After driving around Fremont, CA for about 15 minutes to find an ATM I finally made my way to Dumbarton Circle to check in, pay my $20 race and license fee and figure out what the heck was going on. The first thing that I noticed was there were no racks for bikes, no transition areas and no compression socks; it was already a different world from the one I was used to! I found a tree to toss my bag next to and then joined the group of close to 100 riders to listen to the pre-clinic instructions.
We then broke into small packs of about 15 to 20 riders each for some pace line practice. The day before the clinic/ race I had put my road bike back together, normally I'm on my tri bike all the time which gets some inquisitive looks on the climbs of Marin. However, in pace lines a tri bike is recipe for disaster; you have much less control over the direction of the bike because of its aggressive geometry and your hands are always a movement away from the brakes or the gears. For pace lines a road bike is pretty much necessary. So rather than riding my trusty steed, El Bastardo, I was on my far less glamorous Haley - the red and gold clad frame with the cheapest components money can buy! Nashbar groupo anyone?
I learned a ton in the 45 minute clinic; apparently I had a tendency to let the gap widen too much when I was about to take over the front of the pace line and then accelerate the pace a bit too much which causes an accordion effect. The surges and slows of a pace line were really hard for me to get comfortable with. I'm so used to riding at my own cadence and pace for miles upon miles that working in unison with so many different riders was totally foreign to me. Also, going through turns without grasping for oh sh*t brakes was a novelty for me. But in the end I improved on each lap of the clinic, learned to coast to the back of the pace line and learned how to maintain the pace when I got to the front. All in all not bad for a dude in mountain bike shoes and pedals (purchased for my ambitions of doing cross)
The clinic was over and it was time to race! I checked my blood sugar and was a bit high at 285 but figured that would be fine for the 40 minute all out effort. Crits are done on a short course (not sure if the distance is universal). This course is a 2.2 km flat road with 4 90 degree turns and one turn that kind of banks around. At the starting line we were broke up into 2 race groups, Cat 5 races can't have more than 50 people in them for safety. I was in the front line of the 2nd group, based solely on the position of where I was standing, this race was just to learn how to do it and for fun.
The gun went off and so did I! In typical Ed fashion I figured I could ride at the front and use my power to stay at the lead of the race. I was in front for the first 2 corners and nearly had a heart attack. Soon I was swallowed up by a group of 5 riders working in a pace line that had no problem blowing by me. I'm not sure if I was at the lead of that pace line around the first 2 turns or if they just caught me b/c of my gold awful cornering ability. Had I been more aware of how to race I would have sucked onto one of those 5 riders wheels and kept the pace with them. As it was, I was still working solo like a triathlete, not like a cyclist.
I would catch the pack on the straights, work my way back up to the front and then get spit out on the corners. This pattern lasted for the first 80% of the race (I guess about 18 laps, I think we did 20ish laps in all). The mentors would see me trying to maintain contact with the pack and would often give me a wheel to hang onto as I sprinted back to the pack. I'd kind of make contact and then fall back out of the pack since I didn't understand how close I should be to maintain the draft. I'd often feel like the pack would slow so then I'd try and go to the side of it to move to the front but then would get shot out of the back end around the next turn.
Eventually a mentor saw my obvious monkey on crack skills for racing crits and then helped me to learn how to go into the turns low and exit high, and how to maintain a powerful position to keep speed after the turns exit. After working on that with him for a turn or two I had totally lost contact with the pack. Without the ability to get into my big ring (did I mention I had put my bike together less than 24 hours before the race?) there was no way I was going to catch the peleton which was averaging close to 30 mph. A fellow rider who had lost touch with the pack offered to draft with me so we could do some work to catch up. But I felt like I was pulling him alot more than he was pulling me and eventually he couldn't hang my wheel. With about a lap to go the race director told me to go back to the start; which I guess means my first crit learning experience was a DNF, no biggie this was all for the lessons and god I learned alot.
Some things I learned:
- Stay with the pack, don't try and move up until the last few laps, and for the love of god don't go out too hard
- Have a bike that can get into the big ring and road shoes and pedals probably would help
- No matter how fast you can sprint or how powerful you are, you can't keep it up for 40 straight minutes unless you're on the tour
- Crits aren't tris!