You may be wondering why I'm racing crits in Tucson, AZ. A good question. Two days prior I was informed that I needed to fly out there pronto for work. The collateral damage was that I missed both my son's doctor's appointment and my cycling team's spring training camp. Needless to say, I was disappointed about both. However this race was something of a consolation.
The course was a go-kart track outside of Tucson. Temps in the mid 60's (yes, my pale legs made an appearance), with a light wind out of the west. The course was very flat, with just little rises after turns 2 and 13. But these were very little. As astute readers have already noted, I said "turn 13" two sentences ago. That's right: 13 turns - how lucky! 4 of them were 180's. :) We started before sun-down with the first race, and by the time the second race was underway, we were racing under the lights. Very cool. Visibility was not a problem, and the track was plenty grippy.
Tucson knows how to roll. I was intimidated at the line over stupid stuff: tans, Cervelos, Zipp and Edge hoops, Tarmacs, DA7900, etc. Tucson knows how to roll, man. The majority of the guys looked pro and I was worried about it. I always get the start-line jitters early in the season due to "how fit everyone else looks" etc., but I always come out ok. By the end of the season, I'm no longer intimidated, it just takes re-learning I guess. Regardless, 35 guys and a few gals lined up for the 4/5 race, while the same number lined up for the 3/4/5, though a few 4s and 5s left, and a few 3s showed up.
The Race: Tucson Weekly Crit #6
Cat 4/5 (20 min)
From the gun, the kid who won the juniors race (Max) took a flyer. I chased him down and soon the field was on us. George (who I had just met, and lent me his floor pump), rolled at the front for a while and strung out the group. Guys were getting spit out the back, since the pace was pretty hot. Whenever a break got a little gap and there were 2 people in it, the field, which was down to about 15 guys I think, would surge to catch. This continued for the whole of the 20 min. race. Early in the race a rider went down on the 2nd 180 turn. I didn't see it (I was eager to stay in the front 5 wheels or so) but he was lying there for several laps. It turns out they had to take him off on a stretcher and he rode home in an ambulance. I don't know what happened after that, but it looked scary. Amazingly, they didn't neutralize our race!
Well, for the entire race I pretty much felt like crap. I tried to warm up well, but I don't think I "opened it up" enough. When the organizer yelled "2 to go!" something clicked and I felt MUCH better. It was as if my body knew it would soon be over, and my breathing relaxed and I didn't feel stressed. At the time I was in the top 10, so I started picking guys off on corners. Some I'd take on the outside and carry more speed, some I'd go on the inside and sprint out of them to move up a little. Coming into the final turn, I had moved into 2nd wheel in the bunch. The last turn being a 180, followed by a downwind, slight uphill sprint, position was critical. I jumped out of the turn and won the bunch sprint by several lengths. I even sat up before the line. The down-side was that the junior who took the early flyer had done the same thing with 2 to go and easily won by several seconds. Turns out he is 14 years old. That's right, I (and the rest of the 4/5 field) got whooped by a 14 year old. So I took 2nd, but it wasn't without some humble pie.
Cat 3/4/5 (30 min)
We waited some time for the second race as the gentleman who crashed was evacuated from the track. I chatted up the local racers and drooled over their pro bikes. I also basked in the knowledge that my bike cost a fraction of thiers, yet I beat them. Ah, vanity. (Mine and thiers!)
The next race I was pretty confident for and had a good starting position in the first row. We jumped to speed pretty quickly and there were attacks on the first straight. Things played out much like the previous race, where it seemed like any time more than 1 rider was up the road, everybody wanted to be in that break. I noticed I was getting out of the saddle more often to bridge to breaks or just stay in the group (which was lined out). Afterwards I would see in my power file that I had 22 spikes above 1000 watts during that race, with an average wattage above 240. So, I don't think it was an "easy" race. Despite that, I actually felt better than the previous race, and I think I helped animate things throughout. On the final lap I was sitting 3rd wheel going around the penultimate turn. After the previous result I was excited and thinking of the win. That thinking stopped when, before the final 180, 2 guys jumped along the inside, swung wide, tapped the brakes, and took the turn 1-2, moving me back to 5th wheel. It was a brilliant move, and those 2 had attacked individually probably every other lap during the race. Well, the sprint played out and I just didn't have it. I passed one guy, but another passed me and I ended up 5th.
I can't really complain as 2 top 5's on my first night of racing is a good result. I think I even nabbed an upgrade point for the 2nd place. After the race I collected my things, traded business cards with a few other racers, checked the results and heading north to Phoenix. This bodes well for my early season form and I hope the continued 3x20's and the VO2max intervals (which start in a fortnight) get me in even better shape. The lesson learned from previous crits remains true: when I'm in good position going into the last turn, I always do better than being further back. It's worth it to burn a match (or three) to get yourself in the right spot.