Another week, another new experience.
This time it is racing in a 1/2/3, which is the only category combination that I’ve not raced before. Last year, my first ever crit race was in this series – I finished 19th – and I was keen to return to see what’s changed a year on. I was eager to race at the Velopark again as it was a lot of fun back in February when I was in a breakaway.
I was grateful it was just a 1/2/3 after the beating, gratuitously taken, at the E/1/2/3 March Hare Classic. I had some headset issues going into that race making my cornering worse than usual, for which I had only myself to blame (and I suitably paid the price for). I sorted this out, trued up my wheels and got to a point mechanically, where everything on the bike felt good again. As for me, a big start to the week left me a bit tired on Thursday and Friday, but thanks to the magical tapering that is Critical Mass, on Saturday I was feeling quite good after a generally stressful week.
Conditions on the the day were much better than the original (and ridiculous) forecast, although a persistent Southerly wind with strong gusts ~40mph meant the racing would probably be much harder than usual – usually the Velopark is head/tail on the straights but today was all crosswind. The plan was to sit in for the first 15 minutes or so and then counter some moves to try to break away and see 1) what happens and 2) where I’m at in a 1/2/3 field.
And this is exactly what happened. The first quarter of the race was spent cruising around z2/3, with very few surges >600w needing to be made. I didn’t burn a single match in this period which helped me be very active throughout the race.
To have it so easy means having poor position when the action begins. The race had some 60 starters and I was at the back of a strung out peleton. To get involved came at a cost, and it took 2 laps to find the gaps and ride through them to get into the front. I followed a couple of riders attacking (4t+ and Gemini) and ended up on the front coming into the finishing straight.
Attempting to break
Nobody wanted to come through so I stuck it in the gutter and let everyone else suffer too. The surge (some 30s @ 600w) pulled some very strong guys off the front and kicked off a 4 man breakaway. Although we were all riding hard and working well together, the bunch came back to us after a few laps. On our recapture is where (I think) the winning move went, a perfectly timed solo attack as our break was sitting up and the bunch sat up to recover from the chase. I thought about going after it, but didn’t have the legs at the time. He solo’d some 35 minutes to the finish in that wind – fair play.
The next 25 minutes were a mixture of recovery, trying to form another breakaway with Dom from VC Meudon and then preparing for the final laps. As soon as the 5 laps to go board came out, space came at a premium as the other riders started to get more nervous as a bunch sprint approached. There were a couple of horrible crashes in the final laps as the pace ramped, and sadly an ambulance or two showing up at the end to take people away to hospital.
Moving up, and getting to the finish
Last year when I was at the back of a race, I’d just use that as my excuse – I just couldn’t get through those 50 riders blocking the road so I finished in the bunch, I totally would’ve won the sprint though. Today, I thought screw it, I’m going to get to the front and get involved in the sprint. Better to burn matches and be in the race, than stuck behind those not racing. It was a huge rush to fly passed so many riders, and it didn’t take too much effort either. I only spotted one place on the track where I could move up – the uphill long left hander that brings you out into the right turn and then under the bridge. Everyone sat on the inside half of the road, so I had a clear run around before having the fastest line through the next corner too.
I did this twice in the final 4 laps and on the second lap to go, I saw again the riders were sitting on one side of the road. I had thought about taking a flyer beforehand, but I’ve never seen it stick here. I must really have not wanted to gamble in the sprint.
I gave it a quick burst to get up to speed under the bridge – the guys at the front had sat up a bit – then flew up the inside. Someone called me out after the race for this being a ‘dangerous move’, but as you can see above, I had plenty of space to pass and these guys were on a wider line to me too.
Anyway, this is the point where my heart rate went next level (200bpm before actually attacking -215bpm by the end) and I was turning myself inside out to get away. I’d got a handful of seconds right away, and was joined by Dom (VC Meudon) after taking the bell lap. He told me something along the lines of ‘if you work you can have it – I’m f*cked’. So candid. I flicked him through for one short turn, then drove it the rest of the way to the line. I was so wrecked that I didn’t even think of looking back or thinking that I was leading him out, the bunch was coming and I didn’t have time to do anything other than bury myself.
I took one quick look behind on the final hairpin corner and couldn’t see anything other than a blur. I went to the far right side of the road to get anyone out of my draft and started sprinting, realising shortly after that I couldn’t stand. As I approached the line, I took a quick check around and saw I had a few bike lengths. Being a total idiot, I put my arm up like I’d won, only to be reminded 5s later about that guy had smashed it off the front like a half hour earlier (#youaintprobro). I’m going to blame the emotions here, it was quite something for me to pull off a move like that against a field like this. The realisation that I had the ability to make it stick was pretty powerful, and OK I didn’t win, but I gave it everything and that felt great in itself. Hands on bars for the next few races though – celebrating second place just isn’t cool. This blog is about failures too, so if I find a picture (haha) I’ll add it on.
Anyway, 2nd place is a great result. The race was a lot of fun and I felt much, much better in the corners this time. I didn’t even think about them so I had time to think about the other more important things to think about in racing. The Velopark is going to be a popular choice for me when the summer series start, so it’s great experience to have and I’ve learned a lot from this race.
As a final note, I had a cool suggestion from Ollie Charles (Islington CC) a while back about posting the Golden Cheetah w’ chart for an entire race, to show the periods of attacks and recovery etc. So here it is. I actually broke my w’bal model, suggesting my critical power is actually 5-6% higher than I thought it was. This is very good news for the coming month, or possibly bad news depending on who you are. Maybe I should see a cardiologist in the meantime though, I can’t always tell the difference on my Garmin between my HR and watts.
Thanks for reading – here are some stats (PMC figures = ignore):