I did the 2nd criterium of my lifetime last night. This was much more exciting than the first. Let me try and set the stage. This was the fourth and last race in the Summer Series. The series champion would be based on best 3 out of 4 races, with 3 races needed to be considered for the series. Going into this race I had 23 points. 11 points for 1st in the first crit, 11 points for 1st in the TT, and 1 point for the circuit race where I finished out of the top 5 (read last!). Points are awarded as follows. 11 points for 1st, 9 pts for 2nd, 7 for 3rd, 5 for 4th, 3 for 5, 1 for everyone else that raced. 2nd place for the series, Greg, had 21 points. He finished 2nd in the first crit. Out of the money for the TT, and 1st in the circuit race. With only 2 points separating us, basically whoever finished in front of the other would win, unless neither of us finished in the top 5, in which case I'd still get the series. Technically, if I finished right behind Greg in the top 5 we would tie, but I didn't know how they would break the tie and really didn't want it to come to that.
So I had exactly 4 strategies that I could use for this race. All were designed to either finish in front of Greg or for both of us to finish out of the top 5. Before the start a guy approached me to let me know that he and his buddies were going to try and break away early and that if I wanted I could join in. I thought that was nice. It meant they were at least on my side for this race, even if our goals were different. I explained that actually I'd be happy if a big group got away as long as Greg wasn't in the breakaway. Strategizing already...
So the race starts. There are 18 of us. Immediately I pull out plan A. Plan A is to sit on Greg's wheel and hope a big group breaks away. I would being doing very little work sitting in the group in case plan A didn't work and I needed my legs for later on. So the laps tick by, a few breaks go and come back. One large break gets away and that leaves Greg at the front of the chase with me on his wheel. He is forced to chase down the break on his own. That is a good thing. He is already working more than he has in previous races and I'm not working at all. In fact, I'm getting rather bored tooling around at the pace of the group, but at least I get to see more of how the group dynamic works in a crit. The race is 30 minutes then 3 laps. We are well into the 20+ minutes and nobody has managed to get away for more than a lap or so. By this time I have totally eliminated Plan B. Plan B was to just sit on Greg until the final sprint and try to come around him at the finish. Ya know, just like Robbie McEwen would do... There is a serious flaw in this plan. First, I'm not Robbie McEwen! I don't really know how to sprint. I can TT pretty well, but I have no sense of timing and I don't really have a sprinter's intensity. Greg on the other hand, is currently a Professional BMX racer. He just raced World's in Columbia a few weeks earlier. His races are typically 30 seconds to 1 minute long. Greg weighs around 200 pounds and has thighs about the size of my waist. After sitting on Greg's wheel and trying to stay on his wheel when he was chasing breakaways in became quite obvious that Plan B was doomed from the beginning. Pretty much we are talking about me trying to out duel a top fuel dragster with a diesel truck, and not a very big diesel at that! Well, on to Plan C then!!!
Plan C, as I had so carefully calculated exactly one week earlier while I laid in bed awake wondering how in the world I was going to beat this guy now that everyone knows who I am and he knows that he is only 2 points behind me for the series, was to breakaway on my own just like I did in the first race. There was one problem with plan C though. First, now in the 4th race of series I was THAT guy. The breakaway guy, the guy that can TT, and the guy that pulled everybody around the Draper Lake loop. Nobody would be letting me go 6" off the front much less a real gap. But I didn't have any options left. Greg was riding exactly like he needed to, to make sure he finished in the top 5 and in front of me. So I start looking for an opportunity to breakaway. I need a point where I could surprise Greg and the group and there it is… Greg starts to reach in his back pocket for a little flask of Enervitene. It's like a gel, but more high powered for a short burst of energy. Just the sort of thing a guy like him would need to crush me in a sprint. :( Is that my opportunity? I hesitate for a moment as I reflect upon the unwritten code of cycling of not attacking while your opponent is "pre-occupied"... Or did I just make that up? What would Lance do? Am I supposed to attack now or not? Crap, I don't know. Oh well, the moment passed. He finished the Enervitene and I was still sitting on his wheel contemplating the universe.
