it, only to screw it up the next lap. One time I felt my rear wheel skip, quite the disconcerting feeling when you’re leaned over doing 25mph through a turn. My nemesis that turn was…
But the rest of the time things were pretty low key, I made sure I kept my position, and basically hung out for a nice brisk ride. I was even able to wave as I went past the gang cheering me on at the finish line. I had to remain sharp though, because even though the pace was “easy”, there was still stuff going on around me. People trying to steal my wheel, one guy almost clipping my front wheel going into turn 3, making sure I followed closely on the climb, and of course there’s always the risk of…
An attack… Ok, wtf. Just as I’m settling into a good groove, someone’s gotta go and ruin it.
Up until this point in the race the lap counter at the start/finish line was off. Instead of a fixed number of laps, the race was however many laps we could do in 35 minutes, but they would turn it on once we hit the magical 5th lap remaining… and this was that lap. I guess that was the guy’s signal, because just before we hit turn one, he took off. Amusingly, I had a similar thought, to follow an attack if one went with under 5 laps to go, but I was a few wheels back and not in great position to respond, so I didn’t jump after him. Plus there were still a bunch more laps to go, so I figured we’d reel him… so whatever. I did decide that I wanted to get in a better position so maybe I could attack as we reeled him in, so I came around a few guys on the climb and slotted myself in behind the leader. Only problem was the leader wasn’t really keen on doing any of the work when it came to chasing down the lone breakaway rider. He just kind of rode along, looking around behind him like he was waiting for his riding buddies to catch up. I figured he wanted me to take up some of the slack, but he was outta his damn mind. There was no possible way I was getting on the front of the pack at this point in the race. No friggin way.
Since the leader of the group was getting to know Lolly and Gag, the pace lulled again, and the gap to the solo breakaway kept growing. We still had a bunch of laps to go, but I was starting to feel like I was in one of those situations that I always complain about when I’m watching bike races on TV. The ones where there’s a small break, the stage is winding down, but instead of working to bring in the break, everyone in the peloton is just looking around wondering who’s going to actually do the work. I will no longer complain about the packs not chasing the group down… I sure didn’t want to hang myself out to dry, winning would be awesome but I wasn’t going to blow myself up and ruin my chances of a decent finish, so I committed to wheel surfing and letting the break go. I also began to plot my own move…
Just like how my best chance to make up ground earlier was on the climb, it was also my best chance to get away from the pack. I figured my best shot would be to attack just before turn 2 on the final lap. This would give me a chance to get up to speed and carry it through the top of the climb, where I could accelerate all the way to turn 5… where I hoped I wouldn’t promptly blow it or crash. All I had to do from there was bury myself until the finish. Easy peasy right? It could either work, and I’d be showered with gifts and praise, or go terribly wrong and I be laughed out of the stadium parking lot, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Don’t know unless you try right?
When we crossed the start/finish line with the counter showing 2 laps to go, I began to mentally prepare myself for the final lap. I just needed to stick with the group on this lap, and then I could open up and see what’s what on the home stretch. I was wheel surfing near the front of the pack, and although I lost a little time around the final turn, I was in good position. Perfect position actually. I was ready to do this… I even took turn 5 relatively cleanly.
But then I saw 2 laps to go… again, and my already fatigued brain derailed.
“Wait, what?” I was certain, certain, it showed 2 laps the previous lap. I was positive. But it showed 2 laps again, and that confused the hell out of me. I wasn’t sure if they forgot to change the number, or if I just saw it wrong the last lap, but I had mentally wound myself up to attack and now I had to ease off a…
Bit… or not. Yup, another attack.
