On Saturday morning at 4:15, Amy and I headed out to Merced to battle other Cat 3/4 women in the Merco Credit Union Downtown Grand Prix. The drive turned out to be quite a bit quicker (amazing considering my navigational skills) than we anticipated and arrived in Merced at 6:30. We had plenty of time to scope out the course, get warmed up and be ready to go for our start time of 8:40. It was my first time using my rollers to warm up in the parking lot and I think that really helped with my performance during the race.
The race itself combined the Women's Cat 3 and Cat 4 fields so I got to race with Amy. It really was a treat having another Bike Tripper out there in the field! There were 21 Cat 4's in the race, and I'm guessing somewhere in the vicinity of 25-30 riders for Cat 3. The course consisted of a 2 wide-ish left turns into a narrow chicane which is quickly followed by a tight right, then three wider left turns onto the straightaway to the finish line. During our laps before our warmup, Amy and I scoped out the tricky spots and the rough patches of road and noticed that with a ¾ combined field it’s going to be a FAST race.
Our prediction turned out to be correct and at the whistle everyone took off at lightning speed to jockey into position before the first left. With the corners this course contained I knew I wanted to be in the top 5-10 for the entirety of the race. I hate being in the back, surging after a turn and seeing the leaders a good 300 meters in front of me. I found it a little difficult at first to get past the first 10 riders, but I found out on the backside of the course with a little effort I could shoot up towards the front and join the leaders no problem. That was a relief to know that if I lost my position I could regain it quickly and I wouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail get a good wheel.
Right at the get-go a Cat 4 racer in blue rushed to the front and was up there the whole entire time. She was a monster and won about half of the primes without really trying. Too bad after the race I found out that she detests Power Bars! The other girls in the front wouldn’t let her fall back yet she was able to push through and keep the pace the whole time. This lady ended up getting first overall with an excellent win.
The race kept up a good pace throughout (around 22-25 mph) and with 5 laps to go, the pace only increased. I got a little nervous since with 4 laps to go I found myself at the back of the pack, but again on the backside I crept up to the front with a quick effort and tried to stay aggressive in keeping my position in the top 5-10. It was great seeing Amy riding up next to me during these last laps and she was really killing it too! After the final turn at the last lap, I could see the finish line in front of me, but I was having a hard time sensing how far it was away. I hesitated too late to really make a go at the sprint since I was afraid of blowing up, and I lost a few spots because of that. Overall Amy and I finished 12th and 13th respectively. For our categories it means that Amy got 10th in the Cat 3’s and I got 3rd in the Cat 4’s. It was such an awesome race I can’t wait to do it again next year!
(A couple of things I wanted to add)
One thing that was an issue during this race was the cornering. Girls were not taking the corners wide and cutting in which made it very dangerous for the back of the pack. I'm not all that experienced with Crit riding, but I do know that if you're at the front you need to take your line through your corner as smart as possible, that means making the straightest line that won't cause the back of the pack to bunch up and slow down. You could really tell the difference when a Cat 3 vs. a Cat 4 rider was in front.
I don't know if any other more experience crit riders out there could give some advice, but I'm not sure if it's worth it to always play it safe (especially on courses where you know the pack could chase you down) or be more aggressive and make the pack work at the cost of you possibly blowing up with a lap to go. What has the experience been like for everyone in that respect?