Now I'm getting antsy. I need a little time if I try a breakaway and it doesn't work to then recover for the finish. Then it happens. We come around the corner at the top of the course. We're 27 minutes into the race. I'm on Greg's wheel about 10th spot and-all-of-a-sudden the Red Sea parts and I'm sitting in the middle of the road with 5 riders down the left side of the road and 5 riders down the right side of the road and nothing but clear blue sky right-down-the-middle. I don't think, I just go. Hammering. People start shouting "there he goes". I think half the group had that sitting on their tongue just waiting to say it. Probably, was starting to taste bitter they’d had to wait so long. I just ride as fast as I can through the corners trying to get a gap. I don’t look back, I just ride. I make it through 1 lap and start to check my progress. I see the group way back. 200 maybe 300 feet. A long ways for just one lap. But, there is a front wheel right behind me! I look again… Disaster! It’s Greg. I’ve managed the breakaway. I’m well clear and could probably stay clear for the remainder of the race, but what good would it do me? Greg is just going to sit on my wheel and out sprint me at the finish. Time for Plan C-1… I DON’T HAVE A PLAN C-1!!! How many scenarios could I possibly run through laying in bed based on my wealth of experience from one crit and hours of watching the tour on TV? They don’t even have crits in the Tour! So while I try and whip Plan C-1 out of my butt, I just keep riding hoping that Greg the sprinter will just get tired before I do. I do a few more laps hard and he is still stuck to me like glue. The draft is so significant that he probably isn’t even working very hard. Even though I’ve managed the breakaway, I decide to scrap all variations of Plan C. I ease off. One guy catches on. I ease off some more and just before the group catches us the new guy scampers off the front and goes solo. The group, now down to 6 or 8 riders, catches on.
Now, in my dreams the group catches up and somebody fresh hits it hard, there are only a few laps left, Greg is now too tired to chase and is unable to sprint into the top 5. Did I mention that was a dream? Inexplicably the group just files in behind us. So here we are with 3 laps to go, right back where started. I’ve executed Plan A, B, C, even C-1 as well as I was able and here we were setting up for the dreaded sprint finish with maybe 8 guys, some who are just barely hanging on. Time for some verbal encouragement to the group. I start yelling to the group (nicely) to GO! I tell them he (Greg) will kill them in a sprint so if they want any chance of finishing up front they need to go NOW! There were two realities taking place at that moment. One, we were riding at roughly the pace of a 5-year old on a big wheel. Two, the guys were wiped out. Gone, done, finished… They were trying to go, but they had no go left.
The bell lap. One .75 mile loop around the course is all that is left between me and 2nd place for the series. Remember one guy is still off the front. Doesn’t really matter. I’m not trying to win the race, just win the series. As we cross the line for the last lap I’m 3rd wheel behind Greg who is behind one of the group that managed to drag himself to the front for one last gasp. We are approaching the first turn and in a moment of perfect opportunity I invoke Plan D! Yes, as matter of fact, I did have a Plan D and by golly I was going to use it before this race was over! 50 feet from the corner I hit it. Full tilt boogie, white knuckle, into the corner. I was easily going 5 mph faster through the corner than the lead guy, maybe more. See the plan was to hammer into the corner at the last minute and fly through the corner. Greg by the time he realized what I was doing and following another guy would be unable to accelerate before the corner, he’d end up going slowly through the corner and then have to accelerate after the corner. By that time I’d have a gap and then there is another corner only 200 feet further. Hopefully, I’d be able to carry my speed through the second corner and arrive at the back straightaway with enough of a gap that it would just be a long top speed drag race around to the finish. Of course, the folly of this plan is that the distance remaining was pretty much exactly the time and distance of the typical BMX race! Rut ro! So I fly through the 2nd corner. My tires are actually chattering slightly as I fight to maintain grip on the road. I’m going much, much faster than any of the previous passes through the corner. Did I mention it rained approximately 1 hour before this race? Did I mention there were still puddles in this corner? Did I mention someone crashed in this corner during the A race? Well, all of the above are true, but not particularly relevant before now. So I squeak through the corner, starting flying down the back straight like my ass is on fire and I take a peek back to see if my efforts amounted to anything more than a leadout for Greg. Just as I look back I see Greg jumping the curb, flying up onto the grass, with one foot out the pedals. Sketchy corner + 200 pound dude + trying to catch up do not a smooth corner make. Now at this point you probably think I just cruised around to the finish for my 2nd place on the day. Not exactly. I kept the pedal to the metal just in case Greg saved the corner and managed to get back on the road without losing too much time. So I’m almost to the last corner, pretty tired by now, thinking more about the people than the road and I run straight into this huge pothole that I’d gone around every lap before. My bike makes a sickening crack and for a moment I thought I’d broken my fork or destroyed a wheel. Still upright, I gingerly navigate the last corner, bike still beneath me and soft pedal to the finish to take 2nd place for the day. Holy cow! That clinched the series and yes I admit I pumped my fist when I crossed the line! I could be wrong, but I think that is what crits are all about…
Chris ended up taking 3rd for the series thanks to her outstanding TT. I think the loud crack I heard was just the bars rotating in the stem when I hit the edge of the hole.