This year I went to Florida for two weeks for a training camp to get back on the road bike and "learn" to get comfortable riding on the road again. The next step: learning how to race the road bike again. It might seem a bit silly to say, but after 6 months of indoor training and racing on the track, it's almost a "new" experience to race on the road again, having to deal with gears and brakes, corners and hills, etc.. For me, the transition back to road is always a hard one. For the track, I ride and train at the Forest City Velodrome all year around, so I've gotten to the point I can pick that back up without hesitation. Top it off that I make it a point to go to Bloomer Park and race the 200m track there in Rochester Hills, MI and the Cleveland Velodrome during the summer, and track almost comes natural to me. My confidence is built back in 20 mins of training. For road racing, it takes a few races to my confidence back. In my mind, Speedweek - 5 races in 7 days - is an excellent way to get that confidence back racing in sunny and warm Georgia and South Carolina.
I would like to first thank my generous supporters on the GoFundMe campaign. The campaign was as much a way to raise funds as a way to test out GoFundMe for a possible campaign for track worlds in a few years. I would also like to thank Ed Veal and Jessica Puddifant for putting me up on the couch of the condo they rented. Without them, I probably would not have gone. Also, thanks to Jon Maloney and Deirdra MacCallum for being there at the start line. Having someone to go to the start makes things much easier. That said, we were only able to do a Speedweekend. Next time, I hope to bring a group of racers down. Committed individuals who see Speedweek the say way I do: Crit Goon Training Camp.
When I left Milton on the Thursday (April 24), I had some trepidation over the trip. It was a 17 hr drive by myself to get there. It was forecast to pour rain on Saturday. They changed the course for the Athens Twilight - so I had never raced it before. I had no idea if I was going to the races by myself or not. I was supporting Ed Veal, but he races in the evening. I hadn't really raced a crit in months. I do not like surprises and unknowns. So, all these things we ringing in my head as I headed down to Athens, GA.
The friday, the day before the Athens Twilight, was a nice day. We stayed in a hotel that night because the condo wasn't available. On checkout, I got kitted up and went for a 1.5hr recovery ride while I waited for Ed and the others to arise and move over to the condo. When I got back, they were ready to ride - so, we went riding around town. We watched Ed win the grid qualifier. He managed to get his call up on the start line for the race the next day.
The Athens Twilight
Saturday. Race day. I was up in the Masters 45+ race at 8:30am. It was raining on the way to the race. 12C. Cold for Athens. I went on my own. I found the parking garage where the organizers setup camp and went to do a walk around the course. I wasn't impressed. The course was changed this year. While all races were now on the downtown course (so, yea, I got to race it just like the pros which was my goal), it was a 1km loop containing a 400m climb at around 3-4%. So, the crit was essentially hill repeats at race pace. Corner 3 on the course was also tight and would be "fun" in the rain. Oh well, so got out the trainer, and managed to get in a warm up. Looking outside, the women's race was on - some 30 mins behind schedule - in the pouring rain. While I had managed to race in the rain the Tuesday prior at the Midweek Crit, this course looked far faster than Midweek. When the women's race was over, we got to do a hot lap of the course before lining up. Luckily, the moment I left the dry garage to head to the start line, it stopped raining. Still, that hill was going to hurt. Unlike races in Ontario, races in the US tend to start fast...and this one was no different. Within seconds of the whistle, I was clip in and in an all out sprint for the first corner. In Ontario, I can usually make the front this way - not here. Because of low confidence at cornering, I ended up near the back in a few laps, and soon was off the back. But, I kept going. I wasnt the only straggler and a few of us got into a paceline attempting the fruitless activity of chasing back on. Did I mention that hill hurt? It was just long enough that one cannot just do a quick jump into it and be done. It required some grinding and sprinting...and near the top is where the attacks happened. I finished the race 12/14 in my 45+ division. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was educational.
The next race was the CAT4 race RIGHT AFTER the masters race. What was I thinking? I sat on the sidelines collecting myself thinking I wasn't going to do the race. No way. However, after waiting for 20 mins for a kids race to complete, I cooled down enough to collect myself, change my number, and decide to jump in. Hell, I paid for it. No point in quitting before the race starts. If the masters race start was fast, this race start was faster. I was on the start line at the start but got tossed back to 1/2 way thru the pack before the first corner. I think it was about 3 laps before I fell of the back of the pack but I kept going. The funniest thing was looking at the referee every lap and thinking "Ok, pull me now". A small group of us were eventually pulled some 10 laps into the race as the pack lapped us. Boy, I wasn't ready for this race. That hill was a killer. But, I gained some confidence cornering at speed on wet pavement. For the rest of the day, it cleared up and the roads dried up. Ed Veal got a few preems and a top 20 result in his race. So, while I never made the ameteur qualifier, I got some experience racing a tight course with a hill on wet pavement. Oh yea, I got to race the same course as the pros.
Jon Maloney came back to do the CAT5 race. It was as fast as the master's race. I love his response on finishing that race: "It was the hardest thing I had ever done". CAT5. The newbies. That says something about the calibre of the racers in Athens.
