Power to the pedal
Criteriums are filled with instinctive responses or “moves” as we like to call them. One wrong move and your race can be over. Too many stupid moves and your race is over. Launch your sprint to the line too early and get swallowed up by the pack. Everyone seems to be on an adrenaline high. One minute you’re all out on the pedals the next you’re diving into a corner with guys all around you. You might be sprinting all out to hold your position. You can go from the gutter on one side of the road to the other in a split second while hammering all out. Guys will push on you, yell at you and even cut you off to try and take the wheel of the rider in front of you. Actually, I expect it to happen more than once in a race. You have to be hyper sensitive to not only what’s happening in front of you but behind you as well without looking back. It sounds like a crazy discipline of racing, but for those with balls (and ovaries) of steel it’s a huge rush.
I went to the race with my good friend Derek. We were hoping to breakaway if the opportunity presented itself. The race started and like most crits. the attacks came from the start. For the first 10mins of the 1hr race it was very fast and furious. I was holding a forward position in the top 10 (out of 61.) Prime lap comes right way. I set up to go for it and as we came around still a long way to the line two guys bolt past. I couldn’t believe how fast they went and just watched in amazement. Now I’m thinking, “ I should have waited for the 45+ race later today and maybe I’m a little over my head in the 35+ category.” Then 10mins in it settles down into a hard steady pace. We go around and around with attacks going and coming back until three guys stay out with a good lead. Then more attacks come and more guys bridge up. I missed the moves and just watch and hope we real them in before the finish. Holding a top 10 position I see we have two teams blocking and slowing the pace and the lead guys get further away. About half way through the group starts to make efforts to close the gap but with guys blocking and disrupting the rhythm of the pack we would gain and loose. Guys would try and launch but not be able to bridge across over and over. With 5 laps to go it’s looking like the 10 guys up the road will stay away. I say to myself “I didn’t come to this race to sprint for a pack meat finish.” I remain calm and go into a “Zen like” state of mind. I pay special attention to how the breakaway group is responding and how the pack is reacting. I assess the strong wind and where I would want to attack and what the situation would need to be for me to make a move to get across. I’m thinking I would want to respond and latch onto one of the numerous attacks but it would have to come on the back side right after the headwind section as we turn into a cross wind followed by another turn into a tailwind. This would give me a draft to the tailwind and possibly with a serious effort catch them before the vicious headwind. With 4 laps to go, I’m 5 back in the pack. We turn into the cross wind section. I’m waiting for the move to come and my buddy Derek makes a strong pull to try and real in the break. I respond and let him know I’m on his wheel. He pulls off at the corner taking us to the tailwind section. I look back as I go to take my pull and we have a gap with one other guy. I say “let’s go, we have the gap!!!” I dig deep and signal the guy on my wheel to pull. He does and as I drop back Derek is gone? The guy pulls then signals me through to do my turn at the front but when I go to signal him through he is dropping off my wheel?
Now I have to make a decision……….I look back and I have a good gap. I look forward and I know I won’t catch the breakaway before the headwind section. In a split second I have to decide to be proactive and dig super deep in hopes of catching them before the final 2 laps so I can recover in time for the sprint finish. If I don’t make it I risk getting pulled back into the pack and not have anything left to challenge for a good placing. If I do make it with 2 or more laps I should have time to recover? I decide to go for it. I would rather go down in flames than to finish in the pack. As I turn into the headwind I thought about last week’s race (Wente RR) when I attacked into a headwind and solo’d to win the race. I put my head down and caught the breakaway by the time we turned into the cross wind. 3 laps to go and I’m super stoked. 2 laps to go and I realize I’m gonna battle for the win. I start yelling, “go go, we are going to get caught!!! “ The pace picks up. As we make the final lap I realize I’m now too far back and have to get forward. Problem is, it’s single file and fast. I hold off until the final sweeping turn and start my move on the outside with a little wind shelter. My plan is to dole my effort to be alongside second wheel as we enter the final straight away and then start my sprint. As I come up alongside the fourth rider from the front he reaches over and grabs my hip and pulls on me. I yell at him “hey what the hell” and he yells something back? I lost my momentum and about 1sec later the sprint starts by his teammate to lead him out. Shit… “go gogogogogogogogo.” Fourth wheel wins and I end up 3rd. I went to the official and protested, explaining what happened, which 1st place denied. The official told me that was the third time today that someone had done something like that and thanked me for telling them, but kept the results as they were. I shook the winner’s hand and congratulated him on the win. It’s disappointing when people race this way. It was poor sportsmanship on his part but he has to live with it. For 3rd place they gave me a tub of Cytomax, a tub of Muscle Milk and $93 cash. Sweet!! But oh yeah, I race for fun and the love of cycling!