You race and you learn: 1st Cat 4 criterium

Sunday afternoon I participated in the South Carolina Criterium Championship with my POA Cycling teammates. My category 4 race was the last one of the day at the Hampton Park in Charleston, SC – right next to The Citadel. It was a beautiful day – just a little windy when Billy White, Matt Tebbetts, Blair LaMarche, and I took the course.

My first category 4 criterium race

My first category 4 criterium race

First the bad news. I got 14th place. I did two stupid things that put me in that position.

One – a few laps into the race (19 laps total) I was near the front. I noticed a rider kept stretching his lead. There was some movement up front to bring him back. My turn came and, like an idiot, I pulled for about half a lap.

It is one of those things I have to learn. How do you get off the front gracefully? I don’t want to be in the way and cause an accident. Also there is that fear that I won’t have done enough of my part. Chalk that up as something to learn.

The worse thing about it is that the guy was going to get swallowed up anyway. As we got closer to him, I could see him glancing back and starting to soft pedal. That was a bunch of energy for nothing.

Two – just before the start of the five lap countdown there was a prime. At first I was thinking correctly to myself, “Don’t worry about the prime. What you want is the podium.” However, as we came out of the fourth turn I saw a gap that would take me past about 20 riders who had decided not to contest it. There wasn’t much of a gap to the sprinters.

I shot up the gap and actually gained on the two guys going for the prime. I ended up third. As soon as we crossed the line the announcer called, “Five laps to go. Five laps to go.” Oh, great. Now I just had five laps to recover and those would probably be the fastest five of the race.

Now the good news. I got 14th place. It could have been worse.

Thankfully, I was able to back up a bit after the prime attempt and recover. By the time we reached the final lap I was sitting in the top five riders. My teammate Billy was right there as well. My goal was to stay in contact with him. Hopefully, we would set things up for a good finish.

One of my fears of criterium racing is the turning. Thankfully this course had two very sweeping turns and only two corners that were close to ninety degrees. Corner number two was one of those sharper turns.

I started feeling comfortable about the turns and was finally feeling confident about holding my line. It helped that there were road markers and it gave me something to concentrate on as we went through the corners in a pack.

During our final time through corner two I was setting up to accelerate out of the turn and move into position to sweep through turn three. It would be very important to be near the front going into turn four. That would all start here in turn two.

Suddenly I heard some commotion behind me. Next thing I knew a rider – who I could not see – banged against my left hip. It was a hard enough of a jostle that it knocked me out of my lean. That caused me to straighten in the turn and the bike to wobble as I started to tip over my center of gravity.

I didn’t even think about what might happen. I just gathered my Giant after a bit of squirrelliness and then smashed the pedals to try to make up the ground I lost. I kept waiting to hear the dreaded sound of riders going down behind me.

Billy was still up there, but I was now stuck on the outside with riders streaming around me. I was now in the top 20 riders, but was not in a good position. After turn three I started to attempt to move closer to the front. After getting boxed in a bit I was forced into turn four on the outside.

Going into turn four I lost more positions as riders took the shorter inside turn. Now it was time to let it go. Thankfully, the outside was open because the field was stretching out for the sprint. I started moving past riders and moved into the top ten just as we were passing the restrooms on the right.

At that point I started seeing some riders coming up to my left. I tried to increase my cadence to stay up. It was then I noticed I was about three rings above my 11. I shifted a couple of times and things leveled out. However, the momentum couldn’t get me past them.

It was about 30 meters from the line when I felt the earlier efforts. I saw riders going past me on my left – one of those was Tebbetts. I gritted my teeth to try to beat him, but he and one other rider got past me to take 12th and 13th. I immediately rued the two earlier efforts. Not a doubt in my mind I could have had a top 10 – even with the near crash in turn two – had I not put out that needless energy.

Observations: It is great racing with a team. Granted, Tebbetts and I don’t know a thing about strategy. I’m sure we were frustrating to Billy. Still, it was great to know they were there. There is a comfort that comes going into a tight corner when you know the guy beside you.

Tebbetts is strong. Early in the race he was right on the front for multiple laps. Then on the final turn he was pushed off the course. He still recovered and came back to put pass me.

Billy is one competitive dude! This was his second race of the day, but when the line was in sight he wasn’t going to go down without a fight! It earned him an eighth place.

What can I say about Blair? He is the consummate promoter. It was obvious that the fast, flat Charleston course was right up his ally. The greatest thing about Blair was his excitement over the success of the team as a whole. I’m sure he’ll have a blog entry up at soon.

Final observation… I’m not a criterium racer. I don’t have the high end speed you need. The max the Quarq CinQo recorded was 1132 watts on a lap where we averaged 356 watts. I sure hope I get a chance at a couple of road races this year.

Excuse the long entry. It was really an exciting race for me. The whole weekend was a blast. Thanks POA Cycling Team!