Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Tour of the Valley - Day 3: Criterium
After Saturday’s cluster**** of a road race, I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with my coach discussing potential strategies for the crit. I had no intention of riding this course at 15 mph. We discussed the possibility of a euro start, how and when to attack…and then I got to the race and saw the GC standings. (Note: GC is the general classification, or yellow jersey race. For our race, placing in the top 10 (15 for the road race) comes with getting points towards the GC. Because I had a relatively high placing in both the time trial and the road race, I knew I was likely high on the standings.) I was tied for 3rd in the overall classification. Mark’s parents and brother had come out for the race, so I spent a few minutes talking to them, and then a father of one of the junior’s racing gave me his insights into the course.
I got there plenty early because I wanted the opportunity to pre-ride the course, I learned my lesson on that one. Looking at the schedule, it didn’t look like there was going to be time to ride it between races so I got there with enough time to ride before the men’s CAT5 race.
I did a few loops and realized the loop was pretty simple. It started with a simple left 90 degree turn, a straightaway, another 90 degree turn, then a downhill ending in a 90 degree turn but with 4 lanes of road, then a sharper 90 degree turn on a small alley road with some significant holes with a short straightaway before the climb. The climb was a short power climb, manageable in the big ring, that leveled off to a false flat to the finish. None of the turns were very technical so I was pretty certain it was going to come down to attacking on the climb, not good for the big girl in the field. I then met up with my friend Tif, and we discussed strategy. She was willing to help me if she could, but she wasn’t sure how she was going to feel. We did a few miles of warm up, and it was pretty clear I was nervous. At one point, we were stopped at a light, and I looked to see my arms quivering. She wanted to warm up some more, but I needed to clear my head a little bit so we parted ways. I talked to one of the juniors who had just finished racing and who does the Westlake Crits, and he gave me his thoughts on the course then I went down to the race start.
After the men’s CAT5 race, there was enough time to take a lap before the Women’s ¾, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I just stood there. I then talked to another woman I know from the Westlake Crits, explained my position in the GC and asked if she could help me if she could. She said she would, but like all the women who have raced hard for two days, she just didn’t know how her legs were going to respond.
Now, this race was set up to take 45 minutes. After about 3 laps, they would calculate how long we were taking to do a lap, then post how many laps we had remaining. Unlike the day before, the race pace started fast. Despite about 35-40 feet of elevation gain on the course, and a headwind on the downhill, the pace only dropped below 20 mph for the field for one lap near the end of the race. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who didn’t want a field of 21 in the bunch sprint. So, after three laps, they posted 13 as the laps to go. Man, that number was discouraging considering how hard those first three laps felt.
In one of the first few laps, I saw Angie, who I would consider Snakebite’s team captain go for an attack. I was pretty impressed by the effort, I am not sure if she was trying to escape, so much as tire the field out for her rider Lorena who had won the road race the day before. The field had no problem chasing down Angie, but I give her props for it.
As this race proceeded, here is what I noticed. The women in field were not taking the downhill turn with any sort of speed nor was anyone taking the tight turn aggressively. By the top of the hill, I was definitely near the back of the field, but even the women in the front were tired from the push up the hill so we all used the straightaway to the turn as a chance to recovery, except after preims when the push through the finish line pushed the pace up without the recovery. It was after the preims that I tended to yo-yo off the back pretty badly. Thankfully, Mark was standing right there at the turn, and he, and a few other voices, kept cheering for me with each passing lap. It genuinely helped me suffer to get back to the group.
(Note: preims are one interesting caveat of crit racing. To keep races interesting, they have cash prizes or sometimes equipment they award to the person who wins the sprint at the end of certain laps. They call out the preim laps by ringing a bell. Our race had 3 preims: cash, tires, and cash.)
As I said, I noticed the pattern in the race pretty quickly. I think the pace was high enough that no one was contemplating attacking… except me. I knew that there was no way I was going to out sprint anyone at the finish as I was struggling about as bad or worse than any of the other 11 women still left in the field on the hill. To get any GC points, I needed at least to outsprint 2 of them, and even that would not be enough to guarantee a podium spot. So, on the last preim lap, I opted to test out my strategy and attacked on the downhill so I could take the turns aggressively and see how much of a head start I could get on the hill.
I definitely hit the hill with about a 10 yard gap, but I couldn’t sustain the lead and didn’t get the preim. Truth be told, as soon as I saw another person, I backed it off because I needed to recover as we still had 5 or 6 laps to go, and I had just put in a massive effort. I yo yoed pretty badly off the back for the next couple of laps, but I was completely determined not to drop. I was working about as hard as I have ever worked to stay with a group on those next few laps, but I absolutely refused not to score in this race. I also had a sinking suspicion that what happens at Westlake frequently would also happen here, that with about 3 laps to go, suddenly, everyone wants to save themselves for the sprint, and the pace would slow down. Sure enough, with three laps to go, the pace slowed down to below 20 mph.
With that slowed pace, I was fairly confident that my strategy would work. I am sure that at some point I will either get burned by testing my strategy in a race or will get to the point that I no longer need to test my strategy to be confident it will work, but thankfully, testing my strategy didn’t seem to have any ill effects. So, on the final lap, I attacked on the downhill, took over the front for the downhill turn, spreading out the field. I stayed in front on the tight turn and hit the hill in front.
Small problem, the field of dropped riders hit the hill at the same time so it was kind of a cluster finish, and one rider in the dropped field got in my way on the climb, but that’s just part of racing. I took the hill with everything I had and kept the speed up. I even managed to edge the woman who was tied with me for the GC at the finish by about 5 inches. When I counted, it looked like I got 7th, which I was pretty sure would be good enough to keep me on the podium for the general classification, especially since the girl in 2nd had been lapped and the woman in 1st at least finished behind me if not out of any points at all.
I was right that I got 7th, edging out the other 3rd in the GC woman at the finish. I was so proud of the way I performed in this race. I was pretty confident that if I didn’t make a strategic move, I was not going to place in the top 10 and would kick me off the podium for the GC. I kind of feel like I stole my position, expect I know as well as anyone that the strongest riders don’t always win. I did well because I examined the race and capitalized on a weakness in the field. Now, considering my size and the sheer massive size of my quads, I need to get better at the bunch sprints, but as I said, bunch sprints is not even a skill I have considered practicing before this weekend. (Look at the photos and tell me that my legs aren’t twice the size of most of my competitors!)
So, for my first stage race, I ended up getting 6th in the time trial, 7th in the road race, and 7th in the criterium, good enough for a 4th and a podium finish for the general classification. I won a box of honey stingers (strawberry) and shot bloks (citrus) so at least I won’t go hungry riding my bike anytime soon!