Saturday was the State Championship Criterium, held in downtown SLC around Pioneer Park. It was my first race as a Cat. 3, and since it was my first race as a 3 and Peter A. hasn’t been mandatory upgraded yet, I went in with fairly low expectations. I was just hoping to sprint it out with the pack, with the assumption a group including Peter would be off the front.
The assumption about the group off the front held true. Even though Peter had soloed to victory in the Masters A race immediately before the 3 race, he somehow still had the legs to make a move off the front after all of about one lap. We chased for a long time at what was for me a very high speed, even sitting in.
In previous four corner crits—especially when chasing a breakaway—I’ve always noticed a very pronounced accordion effect—slow for the corners, accelerate in the straight. Rinse and repeat every 200 meters until the bell rings, then hit it even harder to try and sprint.
The accordion effect in this race was not as bad as it usually is in a Cat. 4 or Cat. 5 race, but that’s only because we were cornering faster. At one point I looked at my computer as we were rounding turn 3. 29 mph around a right turn on a downtown street with painted lines and a man hole cover for improved traction (I jest about the improved traction). So basically instead of going slow-fast-slow-fast, we were just going fast-faster-fast-faster. It was the highest intensity hour of riding I have ever experienced.
Eventually we realized that Peter and his four breakaway companions were not going to get caught (teammate Adam C. was among them). So the pace slowed. For about one lap. Then someone would try to bridge. So we’d all chase. Then someone else would go. And we’d chase again.
At one point Steve tried to bridge. He was out in no-man’s land for a while and then was swallowed up. Towards the end, it seemed like the pack was starting to break up. I thought people were getting tired. I thought a gap had opened and people were off the back behind me. Prior experience suggested more gaps were going to open. Even though I was actually smack in the middle, I thought I was at the end of the peloton, and that if another gap opened I would be behind it. I was more nervous than I should have been.
So I accelerated to get to the front of the field, hoping to be sitting in in a better position for the final laps. Right as I was about to tuck in behind teammate Cam P., he made a move off the front. In that split second I thought that with help, maybe he could stay away, even though I am not the sort of rider who has ever had the ability to go on a break and stay away. Cam pushed hard for a lap, then I pulled through and gave it all I had. I expected Cam to pull back through, but he didn’t, so I kept pushing for another half lap before I realized Cam didn’t pull through because we had been caught. It would have helped to look behind me from time to time, but I was too focused on maintaining the imaginary gap we had only briefly opened.
I was completely blown with four laps to go. Stupid move on my part—I should have let Cameron solo and sat in and tried to set up for the sprint. (But that’s not what Cam would have done for me. Because Cam rides pretty much every race just looking for ways to help a teammate.) I tried to recover, but there wasn’t time. The bell rang, and I knew I’d be lucky to just stay with the bunch.
Steve positioned himself well and won the best-of-the-rest bunch sprint for sixth. Adam stayed off the front for fourth. Peter, when he realized he was going to be out-sprinted at the line, sat up, presumably so he’d get fewer upgrade points. He’s getting close to a mandatory upgrade to Cat. 2, and he doesn’t want it. Even though the rest of us want nothing more than for him to upgrade.
Am I satisfied with the result? Not particularly. With Peter, Adam C., and others capable of making a break stick, it was never going to end with a sprint. And if it didn’t end with a sprint, I was never going to win. But I know where my strengths are, and I failed to play to them and could have done better otherwise.
There is a moment in nearly every race I enter when I am suffering beyond what I thought I would ever choose to suffer. In these moments, I want to abandon the race and give up bike racing. I think about how stupid it is to pay for the privilege of punishing myself like this. I think about riding my bike just for fun or taking up another hobby altogether. Yet at the end of every race, these thoughts are completely banished. If I have a good result, the elation more than makes up for the pain. If I don’t have a good result, I can’t wait to try again and prove the result does not reflect my ability. But for the time being at least, I cannot conceive riding my bike without racing, however poorly I do it.