This time, the rider waited until the gradient pitched up on the climb and then took off. Again I was in a crappy position, between two other riders, but I was close enough to jump after him once I was clear. I was able to stay with him a few bike lengths back, so when he eased up I hopped on the wheel of another rider who was close so I could recover a bit. Probably should’ve chosen the rider who wasn’t chewing his stem going up the climb, because he couldn’t keep up the pace and a gap started to open. I realized if I had any kind of chance at a decent finish I had to bridge up to the leaders, so I came around and gave chase as best I could. By now the cumulative fatigue of the race was having an effect, so I was struggling to pull together the energy to really close the gap… and wouldn’t you know it I muffed turn 5. Note: I need to work on my cornering.
It was the bell (final) lap, and things weren’t looking awesome. I was at the front of a small chase group, there was a sizable gap between myself and the small group in front of me, and the solo breakaway could basically get off and walk to the finish. My attack plan was out the window and I was back to just hanging on by the skin of my Continental GP4000s. A few riders came around me before turn 2, but I was able to stick on their wheels until the climb. Once the gradient pitched up, I made my move… well, as much as a move as I could. My heart rate was way up in zone 5, I was so dehydrated my tongue felt like it was dipped in flour, and my legs were a few steps from going on strike. Still, my move wasn’t completely futile and I was able to come around the two riders in front of me and even made up a little ground to the break. I just had to… hang… on… over… the… top… but I couldn’t. I let off the gas a bit too early, and a bit more than I should’ve just before I crested, leaving the door open for a rider to come around. I was pretty spent by now, so I just stuck to his wheel hoping he’d take up the slack and close the gap. But of course he didn’t. We mostly freewheeled down the decline into the final turn, and I officially hung up my chances of breaking into the top 5. Still, maybe I could better my position a little.
We rounded turn 5, and I made one last effort to latch onto a wheel to perhaps try for a bunch sprint for the line, but my legs were having none of it. I didn’t carry enough speed through the corner, so I couldn’t make up any ground. At this point I remembered a “tip” I heard: there’s no use sprinting for nothing. If I was in a bunch or fighting for a podium, going all out for the line would make sense. But I had not shot at the podium, and I wasn’t making up ground, so my race was essentially done. I kept the pace up so no one would come around me, but I basically cruised over the finish line.
Finally, I could relax. We all peeled off of the course and pedaled slowly around the parking lot. I wanted to be sure to give myself a few minutes of recovery so I could actually talk to Tam, John, and Genna, so I just cruised around in my easiest gear until my heart rate and breathing settled down. It was a hard, hard, race, but I was done now… and I had a friggin blast. I was sweating my arse off, my legs were tired, I felt like I wanted to puke, but I finished, and I enjoyed every second of it.
Once everything settled, I cruised over to where Tam, John, Genna, and now Vincent were standing. They all gave me a hearty congratulations and told me how exciting it was to watch. I asked where I finished, since from my perspective it seemed like I was 7th or 8th, and they agreed. My first race, and I cracked the top 10, I was super stoked to hear that. I also learned that Vincent dropped after about 4 laps, but he had just finished Ironman 70.3 Vineman the weekend before, so he certainly wasn’t fully recovered. There were also a few crashes during the race behind me, but it sounded like the guys were mostly ok. The course was super sketchy in a bunch of places, so it was good to hear there weren’t any major wrecks in my heat.
Quick interlude: the official results went up and I discovered they slotted me 10th. Based on Tam, John, Genna, and Vincent’s view, what I saw from my perspective, and what I saw when I reviewed the footage from my GoPro, that’s not correct. Aside from the racers on course who got dropped and lapped, we were racing with the Women’s 3/4 field, with them having started a few minutes after us, so I suspect they got a bit confused and mixed everything up in the final results when they reviewed the footage after the race. I’d also learn that this is why I saw Lap 2 twice, they showed it for the women, but because we were lapping them, they accidentally showed it to us. While it’s annoying they messed the results up, I don’t really care, so I’m not going to bother protesting. I know I finished inside the top 10, I actually have video proof, and the results don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, so I’m good. 🙂
After chatting for a few more minutes, it was time to pack up and get going home. I had to get something to eat, I was starving, and we needed to get cleaned up and changed. Had a TC fundraiser to go to! No rest for the weary I guess…
A Teaching Moment
So, what did I learn? First, I need to work on my damn cornering. This is a bit double edged, because you only know your limit when you pass it, and passing your limits in a corner means crashing. That’s not something I’m keen on doing, so… Still, there’s room for improvement when it comes to taking high speed corners. I realized after the race that I wasn’t positioning my body properly on the bike, which is one thing to practice a bit more to stick in my head. I also need to do a better job braking, more than once I had to scrub speed while going through the turn, which is no good. I had a few good interactions with turn 5, but all in all it was a key factor in my undoing.
