Monday, June 22, 2009


With Jennifer and the kids still in Florida, I took in a full weekend of bicycle racing on June 20-21. Saturday was the Cobb Park Criterium, presented by the South Chicago Wheelmen and Sunday was the Tour de Winghaven, a National Racing Calendar event that attracted several high-caliber pro teams.

Cobb Park

Wild Card Cycling teammate Alexei and I first headed to Kankakee to meet up with a large cadre of other teammates at Cobb Park. The setting was really nice, in a historic district on the north bank of the Kankakee River. Lots of old trees provided plenty of shade from the sun and protection from the wind. The circuit was short and fast. There was really only one tricky corner, but I thought it bordered on dangerous because of the way the available roadway drastically narrowed after the corner. The road we turned onto was a narrow, divided boulevard, but only one side was open to the race. The road we turned off of was considerably wider. Alexei and I started in the category 5 race, made up entirely of new racers with less than 10 starts. We were joined by Wild Card teammate Art. I surmised correctly that there would be several crashes in this corner. It might have been better if both sides of the boulevard had been open to the race. Cones could be tapered into the center boulevard gradually, so the field could split early and safely.

Even as I gain experience, I don't know that I will ever be 100% comfortable with the criterium format. Success requires the rider to maintain a position at or near the front of the race to minimize the risk of being involved in or slowed by a crash. The changes of speed entering and exiting corners and at the tops and bottoms of hills are magnified in the rear. There is a lot of jockeying for position between corners, and I am not yet comfortable slotting onto a wheel in a crowded pack. As a result, I again spent most of this race at or near the back.

The first crash occurred on a wide open stretch near the start/finish line. I am not certain what caused it, but someone probably just lost focus. A crack in the asphalt ran parallel to the direction of travel for a while and perhaps it snagged someone's wheel. The speeds usually hit 30 mph in this stretch, so any mistakes were potentially disastrous. The crash happened far enough ahead of me that I was able to avoid it without losing contact with the field. At least two more crashes occurred in the tight corner. A high curb on the outside caught riders unable to hold their lines. I ended up in the gutter a few times and decided to stick with the inside line after the group thinned a bit.

I thought the pace was comfortable and even quite slow at times. This was my first criterium with a field composed entirely of category 5 riders and it was noticeably easier than my previous outings. Our average pace was just over 24 mph, but due to the fast nature of the course, it did not seem to require as much power as usual. No one attacked off the front and the pace never really lifted until the final lap. Nonetheless, several riders dropped off the back in the second half of the race. Each time I sensed someone in front of me fading, I jumped ahead to keep contact with the group. I was poorly positioned for the sprint at the end, but I managed to move up to 17th place by attrition. Alexei rode most of the race near the middle to front of the pack and finished 8th. I was happy to sit in and save my legs for the following day's race at Winghaven, which would prove much tougher. This was still my most successful crit to date and the only one that I have finished on the lead lap. Art fell off the back but successfully finished 32nd.

Here are the official results from Cobb Park and here is my ride profile.

We watched other Wild Card riders in the masters and cat 4 races. Our cat 4 team had six riders, who finished between 5th and 13th places. Just about every Wild Card racer threw an attack at some point during the race and a couple secured primes. It was a lot more exciting than our race.

A neat video montage of the Cat 4 race produced by teammate Rob. Unfortunately he was sitting out due to running injuries. Get well soon, Rob!

After the cat 4 race, Alexei and I headed for the greater St. Louis area. We stayed with my parents and awoke early the next morning for the Tour de Winghaven.


Winghaven was hot and humid. Should we have expected any different on the first day of summer in St. Louis? At least our cat 4/5 race was early in the day. The course was a counterclockwise circuit around part of the master planned community of Winghaven in O'Fallon, Missouri. The route included a couple of small hills and a couple of roundabouts. Our race would include 7 laps, advertised at 3 miles per lap, but measured by my GPS at about 2.75 miles per lap. We were supposed to start at 8 am, but after we all lined up and clipped in, we were delayed waiting for the police escort to arrive. Perhaps he was in a donut shop in the restaurant/retail enclave near the start/finish. Aside from this mishap, the race was run very well.

Roundabouts are pretty cool, especially when the pros hit them at 35 miles per hour and the TV cameras get a nice aerial shot from a helicopter. When planning for the race, I thought they were going to be one of the most exciting features. However, the prospect of navigating them with 74 other amateurs, most of whom probably have little or no race experience with them, seemed pretty scary when I was warming up on the course. Normal corners have pretty easily discerned lines and most racers have practiced them, at least a little. As long as the riders hold their lines, the pavement is clean, and the exit is not constricted, mishaps are usually averted. But roundabouts are a little trickier. The outside line at the entrance becomes the inside line around the circle and then the outside line again at the exit. There are lots of chances to get crowded out, no matter which line you take.

