Monday, September 1, 2008

Still Upright after First Criterium

I survived my first criterium cycling race this morning. A criterium is basically a road race around a short circuit, usually about 1 mile or less in length. The riders race in laps around the circuit for a specified time plus a certain number of laps.

I really only had 2 goals - don't crash and don't get lapped. I was 1 for 2.

Lulu pins on my race number as Zachy mugs for the shot

The official program for the weekend race series had a little introduction that explained the different races and USA Cycling Men's Road/Crit categories - with Cat 1 and 2 being the semi-pros who were eligible to enter pro open races and cat 3 being pretty good racers that "still had jobs and real responsibilities." As for cat 5, it said something like - these are "beginners who often fall over in the corners." Reading that was great for my confidence. Today's course was clockwise with 4 right turns. One of the corners was big and sweeping and another was pretty wide open, but the other 2 were tight. I resolved to just taking the high, outside line through all corners. I still have a long way to go in the bike handling department and I've really only done about 30 minutes or so of serious practice with corners at speed - and all of it solo. I didn't want to drift over the top of someone and cause a pile-up. There were a couple instances where I thought I was all the way outside and I heard riders behind me shout "outside! outside!" I tried to hold my line as best I could, but I knew I had slipped a couple times. Fortunately, each time I either held it just close enough, or the other riders read me well enough to drop back.

The start/finish was on Delmar Avenue in the heart of University City. The big sweeping turn led onto Delmar and into a fast, slightly downhill section. This is all relative, of course. It was still mostly flat, with the grades and total elevation rather modest, but enough to make a real difference in speed and heart rate. The grades maxed out at about 2.5-3% up and down. Then there were 2 tight turns at the bottom of Delmar and then onto the mostly false-flat/slight uphill backstretch on Washington.

The Course

Clipping into a pedal at the start

I hung onto the back 2/3 or so of the main field for most of the race and felt pretty solid for about 20 minutes or so. When I started to tire, I moved up to the front and led the peloton through the homestretch and over the start/finish. There were still about 4 riders off the front, so I was not leading the race, but I figured I'd try to give Ron a photo op before I cracked. (He didn't have the camera ready.) After I came around the somewhat tight turn 1, I moved to the outside and slowed to let others around. I grabbed on about 3/4 of the way back and planned to just hang on as long as possible. (It is pretty hard to find a good place to safely "slot in" once you start to lose your position in the field. I've heard television commentators talk about how once riders start coming around, you can lose 20 positions in the blink of an eye. It was pretty real to me today, even at our modest speeds.)

Then about 1 lap later, after about 22:20 of racing, there was a crash in the backstretch several riders ahead of me. I am not sure what caused it, but it was probably just a careless touch of wheels. It was on the uphill section on the lefthand side. I started to slow and move to the right to get around them. There were only a few riders behind me, but I didn't want to make any sudden moves and cause another crash. I started to ask if people were OK, but the motorcylce at the back of the race was soon on the scene, so I figured I should just try to get back on. By the time I got back up to speed, the gap was probably about 100m or so. I started to work with one guy who had somehow duped me into pulling on the uphill and then he jumped around to take the lead on the downhill. (What a sucker I am.) Actually it wasn't too bad for me since I could freewheel through most of the downhill on his wheel. But after a couple laps of that, I had enough and flicked my elbows. I figured I would try to milk him for as long as I could, but it wasn't long before he latched onto someone stronger and dropped me. That's racing. Alliances are always temporary.

It wasn't too much longer that the leading break and then the peloton caught me, putting me a lap down. I kept plugging away for a few more laps, sitting up hands free to wave at Zach and my folks as I passed a couple times, knowing I was pretty much done. I came across another guy who seemed to be riding strong enough to have a shot at bridging back up. He may have been in or slowed by the crash, but didn't seem banged up. Since I had given up hope for myself, I figured I would be a good sport and offered to help him get back on. He took me up on it and I kicked it up and did about 3/4 lap for him. After one of the corners, I flicked my elbow and said "you're on your own from here." Around that time, the race had run more than 40 minutes and the leaders had triggered the start of the final 5 laps. About a lap later, I heard the lead motorcycle approaching. The break was about to put 2 laps into me. To save myself a little humiliation, I figured the most noble jesture would be to pull myself from the race before forcing an official to do so.

All and all, it wasn't a disaster for a first effort. If not for the crash and the gap that opened in front of me, I think I could have at least hung onto the peloton to the finish. I'm encouraged enough to give it another shot. My next cycling race will be the Capital City Criterium in 2 weeks. That one has a figure 8 course, making a total of 8 turns per lap, which could be tricky. I probably won't be able to hold the high outside line on every turn. I think I will enjoy an open road race more than riding in circles, once I have the opportunity to enter one, but the crit format is fun for family and friends to watch.

Until I lost contact at about 22:20, the peloton averaged 24.1 mph, with corners and all. We topped 30 mph on the downhill homestretch and slowed to 20 on the uphill. Here is the ride profile. (The map isn't much to look at. :-) The slowdown for the crash is apparent at about 8.9 miles. I meant to track actual laps around the circuit but forgot to set my bike computer to do so. It "lapped" every 5 miles.

Speed and Heart Rate Profile

Zach raced in the bigwheel division of the kids' races. That was a hoot. He was really thrilled with his participation medal, and reminded me more than a few times that he "winned" and Daddy "losed." I didn't have the heart to tell him that we both losed.

The competitors await the start of the kids' race, big wheel division

Zachy pedaling in anger to reach the finish! He would have taken the sprint at the line if 704 hadn't received outside assistance.

We stuck around for about 5 laps of the Pro/1/2 race and then hit the road. It included a couple riders from Toyota United and Rock Racing. There was an obvious world of difference from one race to the next. The Pro/1/2 heat was smokin'.

Zachy after the race with his medal and dad

See more pictures from the day on our Tour of the U-City Loop web album.


Anonymous said...

That was fun! I am no longer critical of all the bikers on Clayton Road that we encounter on the way to church every Sunday!
Love, Mom

Scott said...

The law gives cyclists the right to use most public roadways except interstate highways. Most states allow cyclists (and motorcylcists) to ride up to 2 abreast in traffic lanes. But they should always follow the rules of the road, including obeying traffic signs and signals, signaling turns, etc. Motorists should be critical of any bad behavior along those lines.