A Criterium

I was nervous at the start line, but I always am. This time perhaps a bit more, for a number of reasons:

1. at about 15 riders, this was probably the biggest group I’d raced with
2. I have been watching the crash-riddled Tour de France, and
3. I had witnessed a crash last week on a ride with friends

I generally have no specific goals going into these races. I am reasonably sure by now I am not going to win, so instead I set mini-goals, like not making stupid mistakes, staying upright (this is always a goal), or being the first girl over the line.

I had the opportunity to ride and chat with the provincial team coach Jason G. for a bit during the warm up. He coaches many of the kids I race with, who seem to range in age from 14-ish up to about 18 or 19. It’s strange being around them since I don’t think I’ve really been around teenagers since I was one myself. At first this was intimidating and I felt like a total outsider, completely out of my element. Now I am starting to know and even like them (still from a distance of course, I am not nearly young or cool enough to hang out with them). I have gotten used to all of their weird and awkward teenager-ness, which seems to totally disappear when we race. I wonder if they realize how smart and lucky they are to have discovered cycling at the same age I discovered smoking and vodka Slurpees.

Jason and I talked in general terms about the races, how tactical they are. You have to race smart, but he talked about the importance of taking chances, and learning by losing. I decided the goal of this race would be all about that.

I made an attack very early in the race, in the first lap when the pace is always pretty relaxed. I went to shake things up and to see who would come, and for how long. Thankfully people did come and I pulled hard around the track for a while, then did my best to get off the front by pulling to the side and slowing down. Sometimes this does not work and they just keep following, no one willing to take the front. But eventually, someone stepped up. The whole race went like this with fast attacks launched from different racers. This made for what I think was the fastest, hardest (and funnest) crit I’ve done so far. I tried to keep my speed as high as safely possible on the corners, since this is where you can loose the most momentum and time. And to hold my position near the front. If an attack came, I went with it. Always. I launched attacks too, when I thought they weren’t expecting it, to tire people out.

With such a big group, it is a challenge to hold your place in the pack. People launch attacks, you launch attacks, and it’s ok to slide back but you can’t do it for long. Contrary to what you may think, the people at the back are working the hardest of anyone. They are always catching up. So I alway fight to stay near (but not on) the front. I watch for gaps to open and slide in, especially after corners.

Near the end of the race the group was splintered and a couple of Alter Ego guys had created a gap. Can’t recall how it even happened. They were not riding together, but were perhaps a quarter lap ahead of where I was in the second group. It’s hard to tell who’s behind you and how close they are when you are riding like this, so I don’t know how far back the others were. Even doing a quick shoulder check can be dangerous. I tried to get my group to work together to catch the break, but it wasn’t working, or at least not very well. So I decided to take a chance and pulled to the front and gave a good push to catch them. And to my enormous surprise, I did! With about two laps to go I caught the guy in second place and passed him, and was moving up on number one when I ran out of race. But not before I heard the whirring of someone from the second group (who I guess had been behind me) approaching at about 20 meters before the finish line. By this point I was completely cooked and gave everything I had to keep him from passing me, but he inched ahead of me just as we crossed the line, giving me a solid 3rd place. The kid in second place looked over at me after we crossed the line and said “thanks”. We were both struggling to catch our breath, having worked our butts off. It was awesome.

I told Jason before the race that the cat 5 criteriums are an odd social dynamic. A mishmash of people from all walks of life. But on the race course, all of that goes away and it is possible, for a brief moment at least, for a 41 year old mother of two to feel exactly the same way as a 16 year old boy (minus the vodka Slurpee).