The first roundabout came right after the start and on a slight downhill grade. As expected, there was a lot of braking and I correctly guessed the first crash was just a matter of time. Oddly, it occurred on a pretty wide open uphill section of road (and only about 1 mile into the race). I managed to stay up from the very back of the field, but was still about 3/4 of the way down. There was a lot of braking at the bottom of the hill as the front of the race started on the subsequent ascent, but that seemed pretty normal. I think someone just lost concentration when the road tapered at the start of a left turn lane cut out of the median. The course was completely closed to traffic and this part followed the left side of a boulevard, but the crash seemed to start in the middle of the road and radiate to the right. I was to the right of the center of the road and thought it best to try to navigate around it on the right side. I followed another guy who looked like he was going to get through along the right gutter, but then a bike or body part fell in front of him and he jammed his brakes, sending his bike sideways. I was forced to unclip both pedals and walk up on the median and around the carnage. I think the riders on the left side of the road were a bit luckier.

I regrouped with a few others and encouraged them to work together to get back on, but they were either too weak or had just given up. Toward the end of the first lap, I had a group of three in tow and came up on a fifth. I told him, "hop on, I've got three with me." But then I looked over my shoulder and there was only 1 rider. Ugh! I then realized the only way I was going to avoid getting lapped by the main field before the finish was to solo it. I quickly dropped nearly everyone impacted by the crash and occasionally picked through riders that unhitched from the main field later in the race.

I didn't see any organized groups until shortly into the 2nd to last lap. Three riders from the St. Louis-based Hub Racing Team looked like they were taking a warmup lap, but their bib numbers were in the 500s, indicating that they were in my race. "Are y'all still racing?" I asked, thinking they may have abandoned.

"Yeah, but we are about to get lapped," said the guy on the back.

"We are NOT about to get lapped," I countered. "The pack isn't in sight behind us and we only have one and a half to go." I joined their pace line for about a lap and decided that if they could not pick it up soon, I would shoot off the front on the climb about 1.5 mile from the finish on the last lap. When we reached that climb, a lone rider from Momentum Racing was just ahead. From second wheel, I jumped at the foot of the hill. At the top, the Momentum rider was on my wheel. I eased off a little in case I needed to save some for a sprint (for 54th, as it turned out - whoopee!) As we turned into the headwind, I cranked for about 10 pedal strokes to see if he would stay with me. He dropped off, so I powered down the last hill just to make sure, then coasted to finish about 4:30 in arrears. On the plus side, it was pretty cool to solo the roundabouts and turns with no brakes.

In the end, two trends remained unbroken: Alexei rode strong and had a solid finish and I was caught behind a crash early and found myself with almost 20 miles to practice my time trialing. Alexei sprinted with the big dogs, bagging 4th place and a boatload of upgrade points. The 2nd and 3rd place riders were both cat 4s and the winner had no license number, so presumably he raced on a temp license. (I'm thinking he is cat 1 sandbagger using an assumed name.) Alexei also pocketed a share of the $200 prize money.

Anona had a great race in an open women's field and sat 4th wheel late in the race, until a few pro/1/2 women outgunned her up the finishing hill. Dave won the masters race and then lined up for the 2/3 race about an hour later. Dave is also from St. Joseph and likes to race bikes, but that is about all he and I have in common. He rides for the powerhouse Scarlet Fire Racing team and is about twice as strong as me. Alex and some of the other Scarlet Fire guys also represented well. Here are the complete results from all Winghaven races and here is my ride profile.


  1. Get up front. Duh. I know this, but am too protective of my body and bike to fight too hard for position. I think I have a decent competitive streak, but the middle of a pack of cat 4/5 riders barely in control of their machines isn't my preferred setting for unleashing it.

  2. If (or when) I do fall off the back, I am probably the strongest guy fighting to get back on and can't count on any help. The stronger riders are toward the front in the first place and avoid the crashes altogether.

  3. My athletic profile is best suited to time trialing. I can hold a respectable level of constant power, but I have no burst of acceleration to quickly close a gap, bridge, sprint, or even move up a few positions in a crowded field.

  4. I can sort of climb (in a Midwestern sense; I've never faced a truly grueling test.)

  5. It was still fun.

I returned home to 82 degrees that never felt so cool.


Ragfield said...

Good job at the races, Scott. I probably could have taught you those lessons without you having to do the races...

Scott said...

Ha! I've read some of your crit posts from last year, Rob. Our experiences are indeed very similar.