Monday, August 18, 2008

Holy Crit!

Even though it is Monday morning and raining, I've been sporting a pretty huge grin on my face. I did two crits this weekend, and the last time I've felt this pleasantly surprised at my own ability was when I got my grades after my first term of law school and realized that, yah, I can do this shit.

After my performance at the TT last weekend, the HTFU crew called bullshit on my lack of fitness excuse and I no longer had a ready made reason not to show up at a local road race. When I casually mentioned in Thursday morning's class that I was pondering showing up at the Swan Island Crit on Saturday morning for a little bit of cyclocross training, Beth, Sarah and Coco jumped all over it and declared that it was about fucking time that I showed up for something.

My plan was to sign up online so that I wouldn't have 48 hours to talk myself out of it. Because in all honesty, the idea of riding in a pack and cornering with a bunch of strangers freaked me out quite a bit. And I really didn't want to get spit out the back and ride by myself.

There was no online registration, so if I was going to talk myself out of racing, it was going to happen the night before the race. Fortunately, I took D to the Lifesavas/Mos Def show for his birthday Friday night and, due to two shots of jager and yet another sick set by the Lifesavas, totally forgot about chickening out.

Saturday-Swan Island Crit

It was already 75 degrees when we woke up on Saturday morning at 8am and the weather was projected to reach 102 by mid-afternoon. Not the best conditions for a bike race, but I've survived for six hours at altitude bleeding out of my face during a half-ironman, so I figured that I could survive a 30 minute bike race.

My goals were simple goals: stay upright and finish with the group. I chatted with Coco before the race and told her that if I could hold my own in the group, I would try and do a few lead-outs for her and Tamara on the points laps and at the finish. They have been participating in the Cat 4 women's series that has been going on all summer and both needed the points for the series. As I figured my only goal was to not make a total ass out of myself, I should help them out if I could.

It took about two laps for me to feel comfortable in the group, which was about 22 riders deep. It didn't take long to figure out (1) whose wheels I didn't want to be on and (2) that I was much more comfortable cornering than the majority of the field. The pace would surge on the straightaways and settle back on the backside. I really didn't even feel like I was working that hard, so when the bell rung on the first points lap, I surged to the front and picked up the pace considerably. Tamara and Coco immediately jumped on my wheel and I pulled them 3/4 of the way around before they jumped out front and took the lap. I was worried that the field would keep the pace high and I wouldn't get enough time to recover, but everyone slowed up again once we started cornering again.

I really don't specifically recall much of what happened between the first prime lap and the bell lap. I tried to stay near the front to protect Coco's wheel and was able to react quickly each time the Ironclad ladies sent someone off the front. I was actually surprised when the lap card read 2 laps to the finish, because I had anticipated being in a lot more discomfort by the end of the race. I therefore decided that I was going to see what sort of trouble I could cause in the final lap. Into the first corner I swung wide, accelerated and once I got up to Tamara and Coco, hollered at them to jump on. I held the front coming into the home stretch until my vision went spotty. Once the ladies started to sprint around me, I sat up and just spun into the finish. Tamara and Coco finished like second and fifth. Turns out that Tamara didn't react quickly enough to my jump and the women that ended up winning the race got the prime spot on my wheel.

D was marshaling one of the corners and said that every time I threw down and went off the front, that there was some suffering in the pack. I ended up finishing 16th or something, but was pleased as punch that I was not only able to hang on, but was able to really affect the outcome of the race. And I had so much fun that I immediately decided to sign up for the Cat 4 race at the OBRA state championships the next day.

Cat 4 OBRA State Championship Crit

The Cat 4 Race on Sunday was only 20 minutes, so I figured that although the 30 minutes on Saturday had worked me over a bit, that I could at least sit in for a shorter race. The Cat 4s raced with the 40+ and 50+ masters. My teammate Jan joined in for the masters race. Jan is a spectacular crit racer and I figured I could learn a lot just by watching to see what she did. I told her "just tell me what to do....I'll do whatever you tell me".

D and I had discussed strategy that morning. Right now I don't have the skills to contest a pack sprint, but I am a confident bike handler and have that TT motor in my backyard. So the plan was to stay near the front, help Jan out if I could and then just throw the hammer down on the last lap, take the corners really tight and see what happened.

The first lap was the worst. The Swan Island Crit is more like PIR--the corners were really loose and easy to pedal through. This course, in contrast had 6 corners and although the road was wide, the corners were tighter. Most of the ladies weren't taking the best line and seemed uncomfortable when Jan brought things closer to the curb on a few laps. I filed that away in my brain, thinking that it would come in handy at some point. Jeff and Beth were on first corner and D between the last two. Whatever they told me to do, I did.

Jan surged a couple of times, but the overall pace was pretty slow through the technical sections. I got sick of that pretty quickly and on the first prime lap, went to the front and upped the pace just a bit to string people out a bit. Into the last corner, I hear Jan yell "Go HARD Lindsay, go hard".... I ramped up the pace again, which enabled Jan to launch a solo attack for several laps and pick up both primes. Kick ass.

I tried to move to the front so that I could slow things down for Jan while she was on the attack, but just couldn't find enough space. Jan got tired and let us catch her with 3 laps to go. Again, I wasn't feeling uncomfortable at all, so going into the bell lap, I moved up to the front and drove the pace for the entire lap. I took all of the corners tight to the curb so if anyone was going to pass me, they would have to swing wide and take a longer line.

It was so damn cool to come into the finish stretch and see nothing ahead of me except for the finish line. Which got closer and closer without anyone catching me. With about 50 meters to go, I could see someone off to my left side. I stood up to sprint...and my left foot popped out of my pedal. (inner monologue: "fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck"). It took two or three more rotations to clip back in, but at that point she had a wheel length on me. If there had been 10 more meters past the finish line, I would have caught back up. But holy shit...second place! I have never been that close to winning a bike race. Beth went ape shit when I crossed the line. It was so awesome.

Turned out that my attack was also great lead-out for Jan, who finished fourth overall and first in her masters category. And it also managed to string out the field enough that I had some room to react when my foot came out.

So I think I reallllly like crit racing. Too bad the crit season is over for the year. But I'm now feeling really good about my fitness for cross season and am glad that I found a silver lining to the cloud of "can't mountain bike again until next year."


mikey said...

Being able to race twice a weekend is one reason biking is better than running.

We wanna hear more about the Mos show.

sbt said...

awesome awesome awesome lindsay! congrats again on your two races - that is really exciting. Reading your re-cap of the weekend almost makes me wish I hadn't bagged the races for packrafting....almost. ;)