So remember when I said I would never race a criterium? Well, as we all know, I am full of crap
Two crits in one weekend for this chick. Now I am hooked. Who would have thought crit racing was as scary as Downhilling?
All the danger of crashing at high speed, wearing nothing but lycra and a skid lid! Oh, and the definite possibility of taking a wheel to the spine from the riders behind you. Sounds awesome!
It all started with some good natured arguing with a team mate, which basically ended with me, like a drunk teenager woefully unable to back down from a challenge, signing up for the Downtown Auburn Criterium. Ugh. I said I would never do this! Especially before Downieville, which is my AAA race this season!
Oh well, I probably won’t crash… Probably.
It just so happened that the day before the Downtown Auburn Crit, the Folsom Criterium was taking place about 10 minutes from my door, so I decided I should at least go watch and see what I was getting myself into. The night before the Folsom Crit, I figured as long as I was going to go watch, I might as well bring my bike.
So we arrived at the race venue, and though I had seen crits on TV, it became clear that TV just doesn’t compare to the real thing. Even full surround sound systems with sub woofers and 60 inch HD flat screens don’t do justice to a live criterium.
The hissing of 100 tires just barely clinging to pavement in a tight corner, the speed of the pack chasing down a breakaway, the mere millimeters of space between asses and elbows – jeez, and that was just the Cat 5’s!
I thought to myself, “I have got to do this.”
So I signed up.
Then they crashed – badly… and that is the other aspect of crit racing that TV does not do justice.
The thud of bodies hitting pavement, and the crunch of carbon snapping on impact is chilling almost beyond words.
The poor guy in the pic went to the hospital in an ambulance. I still do not know if he is OK.
Once the broken bodies were scraped off the pavement, and the bits of riders pride and joy were swept up like so much refuse, the race continued, fast and furious!
Were they completely loopy? ……………..The ladies were up next!
Needless to say, I was a bit nervous on the start line. I didn’t know any of these girls, and they did not know me. We had all just seen how horribly wrong it could all go, and tension was high.
We got in only one practice lap, since the race was delayed because of the crash, but the course was no big deal – basically a “D” shape – two corners with a long slow right sweep connecting them, and completely flat!
I had made the right wheel choice with my demo set of Grammo 5:8 Carbons for sure. A short lecture about rules and safety (HA!) from the race official, and then we were off!
I discovered in the first lap that I did not want to be anywhere near most of these riders in the corners. Wow, can you say sketchy??? So I jumped to the front and found a couple of girls who seemed like they could ride and took some turns pulling the field. Everything was going well until we came up on a lapped rider, who for some reason decided it was a good idea to move to the inside of the corner to get out of our way.
Problem was, we were all headed for the inside of the corner, going about 15mph faster than her. Three or four of us got around her, then I heard it – a screech of tires, a scream, and that horrible sound of metal, flesh and carbon bouncing on hot pavement.
I don’t know how many went down, I didn’t look back, but the sound was burned into my brain with a cattle brand. Drive on, it don’t mean nuthin’.
With 5 laps to go, I began to think about winning. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I like winning, and I am hard on myself when I don’t. I told myself this was my first criterium, I told myself it was OK just to finish, I told myself this was a learning experience, then I told myself to shut the ef up and try to win. That is when the attacks began. The pace surged faster and faster, as a rider or two would try to break away, but no one seemed to have the legs to make it stick, so we all charged around the last sweeper in a pack. I was in 6th position, but got forced to the outside in the final corner and had to start my sprint late. I caught two girls and ended up 4th overall. If we had another 100 yards or so, I might have caught up, but it was not to be. After it was all over, I was totally gassed, and completely exhilarated! 4th wasn’t bad, but next time…
Lucky for me, next time was only 24 hours away! I chose my light wheels for this race, since I knew we were climbing High Street in Downtown Auburn. Fortunately, I got more preride time on this course, and wow, I don’t think I could have dreamt up two such completely opposite criterium courses! Where Folsom was flat as a slow squirrel on Madison Avenue, with only two wide, gentle corners, Downtown Auburn had six corners, three of them were gorilla hairy screaming downhill corners, one of which was a 90 degree dog leg of off camber sketchiness. And the start line was at the base of a lung buster climb right from the gun to boot! Crazy! So I lined up with a whole ‘nuther set of women, and once again, we were off!
My only goal for the first lap was to get to the downhill corners first, in case anyone panicked and ate curb.
So right off the bat I was bleeding out my eyes to stay in front, and it payed off! I got hole shot on the DH and put a small gap on the field.
It didn’t last long though, I had some riders pass me on the next climb out of town, but I was out of danger for the moment and just kept plugging to hold my position.
This was soooooo different from the Folsom Crit where the field stayed together for the entire race, amazing how one little hill can blow a field apart! No-man’s land is nowhere to be in a crit, but that is where I found myself, and held my own for the entire race.
It was cool though, cuz riding by myself gave me the opportunity to see just how fast I could take the downhill corners. By the end, I was getting cheered (one of my favorite perks of racing 😉 naturally, that just encouraged my inner show-off. In that last few laps, I caught up to a Master and we worked together for the rest of the race – her pulling me up the climbs, and me schussing us down the hills. I sprinted away from her on the last lap, and ended up – you guessed it – 4th! Again, one place off the podium, and one more notch in the pink belt of experience.
I like criterium racing. It is fast, furious and more than a little dangerous. I dare any kind of bike racer to give it a shot! I know I want more.
Still, there is one thing I will never do.
I will never race a Time Trial – with those ugly bikes and those dorky helmets – oh, who am I kidding!
Next week’s race report – The Chico Stage Race! Road Race, Downtown Criterium, and uh, Time Trial!