After Friday's post indicating my intention to enter a criterium on Saturday, I got a comment with some solid advice from my friend Eric, a Cat 3 Racer and one of the best crit riders in the Boise area.* My race report includes Eric's advice followed by what I actually did. Oh, and I'll add the disclaimer that Eric posted his comment like 45 minutes before the race started, so I didn't see it until after the fact. Not that it would have made any difference.
*My criteria for determining "one of the best" is that one time when I was over at Eric's house he had a prize money check on his desk from the Wells Fargo Twilight Criterium. He's the only rider I personally know who has made money--in any amount--from racing his bike.
Eric's advice: Try to stay out of the back 1/2 of the pack... almost anything bad that happens will filter back to that bunch and be amplified.
What I did: Not realizing that positioning begins before the gate drops, I found myself right in the middle of the start bunch, which was to be split pretty much right behind me between C flight and D flight. I was one of the last C flight racers off the line and therefore found myself at the back of the pack.
Eric's advice: Watch everyone closely for the first 5-10mins and get a feel for who the goofballs are. You can tell pretty quick when people don't know what they're doing. Maybe somebody always cuts people off... maybe they're swerving, maybe they hit their pedal on every corner. Just log the race numbers in your head and STAY AWAY from then on. While you're at it, you'll likely notice somebody that's smooth and solid, lock onto their wheel and just hold it.
What I did: I'm pretty sure I was the goofball people were staying away from. Sam was the guy I should have been watching and locked wheels with. I neither helped nor put myself in a position to get help from him at any point during the race.
Eric's advice: Generally I think an inside line is safer as it's harder for somebody to take you out. Also it usually gives you the option of avoiding traffic by counter steering into a tighter line.
What I did: Starting as I did from the back and trying to move up in the pack, the only place I could find to do so was on the outside. So that's where I was on every turn. At least nearly every turn.
Eric's advice: Ideally... get close to the front, but out of the wind... 5-10 people back and just hold the position all race. The pack will be constantly flowing & rotating so you'll have to fight a bit to stay in the spot but it's worth it.
What I did: The wind was fierce on the back stretch but at our backs on the home stretch. So the ideal strategy would have been to be on the inside of the pack and protected from the wind on the back stretch. Instead, on lap 2, I made a move on the outside, going all the way around the pack and off the front. My brother was behind me, and Sam was on the front. I figured when we went around, Sam would come with us, and with three of us, we'd have a chance at holding off the field.
Unbeknownst to me (since I was way back in the pack) was that as we came around, Sam had just finished chasing down another break and was in no mood to come with us. So instead of three, we had two, one of whom had been sick all week and still had 40% of his lung capacity filled with phlegm.
We managed to open up a little gap, but as we rounded the corner onto the home stretch, my legs were done. Steve pulled to the front, and I fell in behind, but I knew we couldn't keep it up. The chasers knew they would catch us soon enough, so the gap closed slowly. My priorities changed from getting away to just being off the front as we passed the kids in the grandstand so they could see their dad and their uncle leading the race. However temporarily it was to be.
On the back stretch we were surrounded again, but instead of getting on someone's wheel, I felt myself sliding further and further back. I just couldn't catch my breath. And my legs just wouldn't quit burning.
By the time we got onto the home stretch, I was off the back. Within a lap of that, I knew I wasn't going to get back on. Within a lap of that, as I coughed incessantly and had a metallic taste in my mouth each time, I knew I was done. So I pulled off to the side and wheeled my bike over to the bleachers and sat down with my kids.
Steve finished the race but was out of the the lead group. Sam, on the other hand, held on for second place. That guy is a machine.
While I'm disappointed with the DNF, at least I get to count the start. Which in the end was worth the whopping $10 entry fee and all I really came for. Oh, and I discovered that for all my fear, crit racing is fun. And not all that scary, even on a sketchy course. Fun enough that I may keep going back even after I get enough starts to upgrade. As long as I can just learn to follow directions.