Monday, July 20, 2009

Watsonville Criterium 45+

By Dennis Pedersen

This was my sixth time racing this very technical 3/4-mile course, with about 7 turns (two of them about 120 degrees), a small hill and two drainage gutters. With Russ and Vlada signed up for the 45+ race, Margaret's willingness to come along and watch, and the pretty neighborhood the course is set in, above downtown, I really wanted to race.

For some reason this criterium always starts later in the day too, so Margaret and I had time to watch George on TV as he misjudged his try for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, eat a big breakfast at Capitola Wharf House, and stroll around the village before setting off for my 1:50 race start. It was a gorgeous day too.

We watched the Category 5 race, and the Cat. 4 race, cheering my teammates on. This race is always small, and even smaller this year. But Team Bicycle Trip was well-represented with 7 racers. Unfortunately Robbie Abundis went down with some nasty gashes when a guy trying a flyer in his race went down in the back hairpin, in the drainage gutter. I hope he's back soon!

We were combined with the 35+ race (but placed separately) and that ups the pace. I know from painful experience that it is absolutely critical to stay near the front in races like this. So I decided to skip my warmup completely and just be first to our staging area so I could sprint up the hill right off the line and then stay well-positioned the whole race. Well, that tactic is common knowledge, and others beat me there so I was behind the front row. Oh well. At least I felt good and relaxed.

When the whistle blew I calmly clipped in, slipped around a couple of guys, and sprinted hard up the small hill to the start/finish line. I was probably about 5th at the top; yay! And even though the pace was furious for several laps I managed to maintain my position fairly well.

A few attacks brought the pace up later, and some Driscoll strawberry primes too. I was really working... but not beyond my limits, unlike last year where my position toward the rear really hurt me. Russ has been a great influence on me. And Coach Mark's workouts have really helped tremendously too. And all of the friends cheering us on was so cool. Thanks everybody!

About halfway into our 24-lap race I was a bit too far back (Jim yelled at me!). But I calmly moved up and even went ahead of Russ. I was also marking some of the 45+ racers, like Eric Saltzman (Morgan Stanley) and Mike Gadow (Tieni Duro). So when four guys broke free I looked to see if any 45+ riders were mixed in with the 35+ guys; I didn't see any so I didn't panic when they held us off. The pace came down too so I could stay fresher for the finish; mercifully it came soon.

With about 7 laps left some guy, probably in 35+, tried to whip us into a paceline to chase the break, but I had no reason to do that. I just chuckled and kept my place.

Like usual the pace picked up with about 3 laps to go. But I didn't try too hard to save matches; that thinking has hurt my chances before. Instead I worked to stay up front. That kept me well placed for the finish.

On the last lap we were flying; my rear wheel skittered through the hairpins. It's hard to pass without hitting a headwind too. Timing is so key! In 2007 I took 2nd by going wide on the outside of the last turn. I tried this again but this time I got squeezed against the left curb and had to back off for a few seconds as we hit the hill up to the finish line. That pause, plus the longer line, put me in 5th place. Russ got 9th.

I was pretty happy with how I had ridden, but bummed that I had left a bit of energy on the course, as they say. Still, I was jazzed that I had been smart most of the time. This course isn't quite ideal for me, but I like it. No crashes in our race, and I got some upgrade points too. Woo-hoo!

We then watched Nils's Cat. 3 race but had to drive him home after his crash, which left his rear tire shredded. While we waited for Nils to get his scrapes cleaned up (and collect his winnings; he got 5th even with the crash!) we watched Ben Jacques-Maynes race in the Pro/1/2 race. What a wild day!

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