Aside from that, I also learned that I’m way more competitive than I like to lead on, and I LOVE bike racing. I do kind of regret not getting into it earlier, but I’m glad I’ve found it now. I first heard about crits when I still lived outside of St. Louis. I was talking with a friend’s boyfriend, and he was big into them, so we were chatting about the upcoming race. I didn’t think too highly of my cycling ability at the time, plus I thought they seemed too dangerous, so I didn’t think about entering at all and never gave them a second thought. But I’m glad Vincent twisted my arm a little, because they’re awesome… and you know what? The only time it’s too late to do something new is when you’re dead. As long as you’re drawing breath, it’s never too late to at least try. So now that the bug is firmly planted, I’m committed to reaching a goal I’ve set for myself, and with enough hard work I think I can reach it.
I also learned a bunch about strategy and dumb mistakes. On its face you wouldn’t really think it, but there’s really a lot of strategy involved in a bike race. It’s kind of surprising how sharp you need to be mentally while you’re neck deep in the pain cave, so I’m proud of myself for how I did as far as my race plan went. I stuck near the front except when I cracked a bit, and even after that I was able to slot back in where I wanted to be. I picked the places to move up smartly, making use of my climbing abilities and using openings to advance instead of wasting energy. I stayed off the front as much as possible, making the most of the draft of other riders. I also got first hand experience with how it feels to go too hard to early, and why it’s a stupid, stupid idea. In the same vein, I learned that it’s probably best to reserve chasing a break until later in the race, and not to go after the first one. Lots of really good lessons I can put to use next race.
Looking at my power file after the race also validated what I thought during and after the race about stupid rookie mistakes. If you click >right here< it’ll take you to my TrainingPeaks activity for the race. Click the little lightning bolt above the “Laps” on the lower right, and you’ll see “Peak power” with a bunch of different duration averages below it. Start at “Peak 30 sec” and go up, clicking the check boxes. Notice a trend? Yup, they’re all early in the race… which is not good. Generally—unless you’re working for a teammate—you want your peak power outputs to be toward the end of the race. Most experienced racers will wheel surf in the pack for the majority of the race, exerting just enough energy to stay with the group while saving their legs for the final battle for position and the sprint to the line. My decision to jump early in the race cost me, draining my legs and making it difficult for me to reel in the leaders at the very end. I was lucky in that I was able to recover enough to even battle my way back up to the front, pushing too hard too early is typically a fatal error. I can probably thank my Sufferfest addiction for keeping me in it.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned I can actually hang. I tend to be pretty modest about my abilities… I mean, I know I’m not slow, but I never really thought I could hang with a fast group ride, let alone crack the top 10 on my first race. Yet, I did. I validated the work I’ve done on the bike recently, and the faith Tam and my friends have in me. I can’t begin to express how happy I am with the results of the race… and at the prospects of where I can go from here. Obviously I’m not thinking about racing as a pro or any nonsense like that, but I’d love to just compete for podium spots and race with a team in higher categories. Hammering on the front of a lead-out train, bridging a gap to a break, chasing down a solo rider at the front of the pack, fighting up a climb for KOM points, sprinting for the line… that all sounds insanely fun to me, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do all of it.
Oh, and if you’d like to see what it was like from my perspective, give the below a watch. 🙂