2007 Fitchburg-Longsjo Race Report – Stage 4 Criterium

Jul 1 2007

I overslept. I’ve never really overslept on race day before, but let me tell you, it throws everything off. Even after coffee (I’ve been drinking a bit of that lately), you’re groggy, just a step or two off. By the time I arrive at the racecourse, the rest of the team is already in kits, warming up. I’m darn near the last to sign in, but still – I kinda feel like people are maybe a little too ready to race. As I chamois up and change my cassette back over, I’m thinking “don’t we still have 45 minutes?”

The answer, I would later find out, was no. I hate riding the trainer, so I rode uphill until the roads started dead-ending. I threw in some efforts, but kept it pretty easy, and coasted back to the course. I saw a field staging and rolled up to it, thinking “huh, already?” Yeah – turns out that 12:45 start time was really 12:30. I made the start only by dumb luck. I had a lousy spot, and would have liked a little more warm up, but hey – that’s starting things out on the right foot.

After ignoring it for essentially my entire athletic career, I think I do best with no warm up. In individual start events, where I can control my start down to the second, I love to get the engine revved. But with the delays for staging, call-ups, etc – it’s just never feels worth it. Plus the cold start is such a rush – the gasping, the hot pain all through your legs – it really gets you locked into into the drops, fired up to race. And today, I had to be locked.

The course is up a false-flat, around a sweeping 180, down through a very soft chicane and into a pair of 90s. Finish is well back up the homestretch – 400m at least. All left hand turns, pretty much races like a down-and-back. A few craters/drains/manhole covers here and there, but nothing that’ll knock you out of the drops. It being a Men’s 3 race, we didn’t so much as get through a lap before there was a crash. Lots of switching a weaving – myself included. It took me about a three laps before I could settle in and ride straight.

As soon as I got the wheels under me, I took a flier, but nothing came of it, and so I sunk back into the field and watched Roy van Cleef and VeloEuropa’s Jason Sears put on a fireworks display for the green jersey. Despite large numbers of riders willing to pull, break, and attack, the pack was still dangerous, with more than a few crashes and some well-placed GC riders ended up on the pavement. I myself had a few nervous, floating precariously between handlebars after a not-so-nice bump, and praying not to get curbed on inside lines.

Around ten to go, I worked my way to the front again, and tried to exhort Scott Dolmat-Connell of CL Noonan into taking off with me, but after putting down as many watts as I could, I only succeeded in stringing things out. So I fell back into the pack, and after another crash took out Roy and some other important riders, I almost closed up shop on the race. When I saw Peter Chu (I think) of NEBC, jam his way up to an inside line as the rest of the field came in double file on a reasonable tack, I screamed out “Peter Chu, no! I want to live!”. I had sunk that far.

Coming into two laps to go, though, I got my head on straight again. Someone cut off Roy (I’m guessing it was him by accent, here) and he muttered something about “just getting this bloody race over with”. I commented that I myself was effing terrified, but for some reason, that exchange swung the old motivational barometer hard in the “want to win direction”. I mean, here I was, good legs, barely tired (another hour-long race – I didn’t take so much as a sip of water), on a course I kinda like, surround by tired guys with plenty to lose. What was I gonna roll in for, a top 50 GC place?

So I began to ratchet it up, filling spaces and making moves. Some guy went off the front at two to go, and rather than panic the field, it almost sealed the “maybe-I-can-win” crowd into avoiding the front of the field entirely (can’t win if you chase, right?) Coming out of the sweeper, they were all bunched way to the left, so I swung right, carrying my speed and chopping up a few places. I held it through the usual stand-‘n-hammer on the homestretch, stayed upright through the sweeper, and grabbed a good wheel coming out of it.

After the psuedo-chicane, the field drifted right, and I saw a big, big opening. It was about 700 to go, and I hit it as hard as I could, knowing I could rest just enough through the corners. I got well ahead of the field and swung back in, with the solo up the road and a single pack rider in front of me. A VeloEuropa guy either had my wheel or mimicked my run and came inside me, making three guys coming into the corner on three different lines, but hey – that’s what they have haybales for, right? I kept off the clamps, pedaled as soon as I dared, and came out right where I wanted to.

I couldn’t believe my luck and wound up something heavier than I normally start in, probably the 12 or 13. It was stiff at first, but I really got it rolling and had a wheel and was perfect perfect perfect – then two of the guys five in front of me collided. Not a bump, mind you, but a clangy spoke v. skewer, gotta-stop-pedalling thing. I should have swung around left and suffered the long sprint, but I’m not used to being in this spot, and fumbled like a fourteen-year-old with a bra clasp. I got things going again, thinking, maybe I can salvage top ten, but the wheel in front of me literally broke (spokes? rim? It was a mess), and I stopped pedaling again, fearing its total disintegration. I rolled over the line for 20th (48th overall of 99 finishers).

Lots of lessons learned, here. I’ll never be a head-down, elbows out kinda guy, but this freeze reflex has got to go if I’m gonna keep inserting myself into the final 300 meters like that. In fact, I could use more testicular fortitude all around – I waste a lot of energy braking, not pedaling, and being scared out of my wits when riders close in on me from opposite sides. The finish of this race was pretty starkly contrasted to the that of the circuit race, mostly because of attitude; I might benefit for going for sprints every once in a while, instead of giving up when the group’s more than thirty with 1k to go. Other than that, I’m happy with my performance, considering the damage I took over the previous weeks. Here’s to getting on form again in time for Working Man’s.

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