“Do or do not… there is no try.” Jedi Master Yoda
After I completed my first triathlon I learned one important life lesson. If there’s something that you want to do that scares you, then its something that you absolutely must do. Often times we can get really comfortable doing the same thing over and over again and be content in the fact that we’re doing something that we enjoy enough to put it on repeat.
For the record, I considered myself a cyclist long before I got into triathlon. I’ve always loved the bike and if there was any single sport that I associated with more than soccer in my youth, it was cycling. But I didn’t first tip my toes into the water into racing until 2012 when I raced the Velocity Stage Race up in Edmonton. Long story short, like any good long course triathlete, I was awesome in the TT, and got schooled in the Road Race and Crit. Then with Ironman back on my plate in 2013 I didn’t really have time to focus on road racing again until this year.
So, now onto the race report part. If you’ve never raced crit before, it’s a format of road racing that takes place on a very short (800m-3000m) course and usually lasts anywhere from 20-45 minutes. So its very intense with lots of cornering and lots of attacking. And its awesome. Road Cycling UK has a great explanation of all the details here. And if you’ve never raced crit before I want you to read the following paragraphs in the frame of mind that this is something that you can do.
I arrived at the race course while the ladies were on course so about 20 minutes before my race started. It being the first race of the season there were plenty of other new riders and only about 15 or 20 for my group that evening. It was pretty easy to tell who the other new faces were because we were all standing alone like kids at a new school on the first day of classes. I figured, there’s at least 7 or 8 people in the same boat as me, no reason to be intimidated.
I chatted with some of the other guys and found exactly what I’d expected, everyone is friendly, a lot of people are new, and we’re all here to have a good time. One other important thing I noticed was that there were a lot of carbon frames and a few deep dish wheels, this was actually pretty comforting because one thing thats held me back from racing was not having a “crashable” bike. Don’t get me wrong, you always need another bike, but even in midweek races guys and gals are riding rigs that no one wants to crash, so I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one riding a bike I couldn’t afford to replace (it is covered under my home insurance policy though).
The correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N is the number of bikes currently owned.”
― The Velominati
So, we took to the start line, did a warm up lap and I found my nerves racing the way they did before my first race. I have no idea why, it may have been the Americano I had late in the afternoon. Luckily they announced that for us noobs the first lap would be neutral with no racing and nothing over about 30kph. Unluckily for me I found myself sort of riding along at pole position for that lap. Its not really a bad thing but you can’t really see what everyone’s doing behind you if they’re well, behind you.
We approached the line to begin racing and the moment I crossed the line one of the bigger guys in the peloton launched a massive attack. The moment I saw him go I figured this guy probably has a massive sprint but straight out the gate there’s now way he could make a breakaway stick.
If there’s one thing that you have to know going into crit its that you need to make decisions quickly. If this guy was going I decided I was going to go with him. My concern was that someone else would jump on his wheel and they’d get away without me, so why not right?
Into the second corner we’d already put about 30 or 40 meters into the field and were getting away. Once it was clear that we weren’t in any immediate danger of getting pulled back in we exchanged words quickly and agreed we’d work together to stay away from the group. We were a two man break so we’d just bust our asses and see what we could hold.
For the next twenty or so minutes it was us taking turns pulling for about 30 seconds each and we’d worked out a good system. The gent I was riding with was all class, he told me he’d raced several years back and shared words of encouragement with me. Our break was organized, well paced, and consistently putting a couple seconds a lap into the group.
One thing that kept crossing my mind was how strong he was versus me. Based on his size I knew he could probably outsprint me so if I was going to have a go I’d need to put some distance between us at least half a lap before the finish line.
As we passed the 20 minute mark it was three laps to go. Earlier on we’d decided that at 3 laps we’d up the tempo. Its not that we were in any danger of getting caught, but its just what the plan was. So the pace increased and I really just knew I had to hang on.
From a work perspective this couldn’t be further from triathlon or time trialling. In a two man break you’re pulling hard for 30 seconds or a minute, and then you’re slowing down for a quick break, then you’re back on the front. It’s 25 minutes of gritty, heart pounding, gut wrenching, legs exploding intervals. The beauty of racing in cycling is that can put it all out on the line just for a chance to win, the only guarantee is that if you take a break or take your eye of the prize, your chances of winning evaporate with the peloton in the distance.
Entering the last lap I got exactly what I was expecting, my temporary ally launched an attack out of a corner and I didn’t respond to stay on his wheel. But this was sort of by design. I had some strength left in my legs but I knew that if I let the race come down to a sprint after the last corner he’d have me beat. Helping him get there would just decrease my chances of winning. Right before the last corner the course is slightly uphill, just enough uphill that I would have the advantage (because I’m lighter).
“If it hurts me, it must hurt the other ones twice as much. They are only human.” – Jens Voigt
So, third last corner there was about 20-30 meters between us. I knew if he wasn’t helping me it would be hard for me, but I was betting on it being harder for him. I knew that if I let him get up the road he would think I was falling off the pace, but if that I let him get too far then I wouldn’t be able to catch him.
As we rounded the second last corner onto the slight uphill I knew it was now or never. I shifted up a couple gears, lifted out of the saddle, and put watts into the pedals like it was nobody’s business. I was channelling Miguel Indurain, Marcel Kittel, and Thor all at the same time, probably thinking I looked way more badass than I actually did.
I passed through the other racer’s draft (he gave me some words encouragement as I did, like I said, the guy was nothing but class), rounded the last corner, and went for the line finishing first with a couple seconds to spare.
Summary of the story. My first crit race since 2012 may have resulted in my first and only career win. I know that there was a lot of power in the chasing peloton but on the first race of the season the combination disorganization and not knowing who to mark in the breaks probably afforded us more lattitude than future races. But it was a nice moment.
Anyways, all thats to say is that if you’re thinking of trying road racing, there’s no time like the present. Midweek Mayhem runs a phenomenal weekly series and the ranks of women in the field could especially use some more riders. The riding is fast, furious, and fun, so if you’re considering it, give it a try.