Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning the ropes in crit racing

Because of my inexperience with crits, my DS signed me up to do Speedweek. All I thought was - eurgh, a whole week of crits? How horrible!!! - whereas my teammate Sam, our crit expert, couldn't have been happier. But deep inside me I knew I needed it. What better way to learn how to race crits than a week of crit racing?

Skylar, Sam's little sister would join us in the races and the team would be supported by the Schneider sisters' dad Dave, so I was outnumbered by the Schneiders! Skylar is only 14, but races crits like a seasoned pro. My money's on her once she's allowed to race on adult gears.

The crits would be based all over Georgia and South Carolina and we started off with the Terrapin Twilight Crit in Athens, a buzzing student city. I was really nervous and the race was super hard, especially on the backside drag that stretched the field in every lap. But I managed to stay with the peloton for the first 20min, at which point I would have gotten dropped before. But I was told that the peloton eases off after about 20min, so I told myself to "hang in there". And then, just a lap or so later, the bunch did ease off ever so slightly and I knew I had made it. The time went up to 25min, then to 30min, and the laps went down. When I saw 7 laps left, I knew I would finish the crit without being dropped and I did! I was probably the happiest 36th position finisher ever.

Video of the pro men's Terrapin Twilight Criterium

This was the first pro-level crit that I didn't get dropped in and it completely reversed my dislike and fear of crit racing. I actually think this was the most fun racing experience ever. Racing in the dark, cornering so close to the barrier that you touched the zip tie that held the barrier together every lap, shadows racing over the tarmac and thousands of people out having fun in a warm summer night cheering on the racers - wow, I finished with such a high, I was a convert! I knew I had finally cracked crits and I actually couldn't wait for the next one!

The next crit, the Historic Roswell criterium, was in complete contrast to the Terrapin Twilight one. The sun and warmth had been replaced with pouring rain and cold temperatures and the racers were huddling together under a tree before the start of the race, trying to stay warm. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the Historic Roswell Criterium in the pouring rain and my teammate Sam got onto the podium for 2nd place.
Women's peloton in Roswell

After a long transfer from Duluth, Georgia to Beaufort, South Carolina on our rest day, the third criterium, the Coastal Empire Cycle Fest, was again completely different. It took place in a chilled town in hot weather right down at the beach and was super fast and super fun on a straight-forward 4-corner course. I managed to get into a group chasing the break, but the peloton caught us again and stopped chasing for the leaders.

Thanks to our host John!
The next day's Downtown Walterboro crit wasn't my type of course with tight roads and corners and a long back straight (and maybe it didn't help that the legs were tired), but on the positive side my teammate Sam won!

Teammate Sam on the top step in Walterboro!
After Walterboro we had another recovery (i.e. transfer) day to Greenville, a great cycling-mad town, where we spent our recovery ride with our hosts.

Next day's Spartanburg crit was probably my best performance (if you ignore the first half). The course became challenging by a slight drizzle, just the type that turns the road into a slippery ice rink. I nearly binned myself on a slippery rutty section on the road at the start. Several people slid out during the race. I took it easy for the first half, navigating safely and testing the corners. By the second half I was racing near the front in perfect position. My legs felt great and I was having super fun, being in the mix at the front. Unfortunately I let myself be pushed back in the later laps and just as I was making my way back up the front in the 2nd last lap some riders came down just in front of me and I was caught up behind the crash. Bummer!

Fun with the Schneider sisters :)
Another transfer back to our original host family in Duluth, we only had 2 more crits left, Belmont and Sandy Springs.

The Belmont crit was my worst one. I had a bad start and the pace was super fast for the first few laps (thanks, Sam!), with a steep hill on the course, making it hard to chase and move up into a safe position. The peloton was lined out all the way and I chased down too many gaps that riders let open in front of me before I could reach my teammate. By that stage a break had gone, but I had spent all my matches just to get into the safety of the front that I wasn't able to be of much help. Eventually my legs gave up on another high speed ascent up the central hill and I was dropped. Not fun.

The final crit of the series, Sandy Springs, was another hilly crit and my legs could have been better, but they could have been worse too. Straight after the finish, I had to pack my bike and make my way to the airport to catch my plane. Thanks to Holly for the lift to the airport and lounge access, so that I could have a shower before my flight back to SF!

Leading the peloton in Sandy Springs
The Speedweek was a something of a mad experience, a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs,  adrenaline fuelled racing, late nights and lots of traveling. I have learned so much during it and have come a long way in that week as a rider. I am very grateful to those that have helped along the way. I owe a big thanks to Dave for his support and mentoring during the races. All during Speedweek we stayed with amazing host families, so thanks to Edie and David and the kids, to Valerie, and to Jeni and John for sharing their homes and food with us and making us feel so welcome. I feel blessed to have met so many nice and supportive people!

Jeni with the 3 crit girls after a Mary Kay make-over!
My Speedweek results were:

  • Terrapin Twilight Criterium - 36th
  • Historic Roswell Criterium - 29th
  • Coastal Empire Cycle Fest - 24th 
  • Downtown Walterboro Criterium - 24th 
  • Spartanburg Regional Classic - 36th 
  • Belmont Criterium presented by Carolinas HealthCare System - 39th
  • Global BMW Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge - 28th

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