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Livermore. A 4-corner corporate center flat and, in the morning at least, wind free course. Last year, under a different race organizer and different categories, I attempted to bridge a gap to a teammate and accidentally dragged the field across, then I promptly blew up and went off the back.
This year, for the first crit there I could race, I debated between the 3-4 races and the 4-5, both had mixed fields. I opted for the 45+ 4-5 race, which also raced with the open 4-5’s. 20 people in the 45+, and 53 in the opens, giving a field of 73 ranging in age from 16 or so up to 61. 73 racers crammed into less than a mile. 73 racers going into turns together. Folks of mixed abilities and experience. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot, but surprisingly little did.
I line up, the race starts, and it is moving. Fast. First corner everyone is still ramping up. Corner 2 and there are 73 different lines. I am not sure how there were not multiple crashes as folks dove through it. A long straightaway follows, and it is still ramping up. Past corner 3 and I glance down. Right around 28mph packed as tight as can be. Turn 4 was a wet corner onto a narrower street with maybe 75 yards to the start/finish, and folks were flying all over the road trying to avoid puddles, botts dots, and a conveniently parked trailer.
The pace did not let up. I concentrated on continually moving up, as did other people. I sat on wheels, shot through gaps, and just raced as best I could, being aggressive but not to the point where too may were yelling at me. Some light pushing and shoulder rubbing started. Occasionally I glanced back and saw the pack was thinning a bit.
4 laps to go was called. Things ramped up slightly. 3 to go a bit more. 2 to go and I start thinking about how to get on the front. The legs felt great, we certainly were not slowing down. At no point did I feel like I was not going to make it. Finally, the last lap bell rang.
Everyone perked up. I moved to the outside after turn 1 and made my move. Jumping to the front I head into the long straightway on the backside. I was sitting 5th wheel out of 73 riders. A couple guys peel off and heading into turn 3 I am exactly where I wanted to be, at the front. For a moment, a split moment, I thought not only would I win the 45+ but perhaps even overall. Unfortunately, I was a bit cooked and got swarmed. I stood trying to sprint, made up some ground, but later on Strava it looked like 50 guys were sprinting all at once with the mildly infamous turn 4 to go. I heard the unmistakable sounds of breaking carbon and screaming behind me, indicating there was perhaps a crash. Last corner and sprinted best I could over the finish line.
Turns out I was 8th out of the 20 45+ guys. Midpack out of the 73 overall, beating a few imagined rivals and a bunch of younger, faster kids. 248 watts normalized. 26.1mph average. Not a win, but still decent.
Cat 4 (road)
The Livermore 35+3/4 race was my second crit of the season. After Cherry Pie, I really had to prove to myself I was not only in shape, but I could also hang in the Cat 3s. This race was really my chance to beat up on the Cat 4s and get some confidence coming into the crit season. There were 75+ people in this field which was by far the largest field I’ve ever ridden in. It was crazy! Enrique who just became a Cat 4 and also entered the 35+ age bracket was in the race with me. His goal was to practice moving up and back through the pack, a valuable skill in crit racing. The whistle blew and we were off. It was not raining, but it was cold.
The first few laps were benign. I was feeling good and was staying towards the front to keep myself out of any potential trouble. There were several attacks but being a huge field on a flat wide-open course prevented anything (anyone) from getting away. This did, however, kick the pace up. We jammed along for another 20ish minutes, with nothing of note occurring. There were a few harder accelerations and I was starting to feel winded. I drifted to the back and rode on Enrique’s wheel for about a lap. I could tell he was surprised to see me. I mentally focused myself and worked on my breathing. Enrique shouted for me to follow him up, and he worked his way up through the field. I followed and enjoyed the pull to the front! With about 4 to go, things started to ramp up in speed as well as chaos! I managed to stay towards the front and avoid any issues. With one to go, I moved up to about 5th wheel and held on. I was tired, but knew I needed to stay where I was.
Coming into the last straight, there was a massive pull from one of the Sierra Nevada Reliable racing dudes, and I jumped on! I came through the final corner 2nd wheel, waited to straighten up a bit and then gave it all I had left…. which turned out to be 7th. Not my usual but a strong start to the season! Enrique finished 22nd, which was a great result for him, considering the size of the field!
