Once Around the Park

Well I survived the first criterium of the season. Criteriums are crash-prone races that are all about tactics, about wheel sucking until the perfect time you can pull out the sprint and win. Last night I did the opposite of that, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. I had done some reading about criterium racing and how it’s better to stay near the front (that’s near, not at) because of the increased danger at the back as well as the “accordion effect”. The accordion effect means that in the corners, the riders at the back are having to accelerate more to catch the riders at the front. The farther back you are, the worse it is and the harder you work. So when we lined up at the start, I did not bury myself in the very back as I had in the past. I placed myself right on that line to ensure I would be in the first third of the pack (of about 12 racers).

I’ll add here that I race Cat 5, which is the lowest category in bike racing there is. Typically it is for beginners and kids. So I generally find myself duking it out with teenagers from the provincial team, a handful of us “older folks” (generally men) who are pretty new to racing, and maybe a gal or two from FOG. The pre-race is extremely irritating, listening to the cocky teenage boys show off for each other and the girls around them. And seeing 15 year old girls with pro-level bikes whose wheels alone cost more than any of my major appliances. They are old hats at these races, and train specifically for them, so they are bored and indifferent.

As soon as we started I found myself right on the front of the pack. Not my plan, but that was fine. I figured I’d set a nice controlled pace until someone blasted past me in the first sprint and I’d grab their wheel. I’ve been practicing this maneuver with my roadie friends and was anxious to try it out. But after almost 3 laps nothing happened and it was getting boring. So I upped the pace and after one corner hopped out of the saddle and gave a little sprint to let them know something needed to happen. Gradually over the course of the race others would do this too and it got way more interesting (and hard), but all too often I found myself at the front, in the wind, doing all the work. This kind of pissed me off, so I did my best to either slow them right down or shake them off, hoping this would eventually tire them out. Well, of course the person who got tired was me. But I didn’t care. I wanted to race, not coast around the track for 20 minutes for a 10 second sprint.

It was a bit of a chippy race, and I did get bumped by another rider on one corner. Thankfully we just bounced off each other and managed to stay upright. Some “hey!!s” on the course, not sure if any were directed at me, so I yelled a few as well when I saw people do stupid things. It was a strange race, and I’m not sure if I raced well, or just stupid. But I felt strong and had a total blast.

In the end I think I was about 5th place. 1st woman. So I’m cool with that considering how the race went and how hard I worked for much of it. Next one maybe I’ll play it a bit different (or maybe not…).