Steve and I went into Saturday's Sugarhouse Criterium with high hopes of posting a good result. The course suits us well--not flat by any means, but no huge, steep climbs either. We felt confident we could wear down most of the field and then take a crack at getting the win at the end. If we could just manage to keep our noses out of the wind.
To nobody's surprise, the race started fast. Everybody was on the gas, bombing the first downhill, and then out of the saddle and sprinting on the up. I just stayed in the pack, close to the front, figuring it wouldn't take long for a gap to form.
I was wrong. The field was stronger than at any other race I've done, and through four laps, we had lost people off the back, but there was no break where a lead group had left everyone else behind.
As we were coming up the hill at the start/finish area, once again everyone was out of the saddle and pulling hard. The racer just ahead and to the side of me was all over the place pulling on his bars when he must have touched a wheel, and just like that he was down. His bike slid to the side and right in front of me. I pulled up a little, ran over both of his wheels, but managed to stay upright. Steve was on the other side of him, and said the guy reached out and touched his shoulder trying to keep his balance.
I thought for sure it would cause a big pileup, but only one other rider went down and thankfully both managed to get back on their bikes and keep racing.
After the crash, things slowed a bit, but when they called "five laps to go," the accelerations began. I stayed near the front and was just behind two guys from Spin Cycle when I noticed a third Spin rider off the front. I went around and got on his wheel. Chad from Bicycle Center (who took second Wednesday at DMV) was soon with us, followed quickly by Steve. The four of us managed to get a bit of a gap, but we left the Spin Cycle rider on the front to do the work.
The four of us were on the front as we came up the hill to the start/finish area, but the rest of the field was right behind, and I knew it wasn't going to stick.
I also, knew, however, that my four-year-old son was watching, so I led up the hill and across the start/finish area. As far as he was concerned, I had won the race. I learned afterwards that he told everyone "my dad's in first place, and I'm even faster than he is!"
The best part of having a Tifosi consisting in its entirety of three kids and a loving wife is that they're willing to call just about anything a victory and take great pride in even the smallest success. It's sort of like the French watching their countrymen in Le Tour: "well Voeckler didn't get the stage win or the points jersey, but he led over the Category 4 Col de le Dépôt d'Ordure, so let's pop the bubbly in celebration!"
Once back together, I figured I'd sit in the pack and wait for the bell lap to try for the win. With Spin as organized as they were and such a large group, I knew I didn't stand a chance of winning a bunch sprint. I figured my best shot was to go at the top of the second last climb when everyone was gassed from the climb and needed to recover.
I went hard for about 200 meters and figured if I made it to the hill I might be OK. Steve went with me and took a turn on the front. A glance back revealed that the pack was coming hard, so I slowed and tried to block a bit and hoped Steve could hang on. He couldn't. He got caught right at the base of the final hill, and a very well-organized Spin Cycle team took the win.
After the race, my dad had planned a 75 mile tour passing the homes of nearly everyone in the family. My dad, mom, brother Adam, Steve, and I left pretty much immediately after the race. It was Adam's first ride of the year, and between the start and the "aid station" at my sister's house in Cedar Hills, he consumed both of his water bottles, one of mine, one of my mom's, and one of my dad's. And somehow he still ended up doubled over with both quads cramping five miles from her house. I don't recommend starting the season with a 75 miler, but he ended up finishing just fine.
Steve and I spent nearly the entire ride rehashing the race and what we could have done differently. Ultimately, the only thing we could think of was not going with the Spin Cycle break, as it was most likely a feint intended only to draw out and tire some contenders. But as for the final move, we didn't like our chances in a sprint and couldn't think of better timing to go on a break.
I still ended up 17th or something in the sprint, so maybe had I not gone on a break, I could have posted a decent result. But I wanted the win. And you really can't win without taking the risk of losing.