Forest Park Criterium – March 4th

Mar 6 2007

March = bike racing. Time was, I’d still be skiing this time of year, but time also was Alaska had glaciers, and Kilimanjaro had snow. So a 6:25 wake-up and a 6:45 departure time (I’m out of practice – a theme for the day) later, I’m on the road to Springfield. Unfortunately, I left the flier at home, and had do some intuiting. Which, though time intensive (arrival 8:25, start 8:45), turned out ok.

Only two beefs for the race organizers, and the second will come up later. But returning to the first – I know this is a low-key event (no numbers), but signs for registration are mandatory, especially when parking is sprawled out over several lots, hundreds of meters away from each other. But there were plenty of restroom facilities, which was nice.

Most of the other stuff that went wrong was my fault. I forgot my insoles (drying) at home, so had to substitute my sneaker insoles (no biggie). Then, after my panic/warm-up trying to find registration, I noticed I couldn’t get the big ring – turns out the cable came off. So, while holding the derailleur cage in position, used the blade of the Swiss Army Knife (NB: I ride with a knife so don’t eff with me) on my key chain to tighten the low limit screw until it was locked on the 53. [Insert McGyver reference here].

forest park course

This was ok, even with 12/23 in the back, because it was a flat course. There was a little rise, but I think it was a false rise, if such a thing is even possible. And none of the speed bumps teammates had ominously warned about. The race was called a criterium, but the corners were all rounded and laps were 1.2 miles long. It’s (kind of) selectivity came from very narrow in spots, and oh yeah – it was covered in grit and road salt (gross in the mouth, painful in the eyes). Things had apparently been worse at 8am, so the C race was combined with mine (the B race).

Anyway, I finished tying off my derailleur cable and the race got underway. Very slowly. Back stretch on the first lap was 19 mph. I thought about taking off , but at 180lbs and about 6 hours on the bike (non-commute) in ’07, I feel like my “taking off” days are a few months down the road. All in all, it was like a regular race, but in slow motion. Not just the pace, but everything: the corners, my legs, other people’s attacks – maybe I was just really alert?

I had decided before the race that this would be the day I finally just sit up in the pack and don’t do anything, but even fat and out of shape, I just can’t snuff that urge to kill. After the bell rang, I found myself second wheel coming around the last corner. But the pace just kept getting slower and slower and someone behind me jumped. Had this been a money race, and I a rider with the legs to justify it, I might have asserted my right to the road in front of me when I heard them coming up. Maybe next time…

The next bell came two laps later, and I came through the last corner in 3rd. A Springfield Cyclonauts guy came off another Springfield Cyclonauts guy, and I figured he would take off and lead me out, but he just sat there getting slower. So rather than get boxed again, I went long (well, long relative to my current legs…) and delightfully, no one could keep on (or no one followed).

There was another prime bell in there somewhere (I think two laps later, again) but there was lots of attacking – maybe someone trying to solo for it – so I passed on the opportunity clung onto the back. A fair number of our original group had now been dropped, so, due to organizer beef #2 – not pulling lapped riders (I understand it’s a training race, but let me finish my story, ok?) – things could get very tricky. Someone a few wheels ahead of me did something strange when we came up on a pack of them, and ended up on his face. Ouch. We got neutral lap after that, which I used to get back in position.

At six to go, someone launched an attack, and I remember thinking “shoot. that is a good attack”. Not because it was especially hard, but because it was well-timed and no concerted chase was going to come from this group. I briefly entertained thoughts of bridging, but there’s no way – even thirty seconds of pedaling into the wind would have been too tall an order, and it was better to save my legs for the sprint.

Given the result of my two previous sprint attempts – waiting and boxed vs. early and winning – I decided I’d go for a longer sprint, and positioned myself pretty well again. I think I was 3rd or 4th around the final bend, and hit it as soon as I had a straight shot at the line. I got a gap, but there’s only about 10 or 12 sprinty-like pedal strokes in my legs right now. The first guy that caught me was *probably* faster than me. The next two, definitely not. So poor planning. But my execution was perfect.

In case you’re bad at math, that makes me 5th, but the organizers, it turns out, were bad at math. I was respectful afterwards, and deferred to their insistence that I was 6th – in no small part due to the fact that 5th and 6th got the same prize (box of Powerbars). Yesterday came my vindication (though my hurried registration forced omitting the name of my new squad – Team International Bike). I also got a package of Fig Newtons for winning that prime.

All in all, I felt like crap – physically for being so out of shape, and personally for racing only once, and in the B/C field. It may only have been my third road race since 2005 (counting GMSR as one event), and the B field was listed as Cat 2-3-4 (I’m a 3), but watching the A race, it’s clear where I should have been – suffering and clinging to the back of that field. I’ll work to correct this at Wells Ave next week.

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