After a two month hiatus from racing (and a 4 month break from my last crit), I was back in action last week at the Suisun Harbor Criterium. I've been eager to get back into racing since I've been training really hard these past few months, but unfortunately every race I've targeted has either been canceled (What construction, UCSC?) or I've had to miss it for the never ending stream of weddings, some of which I was the Reverend (officiant). Nevertheless, with a family birthday party in the East Bay Saturday evening, I had a great excuse to travel North and get a race in.
I had to get up extra early since being a cat 4 racer means you get the unfortunately early racing times that other people have earned the right to avoid. Still, the weather was great, and I was pumped up to give it a go. The field was about 45 riders, and my plan of attack was to follow the three guys from Audi as close as I could, since they had two guys who had seemingly taken turns winning every other crit over the past few months. The course was fairly small (~0.4 mile), really your most typical flat four corner clockwise circuit.
The race started off fast. I quickly found myself near the back using way too much energy to stay in contact. More than anything, I felt rusty riding in a fast pack and flying through corners. Though my legs were in pain (thanks George, Nils, Mark, and crew on Saturday...), I felt ready to go. I was more or less chasing the first third, but then midway through the race, I found myself smiling, willing to the embrace the pain, and a sick desire to inflict hurt on the pack. After a few laps, I had worked up to the front, and bridged up to a guy off the front. When I got up to him, he had this look on his face like he was going to cry, and he had stopped pedaling, so I knew a break at that point wasn't feasible. The pack caught up with us again fairly quickly and I was mid pack so I could save energy for the last few laps.
Towards the end, I decided my goal was to be no less than 5th wheel on the last lap so I could have a decent shot in the sprint. As the laps ticked away, I moved up slowly. On the second to last lap, I was indeed fifth wheel and was trying to hold it desperately as we approached the line with one lap to go. Unfortunately, a Team Mike's Bike's guy surging up the side on my left haphazardly gave me a Cavendish like shoulder bump (see: Stage 10, 2013 TdF) and my left hand fell off the drop. After a few moments of terror, I managed to keep the bike upright, but the real damage was that I had dropped 10 or so positions back. I hammered hard, but on a small course, it's hard to gain that much position that fast, particularly on the final lap.
The results haven't been posted yet, but I imagine I finished 15th or so out of the 45 racers. Frustrating to have had such a good race fall apart in the end, but I'm happy that I was able to get back out there and put forth a good effort, and it felt like my training had helped out big time, particularly the anaerobic efforts I've been focusing on. Definitely the first race where I felt like a contender instead of just a competitor. And there's a number of crits that I plan on doing over the next month (Giro di SF, Concord, Oakland GP), so at least I'll have other opportunities to place well.