Chris and I raced our first crit last night. It was part of the Wednesday night series, out by the airport on a totally flat .75 mile "triangle". Really windy, but hey we're all used to that now aren't we? The "B" group had about 18 riders. Cat 4/5's and females. I think there were 3 females. The race was 30 minutes and then 3 laps.
My plan was to stay near the front, work the corners well, get a good workout, and not crash. 100 yards into the ride a guy from Pro Bike goes off the front with a teammate. I give a lazy chase up to the 2nd guys wheel. Starting the 2nd lap I can see team tactics already at work. The 2nd guy is at the front of the group and he starts easing off into the wind, letting his teammate go. Well, I wasn't going to have any of that, so I pulled around and chased the first guy going downwind and sat on his wheel going upwind. Now here we are all the way to the start of the 3rd lap and two more guys attack. Again I give a lazy chase. I didn't feel any reason to let these early breaks get up the road, so I just kept pace with them without expending any more energy than necessary. Going downwind and one of the guys drops off and a guy on a yellow Giant and I get a small gap. I'm thinking this is way too early to try to breakaway so I just sit on his wheel, occassionally taking easy pulls into the wind for a bit. To my surprise we get a pretty good gap and we hold this for a few laps. He tries to encourage me to take more pulls, but I tell him it is too early. Eventually a 3rd guy that I recognize from the Norman rides catches up to us, but the group is still 10 seconds back. Once the 3rd guy joins I feel like we might have a better chance so I start cooperating a little more and we all take pulls. Of course it was a cat and mouse game. Everybody wanted to pull downwind so they could "do their part" and then pull off right when started back upwind. We rode a few laps like this, each guy trying to avoid pulling into the wind. 10 minutes into the race and we now had a 15 second or so gap on the group. We'd gone around the corners enough times that I knew the good line and I could pedal all the way through two of the corners and just about pedal all the through the 3rd. I noticed I could get through the corners a little better than the other two, so I took my pull downwind before the two fastest corners, and then put a little more pressure going into the two corners, especially coming back out into the wind where I normally had been easing off. Within 50 feet of the corner I had a 2 bike length gap. I felt comfortable so I continued to push the entire leg into the wind. At this point we were 11 minutes into race. I ONLY had to hang on for about 25 more minutes! The next couple of laps my gap slowly grew until it was more than 100 feet. I was pushing hard, but no harder than I could sustain for the remainder of the race. I wasn't redlined, just in high gear. After a few laps, to my surprise, the 2 chasers dropped back to the group. So everytime I rounded the bottom corner before heading back into the wind I would check the position of the group coming down the downwind leg about 30 seconds behind me. Each lap the gap was growing ever so slightly. I think mostly I was gaining on the corners and the upwind leg. As soon as I came out of the corner into the wind I'd move by hands in, scoot up to the nose of my saddle, and put my head down and just TT to the top of the course. Then I'd sit up, grab a drink, and try to push a big gear easy downwind letting the wind build my speed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Nearing the 30 minute mark the gap was about 45 seconds and holding pretty steady. I kept expecting the group to make a charge, but that never happened, so I eased up a bit and just monitored their progress each lap to make sure they weren't gaining. With 3 laps to go I could feel I was getting more cautious in the corners. I wasn't sure why. I wasn't tired, but the bike just didn't feel as solid. Kept it steady to the line, maintaining the gap. Crossed the line and sure enough my front tire was half flat. Doh! Good thing it wasn't a longer race. I couldn't even ride a cool down lap!
So, it wasn't really a crit for me. More of a warmup and then a 25 minute TT. I accomplished my goals of staying near the front (never further back than 3rd), working the corners, getting a good workout, and not crashing. The two teammates from Pro Bike that hit it hard on the first lap? I lapped them... twice...
Next Wednesday is the time trial and I get to use my Hed Jet 90 front wheel for the first time there. You get 10 points for winning a race in the series and you need 3 races to be eligible for the series awards. You get one point for finishing. Last month 11 points was good enough for 3rd. :)
Pretty fun stuff for my first crit.