Roswell Historic Criterium
If Athens was cold raining day, Roswell, was the complete opposite. Overcast and warm. 22C and getting warmer. While I had a good feeling about today, I was to learn the opposite. First up, the CAT 4/5 race. 40 mins. The course was easier than Athens. Only a small grade on the back side but a 120 degree turn on corner five. The course was shorted this year and the "other" 120 degree turn was removed. It should have been an easier race....or so I thought. I missed the staging and ended up in middle of the pack at the start line. Not good. Once again, the race was off like a ball of lightning in an all out race for the first corner....with me WAY too far back. With some 70 starters, there was little room to move around. Moving up was hard. When the pack slowed up, they filled the entire road. Corner 5 was always an all out sprint. The length of the sprint was simply a matter of how far back you were in the pack. Moving up in the straight should have been possible, and I did a few times, but I was usually so blasted by the sprint from the corner, it was all I could do to hang on. Eventually, I got my last sprint effort, and some where around 6 to go, I lost contact with the pack. I managed to pick up two other guys and we managed to keep going never really losing sight of the pack. Two laps to go they wanted to ease up because they wanted to sprint for last pace. huh? I'll never understand that mentality. So, I managed to finish the race, albeit it completely trashed, somewhere near the bottom of the results. Again, not what I wanted. The next race, I promised myself to be on the front on the start line. If only that could have happened.
The Masters 45+ race was a few hours afterwards. I should have pulled out the trainer and did a cool down for 20 mins after the first, but didn't and I would regret it. Having screwed up the start position for the first race, I was determined to get better possible on the start line. However, the referee changed the staging arrangement. I managed to be on the front in the staging area, but (get this), lost the sprint to start line. From the staging area, it was an all out sprint to start line some 400m away when we were called to the line. I ended up midpack. Not what I was hoping for. Argh. Again, when the whistle blew, it was an all out sprint to the first corner. The problem with being mid pack at the start is it takes a few seconds for the people in front to get moving, and those second count. I was mid pack into the first corner with the legs going "Nope. You're done". One sprint out of corner five proved to be too much and I hit the "incline" for a second time and fell off the pack. I had nothing left. Some three laps into the race, and I was done. But, I felt good about cornering. For the first time in the weekend, I felt like I had the handling skills back - if only I had the energy. I wished that I had the time to start the rest of the week. I know what would have happened. I would have gotten better each race and by the last race, I would have been finishing midpack.
While I was doing my cooldown on the trainer, I had a look around at the license plates. People came from over for Speedweek. Some of the best of the best came to this race series - and that included the CAT4/5 types. Make no mistake, Speedweek is hard....but that was the point.
When I hit the gas on the start line at Springbank, race through the bikepaths of Springbank Park in London, ON, the effort at Speedweek clearly paid off. I managed to stay near the front of the race. I learned a few things down there in Georgia:
- Crit racing is about being able to sprint out of the corners. Ed Veal told us that after his race, one of the guys told him his Athens Twilight prep workout: 10 secs on. 50 secs zone 3. Repeat 80 times. Because that is what a crit race is. Sprint, tempo, sprint, tempo, over and over again. For amateurs, obviously, the workout should only last as long as your longest race.
- If you can hang in for the first ten laps, you can usually finish the race. This is the point where most people get a feel for the course and figure out how to move up, etc.. Sometimes, it's just a mental thing. After 10-15 mins of racing, the body is warmed up and the mind is ready to go. Jon M. found that out when he finished one of the races I didn't.
- KEEP PEDALING. This is a word of wisdom from Ed Veal. In a crit, keep pedaling even if you are only pushing 50W. Chances are, you will move up a few places when everyone else is coasting. I know this works because I used it in the Springbank race to stay near the front.
- Your position in the pack determines the amount of effort required to stay in the race. Near the front you will have to fight to hold your position but you will not have to sprint as hard (or at all) out of the corners. This seems obvious, but as the race progresses, it is easy to get lazy and get sent to the back of the pack. Sometimes, finding the back is easy....and then moving up is sometimes almost impossible. In Roswell, the pack was sometimes strung out 1/4 of main straight away
- In the US, getting to the start line early is very important. Unless you are a great sprinter, getting on the start line is very important. At every race in GA, it was a race to the first corner every single time. Every race was a cyclocross start. Fast and furious.
- While this isn't specific to crit racing, pedal down hills to avoid effort to climb them. I got this from Trevor O'Donnel during my Florida trip and Ed Veal during the ride after the races in GA. It works. Pedal like mad downhill, and most of the time the effort to get back up the other side is far reduce. This works better than coasting downhills and hitting the uphill hard. Go figure.
While the results of Speedweek we something to be desired, I leave the second race in Roswell with enough confidence to keep race on the road again. Had I been able to stay the week, I think I would have figured not only how to finish every race, but how to get a better result. I'm hoping next year I can get a group of guys to travel down and do the entire week.