Cat 3 (road)
I also decided to race the 35+ 1/2/3 with Mike Charleton and Rick Pepper, so I had some time to kill. I ate a little food, rolled my legs out a bit and then took a nap! It was about a 2.5-hour break and after my nap I was feeling pretty good. I don’t usually do 2 races, so this would be a bit of a workout and test of my fitness.
The 35+1/2/3 raced with the 45+1/2/3, so again the field was considerably large! There were 55+ people in this crit. My goal was to essentially finish with the group, considering I had already raced, and I was still just trying to prove to myself I could be in the Cat 3 group!
Just before the start I had a mocha gel with caffeine, just to get a mid-race kick; hopefully. The race started and I just chilled at the back with Mr. Pepper to see how I felt. It started smooth, which is very characteristic of the 35/45+ 1/2/3 races. All veterans, who now how to handle and corner. It had warmed up a bit from the morning, but the clouds were looking dark and heavy! For the first 10ish minutes I felt okay but could tell I didn’t have a ton of energy. There were a few accelerations, which felt huge at the back of the pack due to the see-saw effect. I struggled to get through those. Rick gave me some encouraging words, but I was feeling more and more crap as the laps counted down. About halfway through the race, I was really on the edge of collapse. I tried to move up a bit in the pack to avoid the constant slowing and accelerating, but this only helped a little. Mentally, I just wanted to finish, which would be a plus, but at this point I wasn’t sure I could even do that. It started to sprinkle! Yeah, so in addition to feeling crappy it was now raining. This was good and bad. Bad because visibility dropped and the spray from the huge group was everywhere. Good because the pack slowed down for the corners more than usual, so that was a nice reprieve. The sprinkling lasted for a few laps and then subsided, which was nice, but the course was still wet, and the spray was still vicious! I stowed my glasses because they were just collecting water.
It is hard to describe the next faze of the race. I started to collect myself mentally and steady my breathing. I knew the rain would bother some people, but not me. This is just like racing cross, which is one of my favorite events…. could I use this to my mental advantage? Maybe. There was a sudden acceleration as an attack went off the front. I was upper mid pack at this point, and without really thinking about it, I filled a small gap and stayed with the front of the group. The chase was caught, and the group settled momentarily. I felt okay…. which was weird because just a few laps ago, I was one acceleration away from getting shelled! I thought, “oh man, is my Gel kicking in?”. Another acceleration and I found myself in the front of the field and feeling strong. “Oh, it’s on!!” “I back baby! “were just a few of the thoughts racing through my mind. At this point, we had about 5 to go! What a perfect time to feel good! Unbelievable! As we came around the for lap 4, I drifted back and saw Mike. I yelled for him to get on my wheel, and I smoothly pulled up towards the front of the group. I felt great knowing I was able to give Mike a tow to the front with less than 5 laps to go! I was helping my teammate, which is what my fantasy goal for this year! We stayed towards the front and I was still feeling good. I was almost laughing to myself. After I pulled Mike up towards the front, I drifted back and figured that was good enough. Another couple laps and the pace cranked up. With one to go I was sitting in about 20th and noticed Mike a few people ahead of me. I pulled up next to him and yelled “Get on Mike!”. I then proceeded to pull up the inside of the strung-out group on the last straight! We were jamming about 30 mph, and I was hoping Mike was right there with me. It seemed weird that a lane opened, and I was able to just pull right up to the front. I wasn’t sure if people were tired, or just willing to let someone else (Me) make a pull at the front. I figured I’d make the most of this and pulled right up to about third wheel! We approached the last corner and I just tucked in and held on. We came through the corner rolling! I jumped up and gave it all I had left. I pulled all the way to the line expecting Mike to come around at some point, but I didn’t see him. Perhaps he came by and I didn’t see? As it turns out, Mike was being a little more conservative given the conditions and the time of the season. A totally respectable approach for a seasoned rider looking out for the rest of his season. Probably the approach I should have taken but wanting to not only prove myself to my teammate but myself, I as always, just went all in!
I ended up 8th out of the 55+ rider field, which was amazing considering I was ready to drop out halfway through. That gel must have done its job! I have never had such a change in feel during a race. I usually feel good the whole time or feel shitty the whole time. Sometimes, I feel “just okay” and then finish well, but never have I gone from Shit to Super!
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 lockdown I wasn’t able to save this momentum going into the next race, but I feel much better mentally, knowing I can hang and be a useful teammate.